Think Gentrification Is Bad? The Opposite Is Worse

We've long been told that gentrification is the scourge of many communities, and we've become very familiar with the scenario: a stable middle-class community is destroyed when wealthy (usually white) people move in, drive up home prices, and force out the "diverse" population that had been there previously. 

There are problems with this narrative of course. Very often, the working-class homeowners who leave the neighborhood experience a windfall from selling their property to the incoming "up and comers" who buy out the aging homeowners. There is an upside.

On the other hand, there are indeed downsides to gentrification. There are real social costs when a neighborhood disintegrates and the neighbors go their separate ways. As we've noted before, communities with a highly mobile population can often experience more crime, stress, and more health problems. 

However, even if we keep all of this in mind, it's important to remember that there is a fate far worse than gentrification. This occurs when people move out of a neighborhood or city — and no one wants to move back in. 

We might call this de-gentrification and it can be devastating for those left behind in these communities. 

In a recent interview with KCUR in Kansas City, four other guests and I looked at the issue of de-gentrification in some neighborhoods on the eastern side of Kansas City. 

The overall phenomenon is one that's become somewhat familiar over the past decade. Due to economic decline, lost jobs, and foreclosures — all interrelated phenomena — real estate in some areas of the country have declined in value so much as to be near zero. In many cases, the homes have become white elephants because the cost of maintaining the property has risen higher than what anyone is willing to pay. When that happens, owners often simply walk away. 

Empty houses become a magnet for squatters and drug dealers. Wild animals take up residence in the homes. The homes become fire hazards and a threat to nearby structures. 

In many cases, as explored in the KCUR piece, local investors and entrepreneurs have attempted to buy these homes and invest in them. These efforts, however, are complicated by legal problems arising from a lack of clarity as to who the current owners legally are.  

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