A competitive housing market combined with the rapid rise of immigration is driving gentrification in Seattle's low-cost black neighborhoods, according to a new study by Stanford sociologist Jackelyn Hwang.

While gentrification—which Hwang defines as an influx of investment and middle/upper-income residents into previously low-income neighborhoods—is more likely to occur in areas with higher populations of African Americans, areas with higher populations of Asians have not seen that same level of redevelopment in Seattle—a divergence Hwang's data suggests is attributed to immigration. Her findings have been published in City & Community.

This research follows similar work Hwang has carried out to better understand the relationship between neighborhood change and inequality in US cities. Hwang hopes this research could help policymakers to consider long-term implications of economic redevelopment and investment, especially its effect on housing for disadvantaged residents.

Here, Hwang found that arriving immigrants, who are predominantly Asian in Seattle, have concentrated in neighborhoods with more Asians, which has deterred gentrification in those areas. Combined with tight housing constraints, pressure has shifted to low-cost African American neighborhoods where an influx of investment and of middle- and upper-middle-class residents has led to demographic changes, Hwang said.

Jackelyn Hwang et al. Divergent Pathways of Gentrification, American Sociological Review (2014). 

DOI: 10.1177/0003122414535774

Gentrification has inspired considerable debate, but direct examination of its uneven evolution across time and space is rare. We address this gap by developing a conceptual framework on the social pathways of gentrification and introducing a method of systematic social observation using Google Street View to detect visible cues of neighborhood change. We argue that a durable racial hierarchy governs residential selection and, in turn, gentrifying neighborhoods. Integrating census data, police records, prior street-level observations, community surveys, proximity to amenities, and city budget data on capital investments, we find that the pace of gentrification in Chicago from 2007 to 2009 was negatively associated with the concentration of blacks and Latinos in neighborhoods that either showed signs of gentrification or were adjacent and still disinvested in 1995. Racial composition has a threshold effect, however, attenuating gentrification when the share of blacks in a neighborhood is greater than 40 percent. Consistent with theories of neighborhood stigma, we also find that collective perceptions of disorder, which are higher in poor minority neighborhoods, deter gentrification, while observed disorder does not. These results help explain the reproduction of neighborhood racial inequality amid urban transformation.