Displacement has devastated communities throughout the Bay Area, and East Palo Alto has been hit particularly hard. With both the influence of Stanford/Palo Alto and the influence of Silicon Valley encroaching on one of the last affordable areas of San Mateo County, long-time residents of East Palo Alto who have relied on its affordability have had an incredibly hard time staying in place.
While rent control and rent stabilization have played important roles in preventing displacement for residents in many cases, vacancy decontrol and rent increases in general still raise the barrier to entry for households looking for housing after displacement
Displacement in Detail
During a time period where housing costs have skyrocketed and many jobs have barely increased wages if at all, East Palo Alto has not had sufficient anti-displacement tools to support the ability to stay in place. Overcrowding (having multiple family members and multiple earners to stay afloat) and overburdening (paying way above 30% of income, many above 50% of income, and forcing households to sacrifice the other priorities that deserve investment). Both of these have negative consequences for the long-term health of residents, and for the economic health of the city. The solution however is not to kick people out – but rather to find strategies and resources that enhance our community and the people who have spent their lives contributing to the fabric of East Palo Alto.
When we think about displacement, we commonly picture a household that gets pushed out of their housing and has to find somewhere else to live. This is one type, but it’s not the full story of displacement. Scholar Tom Slater (2009) reminds us of four categories of Displacement:
Last resident displacement: where force like rental increase, court order, or service cutoff displaces the most recent resident
Chain displacement: displacement counted across the lifecycle of the building to account for more than recent displacements
Exclusionary displacement: where households which might have been able to move in are blocked when rents increase
Displacement pressure: political and economic competition that increases friction as newcomers influence neighborhoods
When we count the multiple types of displacement, we get a fuller picture of how broad of an impact displacement has on our households, families, and communities. In East Palo Alto, the city needs to dramatically increase an anti-displacement strategy with better tools than overcrowding and overburdening.
Recent scholarship makes a distinction between displacement and banishment. Banishment is more intense – not only does the household experience displacement, but because of barriers to entry for replacement housing nearby, they leave and never get to return. Many legacy East Palo Alto families experienced banishment – they got pushed out and were forced to move to distant areas of the Bay region, or in some cases, may even have left the region or the state. Banishment remains an ongoing process that can still happen to current residents – unless we adopt a comprehensive strategy to address displacement from multiple angles. To address displacement, East Palo Alto needs long term vision and short-term action. OPA is both a short-term action that will benefit some families in the short run and also lays the groundwork for a continued vision of long-term affordability for East Palo Alto.
Read about displacement at:
Slater, T. (2009). Missing Marcuse: On gentrification and displacement. City, 13(2-3), 292-311.
Baeten, G., & Listerborn, C. (2020). Keeping out the poor: Banishment as an urban renewal strategy. In Housing Displacement (pp. 113-124). Routledge.
Roy, A. (2019). Racial banishment. Keywords in radical geography: Antipode at 50, 227-230.
Roy, A. (2017). Dis/possessive collectivism: Property and personhood at city’s end. Geoforum, 80, A1-A11.