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BPR Interviews: Douglas Massey

Professor Douglas Massey is a professor at Princeton University and has been a faculty member at both University of Chicago and University of Pennsylvania. He is currently the president of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences and has, in the past, served as the president of both the American Sociological Association and the Population Association of America. His research deals with issues of migration, race and housing, discrimination, education, and urban poverty. He has written over ten books, among them American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass and Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System. 

What do you view as the positive and negative effects of gentrification?

Whether gentrification is positive or negative depends on who you are talking about. From the point of view of city officials, gentrification is positive because property values are rising, the tax base is increasing, and there are more middle class and upper class people in your central city. For poor and working class people that get displaced, gentrification is a negative. There is a scarcity of affordable housing in the United States, and when gentrification occurs, it exacerbates the shortage of affordable housing space.


What type of policy best addresses the issue of gentrification?

Public housing is not being built by the private sector and not being provided by the public sector, which produces high rates of homelessness and puts poor families under real budget pressures. Therefore, increasing affordable housing is the issue, rather than gentrification in any specific neighborhood. One policy currently in place is housing vouchers. The problem with housing vouchers is that landlords don’t have to accept them. New Jersey has a policy that every municipality must write their zoning codes so that affordable housing is included. That policy has produced greater housing construction and made housing more widely available. Evidence shows that if it is done well it can bring about desegregation on the basis of both class and race, and not impose any burden on the communities that provide affordable housing. Politics are the biggest barrier to this policy however — people don’t want affordable housing in their neighborhoods, so it continually faces political opposition.


What do you see as the future of gentrification?

In cities like San Francisco or New York, which are characterized by high degrees of income inequality, gentrification is going to continue absent any move towards creating the opportunity for affordable housing. Maybe not in Cleveland or Youngstown, but in those global metropolitan areas, it will continue to happen.