Poverty Concentration and Gentrification in Baltimore and Across the Country

Gentrification has become one of the most discussed subjects when it comes to urban affairs. Yet some observers have questioned if too much attention is being paid to this issue due to its occurrence in a few major cities that also happen to be where many of those writing about urban issues happen to live. American Neighborhood Change in the 21st Century, a new report from the University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity lends credence to this view.

The authors of the report analyzed all census tracts in the nation using data from the year 2000 Census and the 2016 American Community Survey, with a focus on the 50 largest metropolitan areas. They then placed them into one of four categories. A census tract was classified as growing if it was economically expanding during this time period and if there was an increase in its low-income population. If a tract saw a decrease in its low-income population and its economy was declining it was classified as abondonment. Very few census tracts fell into the above categories.

The categories that were more common and strongly focused on in the report were in the following two classifications. Low-Income concentration tracts saw growth in their low-income populations and declines in their economy while Low-Income displacement tracts saw a decline in their low-income population and an increase in their economic activity.

You can view an interactive map right here.

The report found that when neighborhoods did change, the most common form of neighborhood change was that of poverty concentration. It also found that low-income residents were far more likely to live in an area experiencing economic decline than gentrification. On a regional basis, the authors found that there is not a single metropolitan area in the country where a low-income individual is more likely to live in an economically expanding area than in an economically declining neighborhoods. With regards to central cities only in 11 of them is a poor person more likely to live in an economically expanding area than a declining one. Except for one (Norfolk), all the cities in this category are located in the Northeast or on the West Coast.

So where does Baltimore fit into this picture?

According to the Baltimore metro-level report, 45% of all Baltimore City residents lived in an area experiencing change. The report also states that 14,000 low-income residents have been displaced from economically expanding neighborhoods such as Charles Village, Midtown, Hampden, the Inner Harbor, and South Baltimore. Outside those areas, in 2016 about a 1/3 of low-income residents live in neighborhoods experiencing economic decline.

However, the claim that 14,000 residents were displaced may be a misleading one. Census tract 24510010100 in Canton (shown below) is classified as a low-income displacement tract where the middle-high income population increased by 709 while the low-income population decreased by 401. However, there was a decrease in ownership units and an increase in the number of rentals. The population of residents aged 65 or older also decreased. This leads us to wonder if the decrease in low-income residents was not so much due to households being pushed out due to higher rents as much as it was lower-income residents selling their homes, profiting off of the area’s economic growth, and moving out on their own accord.


However, there are areas of the City where gentrification may be pushing residents out. For example, in Census tract 24510110200 consisting of Mount Vernon and Midtown, the upper-middle income population increased by 1,254 while those in lower income categories decreased by 275 individuals. The Black population in this tract also declined by 171 individuals.

Meanwhile, neighborhoods across the city, including middle neighborhoods like Bel-Air Edison continue to suffer disinvestment and increased concentration of poverty. In tract 24510260301, from 2000-2016 the Middle-High income population decreased by 919 individuals while the population of those with lower-incomes increased by 1,788 individuals.



The Baltimore metro-level report also notes that ” Strong neighborhood decline is more common in the suburbs, and the low‐income population in those areas has increased by about 25,000 since 2000, a 56 percent increase, causing poverty concentration.” As the graphic below shows, nowhere is this change more pronounced than on Baltimore County’s east side.

Of course, the east side is not the only part of the County experiencing economic decline. In Census tract 24005403402 located in Pikesville just outside the Cityline (where the author happens to live), the low-income population increased from 32.6% to 48.4%. The area also experienced white flight with the white population decreasing by 1,579 individuals while the Black and Hispanic populations increased by 1,379 and 790 respectively. Notice that unlike the declining east side Census tracts, this area is not surrounded by other tracts undergoing extensive change.

As the report shows, gentrification is occurring in Baltimore and around the country, but the amount of media attention it is receiving has been disproportionate. Meanwhile, in the Baltimore region and around the country, concentrated poverty is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. There are no easy answers when it comes to addressing displacement through gentrification or reversing community disinvestment. But these challenges can be tackled if we all work together as a region.

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Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

This article was written by Gregory Friedman. Click here to meet our writing team.

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