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Capitol Hill is gentrifying, indeed, but study shows Seattle’s ‘concentrated poverty’ is bigger problem

A new study finds that gentrification is much lower than popularly thought, both in Seattle and across the country. Gentrification in Capitol Hill, however, appears to be on the rise.

City Observatory, a Portland-based “website and think tank devoted to data-driven analysis of cities and the policies that shape them,” in September released the report comparing poverty numbers from the 1970 and 2010 Censuses to look for evidence of gentrification in the country’s 51 largest cities. The report tries to look at displacement of poor people from a neighborhood, rather than the arrival of rich residents.

It defines gentrification like this: if, between 1970 and 2010, a Census tract went from a poverty rate of 30% or more to 15% or less, then that tract was categorized as gentrified. The national average poverty rate is about 15%.

Using this definition, there was no gentrification in Seattle during the past 40 years. But the number of impoverished Seattleites nearly quadrupled, and the number of high poverty (30%+) tracts more than doubled.

Based on this measure, it appears Seattle doesn’t have a problem with rich people displacing poor people, but rather with concentrated poverty — the opposite of gentrification.

But while none of the Census tracts on Capitol Hill — which we are roughly defining as the area between 23rd Ave., Marion St., I-5, and Interlaken Park — met the report’s formal definition of gentrification, almost all of them have seen big drops in the number of poor people living there since 1970. Cal Anderson Park’s tract, for instance, saw poverty fall from 19% to 12%, and its overall population grew by about 20%. By contrast, poverty in the tract housing Volunteer Park only fell from 9% to 8%, while the overall number of people living there stayed about the same. But that stability is the exception: six out of eight of Capitol Hill’s Census tracts have seen poverty significantly decline since 1970, and none have seen it increase.

The upshot of all this is that while changes on Capitol Hill don’t meet the City Observatory’s technical definition of gentrification (using the arbitrary benchmarks of 15% and 30% poverty rates), they do display a trend toward a lower poverty rate.

And it’s not just the rate: The actual count of poor people has gone down in all but one tract. How do we know? CHS multiplied the 1970 population by the 1970 poverty rate and the 2010 population by the 2010 poverty rate; this gave us the (rough) absolute number of impoverished residents for each tract in 1970 and in 2010. We then compared the 1970 and 2010 numbers of impoverished residents for each tract, and lo and behold: in all but one of the Census tracts, the absolute number of poor people has fallen.

See for yourself:

Tract # (last 4 digits) 1970 population 2010 population Population change, 1970-2010 1970 poverty rate 2010 poverty rate 1970 poverty (absolute #) 2010 poverty (absolute #) Change in poverty (abs. #)
6400 4146 3207 -939 12 6 497.52 192.42 -305.1
6500 4380 4157 -223 9 8 394.2 332.56 -61.64
7401 3397 4115 718 18 10 611.46 411.5 -199.96
7402 3637 4921 1284 18 18 654.66 885.78 231.12
8400 2803 3760 957 28 17 784.84 639.2 -145.64
7500 5024 6282 1258 19 12 954.56 753.84 -200.72
7900 3367 5147 1780 25 15 841.75 772.05 -69.7
7600 3324 3498 174 19 11 631.56 384.78 -246.78

So while Seattle may be free of formal gentrification, City Observatory’s numbers confirm what is plain to many residents: the rich are pushing the poor out of one of Seattle’s proudest neighborhoods.

See a different takeaway? The full Lost in Place report is available here. Meanwhile, the Seattle Times asks if we need a different name for the gentrification of Capitol Hill.

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7 thoughts on “Capitol Hill is gentrifying, indeed, but study shows Seattle’s ‘concentrated poverty’ is bigger problem” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. 2010 is so long ago. A lot has happened as far as rising costs over the past, nearly, 5 years. Rents have spiked more in the past few years than ever before (it seems).

    Good data but too bad it’s not more current.

  2. Gentrification is rampant throughout Seattle. To suggest otherwise is absurd. But most of the people being forced out are lower middle class renters, and thus their displacement (to Kent, Renton, etc.) doesn’t meet the very narrow definition of the term used by this report. That doesn’t make it any less real.

  3. Didn’t City Observatory arbitrarily create this definition of gentrification by giving it it specific numbers that few neighborhoods could even meet the initial qualifications of? It’s an absurdly specific definition that should be thrown out on its ass.

  4. This report bogus. I’ve never in all my years here have witnessed anything like this. The rich have taken the city. And the city will regret this in a few years. And I hope it does.

  5. Pingback: City Hall committee has 20 questions on affordability for you to answer | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  6. Clearly the 30% to 15% standard is unreasonable. Browsing through other cities, I see quite a few that also have no gentrifying neighborhoods. These guys need to redefine their terms.