The Bay Area is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is displacing working class, low-income communities, and communities of color to the outer parts of the region and concentrating affluent populations in the regional core. This change is in contrast to what metro regions looked like in the post WWII era. Then, upwardly mobile whites, supported by the federal government, pursued the American Dream to the suburbs while people of color were left in increasingly disinvested cities. Decades of racism in policy and practice steadily eroded the stability of many urban communities and drove down land values. This, in turn, set the stage for the era of displacement and gentrification.
To get a better understanding of these changes and their implications for the Bay Area, Urban Habitat recently released a report entitled Race, Inequality, and the Resegregation of the Bay Area. The report focused on shifts in populations and poverty across eleven counties between 2000-2014. Among the key findings:
- There was a clear and dramatic shift in Black populations from the inner to the outer region, and the region as a whole lost 22,000 Black residents over this period.
- While poverty in Black communities increased overall, it increased most dramatically in the outer parts of the region.
- Poverty in Latino communities increased disproportionately in the outer parts of the region, but also increased substantially in some inner regional jurisdictions.
The overall trends are clear: Black and Latino populations are increasing in outer parts of the region and poverty in the suburbs is on the rise. This regional reconfiguration has important equity implications. As we write in the report, as low-income populations move further out, they often struggle to find quality jobs and schools, decent affordable housing and public transportation, adequate social services, and environmentally safe and healthy neighborhoods. In many of these communities, unresponsive city councils, an unwelcoming political environment, and a lack of community organizing make it even more difficult for new residents to engage meaningfully in local politics and policies.
Many of these residents also continue to work in the inner region, where job growth, particularly in the service sector, is concentrated. As we found in our research, this translates into more time spent commuting – contributing to increases in regional congestion and decreases in air quality – and less time in community and with family.
At the same time, those who do remain in inner-regional communities, where housing prices are soaring, often struggle to afford rent and other necessities and may resort to doubling or tripling up in homes or be faced with housing instability and homelessness. Displacement is a looming threat at all times and the recent wave of tenant movements in the suburbs surrounding San Francisco and Oakland testify to the very real pain that rising rents cause for large numbers of residents outside of the more well-known hot markets.
We use the term resegregation to describe these changes for a few reasons. First, given the difference between the emerging region–defined by increasing poverty on the edges and increasing affluence at the center–and the previous era, it is important that we highlight the enduring significance of race and class in shaping places. While tomorrow’s Bay Area may look different in many ways from yesterday’s, our report shows that the dynamics of racial segregation remain. The unequal allocation of land, resources, and political power on the basis of race and ethnicity within a defined place will continue to shape the region of the 21st century.
Resegregation also gives us a powerful way to understand two phenomena that are well-known but often viewed separately: displacement and suburban poverty. What our report suggests is these are in fact intimately connected. Systemic displacement across the inner region, from Silicon Valley to Oakland, is likely pushing low-income and working class people into the outer region. At the same time, the increase in housing costs in the inner region acts as a barrier to entry for new arrivals to the region who are not affluent. Given that many of the lower-wage service jobs upon which a booming tech economy is dependent are performed by people of color and immigrants, it is easy to see how displacement could drive the process of resegregation.
The challenges posed by this regional reconfiguration are substantial but communities are already mobilizing. Anti-displacement organizing in the inner region is expanding beyond the traditional progressive strongholds of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. New rent control and just cause eviction protections in Santa Rosa, Mountain View, and Richmond mark the first new ordinances in California in 30 years. In many other jurisdictions new campaigns have already made great advances in a relatively short time. There is also growing interest in organizing and power building in outer regional suburbs and cities, and supporting these will be essential to building a truly regional movement for racial and economic justice.