Who Benefits (and Who Can Be Harmed) as Neighborhoods Change?

Gentrification changes neighborhoods. It raises property values and brings new investments in parks and public spaces, streetscapes, and services. These are changes that can improve economic and social well-being. Unfortunately, changes like these can also push individuals and families in these same neighborhoods from their homes.

One particular way this threat can come is by landlords who evict tenants for the purpose of renovating their properties to luxury standards or soliciting new tenants who will pay higher rents.

To better understand this particular issue, a rapid Health Impact Assessment (RHIA) was conducted on the Just Cause Eviction Ordinance proposed in the City of Boston. The proposed ordinance would limit evictions by non-owner-occupant landlords to those with a “Just Cause,” which includes any violation of the lease terms. The ordinance is intended to reduce gentrification-related displacement in Boston.

The RHIA focused on health effects for Boston renters that would stem from two consequences of the ordinance: reduced incidence of eviction and reduced anticipation of eviction.

The assessment found that the ordinance may prevent eviction for a small number of people, but the health benefits for these people may be substantial. In contrast, the number of people who may experience reduced anticipation of eviction as a result of the ordinance is much larger – potentially the entire population of Boston renters, or over 400,000 people. However, there are likely more limited health benefits from reduced anticipation of eviction than reduced incidence of eviction, and stem mainly from decreased stress.

The RHIA offers recommendations to limit these predicted negative health effects so that the ordinance is implemented in a way that improves the health of Boston renters. Examples of possible changes to the proposal and the process could include:

  • The Boston Office of Housing Stability to provide tenants with information about community health services, share eviction data, and collaborate with the Boston Public Health Commission.
  • The Right to Remain campaign member organizations, such as City Life/Vida Urbana, to use this impact assessment as a way to continue conversations about policies that would protect Boston residents from harmful evictions.
  • The Right to Remain campaign member organizations to offer counseling services and partnerships with community health organizations in order help maximize the health benefits for the communities they serve.

Neighborhoods will continue to change through gentrification. It is essential that those who live in these neighborhoods get to enjoy the benefits of the change. The RHIA makes this distinction clear and, further, shows how policy change can protect the health and lives of some of the populations most at risk.

The executive summary and full report for the RHIA can be found here. Related work by MAPC, the Managing Neighborhood Change: Anti-Displacement Strategies Toolkit, can be found here,

The RHIA was conducted through Department of Urban Studies and Panning (DUSP) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in partnership with City Life/Vida Urbana. MAPC’s Public Health Team collaborated with MIT on HIA through training and technical assistance.