Haas Institute study finds Richmond gentrification in early stages

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A study by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute exploring patterns of gentrification in Richmond neighborhoods found that future displacement may be preventable.

Released Feb. 20 and authored by Eli Moore, Samir Gambhir and Phuong Tseng of UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the study argued that gentrification is still in its early and middle stages, and there may be enough time to prevent further displacement through implementing local anti-displacement protections and policies.

The study revealed that the African American population in Richmond has decreased by 12,500 between 2000 and 2013. Latino and Asian American populations have increased, the report said, while the white population has remained stable.

According to a press release, 37 percent of total renters in Richmond earn less than $35,000 annually and spend more than 30 percent of their earnings on housing. From these numbers, the report states that a substantial part of the city “could be vulnerable” if accelerating housing prices reach Richmond.

But Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said that for Richmond, which he called “highly interactive,” it is difficult to draw conclusions about its changing demographics.

Bay Area demographics, particularly among the African American population, have shifted dramatically over the last 10 years, Butt said.

But Richmond-raised Berkeley Rent Board Commissioner Alejandro Soto-Vigil felt that gentrification in Richmond is in its middle stage. He said that within the past 15 years, the Latino community at Richmond High School has grown from a third to make up almost 85 to 90 percent of the school’s population.

Arguing that the East Bay needs more affordable housing options, Soto-Vigil suggested instituting a tax on big landlords in Berkeley for the housing trust fund, which could be used to help fund student cooperatives, among other groups.

Housing Advisory Commission vice chair Igor Tregub said the main cause of gentrification is both the improving national economy and the technology sector in the Bay Area. He added that many workers move to San Francisco and enter the rental housing market, in turn raising prices and job imbalance.

“The job imbalance in the city drives out some renters that are being priced out … who take up residence in the East Bay,” Tregub said. “This leads to displacement of East Bay residents who are earning middle class and working class income.”

Butt noted that Richmond has some of the lowest rents in the region serviced by BART. He said Richmond can be an attractive option for low-income people priced out from places such as Oakland and Berkeley.

He added that healthy cities require a “full range of housing opportunities,” and that Richmond’s recent redevelopment has introduced affordable housing options.

Contact Emily Pedersen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @epedersendc.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article stated the Latino community in Richmond has grown from a third of the population to 85 to 90 percent within the past 15 years. In fact, those statistics refer to Richmond High School.