Living in a city usually means making certain tradeoffs, depending on what you're used to. You may have to give up your car, for instance, but in return, you get low-cost public transit and all-hours access to a densely packed and enriching culture. One universal constant seems to be fears about high rents and gentrification. Scholars, developers, governments, and activists all seem to have very different views on urban housing.
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In a new piece for the New York Times, reporter Emily Badger asks a simple, central question behind lots of these tensions: Will new construction drive up rents in your neighborhood? To different people, the answer seems obvious — more units in an area should cause prices to drop, say some; others insist that new builds change the character of a neighborhood and price out the longtime residents who made it that way.
Badger surveys new publications and ongoing work from a number of researchers, and the results are mixed enough to require some parsing out. As one set of researchers conclude, "new supply helped ease rent pressure for higher-end units nearby. But at the bottom third of the market … new buildings had the opposite effect, accelerating rents." This lines up with earlier studies showing that price drops in luxury rentals, which can far outpace new affordable housing construction, are why some cities can claim rent is leveling out.
Living in a city can involve as many compromises as unqualified delights. There's a lot to know about gentrification, housing rights, and urban development. With these trends showing no end in sight, it's never a bad time to learn more about them.