“Dr. Lewis has been a vital asset to the field of affordable and fair housing work in the Twin Cities region and community more broadly. As a community organizer, I sometimes find academic research can be very detached from, and sometimes even at odds with, the perspectives and narratives of community who experience the issues being studied first hand. Dr. Lewis’ community engaged action research approach centers people and communities most impacted by issues, treating them as experts in the research process and as partners in the work rather than subjects to be studied. This approach builds in accountability to community members involved and challenges the dynamics of race, class, gender, and educational privileges that too often are ignored in academia. Her work on CURA’s gentrification report has given the advocates and organizers who are part of our Equity in Place coalition, a powerful tool to demonstrate and discuss the real impacts of gentrification pressures on our communities.”
“Dr. Brittany Lewis’s mixed methodological study on gentrification has been seminal to both my work as a neighborhood leader and as a tool for housing advocates across the Twin Cities. Dr. Lewis’s engaged research process ensured that the data collected and the process used to collect that data was responsive to community articulated needs. Dr. Lewis met with community residents and listened to their stories gathering context for the quantitative data making it much more impactful. Dr. Lewis’s mixed methodological approach came at a critical time in poor communities lives, because existing quantitative was only telling part of the story. City staff and elected officials are now citing the importance of qualitative data in addition to quantitative data as a direct result of Dr. Lewis’s work. Dr. Lewis’s ability to then transform complex ideas into clear, precise language to a wider audience has been instrumental in moving the needle forward on our organization’s anti displacement work and the policy initiatives that will flow from it.”
In 2015, there was an impasse in discussing the realities, perceptions and implications of gentrification in the region. CURA partnered with Equity in Place, a coalition of community-based groups, to define research questions that would bring clarity to the conversation and inform the research design. Through a mixed methodological project, we examined the following question:
- Do quantitative indices tell us gentrification is happening?
- And does resident perception and experience match what the data tell us?
Dr. Brittany Lewis led the framing, data collection and analysis of the qualitative component of the study. Additionally, she designed and executed the policy section of the report which centers the policy imperatives of those community-based organizations doing work to curb the negative effects of gentrification.
The qualitative analysis of the gentrification study had two primary objectives: (1) to assess whether or not our quantitative indices of gentrification match resident perception and (2) to analyze how local residents from a broad range of demographic realities (homeowner, business owner, renter, and long-term residents [10+ years]) are defining, experiencing, and identifying the slow processes of a gentrifying neighborhood. The qualitative research findings highlight the values that are expressed in different views of gentrification and the nature of the debates about gentrification within particular neighborhoods of the region. After providing a review of our qualitative methods, we outline the commonalities found across the five cluster neighborhoods, which are representative of the classic discourses of gentrification. Then we provide an analysis of the narrative distinctions shared by our interview participants across neighborhood clusters to highlight the nuanced realities of gentrification that undoubtedly vary by race, class, and geography even within a larger community.
“This feeling that change was happening to them and that they were not present when important decisions were being made about their neighborhoods was a common theme in our neighborhood cluster interviews.”
In the final section of the gentrification report, we examined the work of 10 Twin Cities community-based organizations. While not an exhaustive or even representative sample of groups working on gentrification issues in the region, the variety and extent of their activities allow for a broad understanding of how community activists are attempting to forestall and/or manage the neighborhood changes that lead to displacement. The work of these organizations expands the scope of what can be considered anti-gentrification work. The policy toolkits that are frequently offered focus primarily on a set of public policies related to affordable housing preservation and development and/or on tenants’ rights. These 10 organizations and their strategies suggest that anti-gentrification work can take on many additional forms. Also, these groups borrow from the policy toolkits that have characterized anti-gentrification work, but they also engage in a range of efforts from community organizing and storytelling to community planning and leadership training that they argue are critical in creating the level of empowerment and access to decision making necessary for gentrification-vulnerable communities to exercise community control.
The groups conceptualize gentrification as taking place along an extended time period characterized by four stages. Each stage suggests its own set of policy interventions, resource redirection, and organizing strategy.
- Disinvestment and decline, in which powerful public and private institutions redirect resources away from a community.
- Devaluation, in which a “deficit narrative” comes to dominate elite and public discourse about communities that have been subject to disinvestment.
- Reinvestment, in which low land values and rents are ex- ploited, housing costs rise, and businesses and cultural institutions may turn over.
- Displacement in various forms, in which the loss of affordability pushes out long-term residents and businesses (direct displacement), changes conditions for those who are able to remain (cultural and political displacement), and precludes the entry of new, lower-income households (exclusionary displacement).