Managing Neighborhood Change

A Framework for Sustainable and Equitable Revitalization

By Alan Mallach

This publication offers CDCs, local officials, and other stakeholders, including local institutional, business, and community leaders, a new way to look at how they can manage neighborhood change in order to bring about sustainable and equitable revitalization. It is based on a simple idea: The most powerful lever for neighborhood change is change in the demand for housing in the neighborhood. Change in the residential real-estate market can lead to a stronger, healthier neighborhood. At the same time, market change can take problematic forms, leading to undesirable outcomes. It can be driven by speculation, triggering little or no improvement in the community’s quality of life, or it can disrupt established communities, displacing long-time low- and moderate-income residents.

Higher house prices without improvement to neighborhood vitality and quality of life is neither positive nor sustainable, while change that leads to displacement of an area’s lower-income residents is not equitable. This proposition defines the central question for all those struggling with the task of revitalizing urban neighborhoods: how to build both a stronger housing market and a healthier neighborhood while ensuring that the community’s lower-income residents benefit from the neighborhood’s revitalization.

The discussion that follows is designed to help answer that question. It shows how community stakeholders can help unleash the power of housing-market demand, but also where necessary harness it in the interest of equitable revitalization. In particular, it addresses how to know when to pursue which strategy or combination of strategies, in order to bring about sustainable and equitable neighborhood revitalization.

The author acknowledges with gratitude the support of the Surdna Foundation and the guidance and insights of Vanitha Venugopal and Kim Burnett. The number of other individuals who have contributed to this publication through their comments, insights, and criticisms over the past year is far too numerous for them all to be mentioned here, but their contributions and assistance is also gratefully acknowledged.

Alan Mallach, senior fellow of the National Housing Institute, is the author of many works on housing and planning, including Bringing Buildings Back and Building a Better Urban Future: New Directions for Housing Policies in Weak Market Cities. He served as director of housing and economic development for Trenton, N.J. from 1990 to 1999.

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