There Goes the Neighborhood?

“We’ve seen the shift from the time we first moved in here from 2009 to now. The neighborhood is already declining.” 30-something mom and homeowner’s board member, Brooklyn, New York

They block school buses and garbage trucks by parking on the narrow streets. Neighbors complain of hearing teenagers outside at all hours of the night. Fast food restaurant trash is seen strewn on the ground.

What force could be causing this neighborhood devastation?


“Homeowners are more likely than renters to do neighborhood maintenance, get involved with community groups and vote with greater frequency.” (Research paper, Edward Coulson, economics professor, Pennsylvania State University)

Behemoth alternative real estate investment firms own thousands of rental properties in family neighborhoods. They believe that funneling money into properties that would otherwise be left vacant improves communities, boosts the quality of rental homes and affords moderate-to-higher-income families access to better quality schools.

But these large landlord firms avoid the most depressed housing areas. Here, dilapidated homes sit decaying on grown-wild lots, sealed off, boarded up, forgotten.

LaShawn Hoffman, CEO of the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association, understands that investment firms must make good business decisions.
“But”, he says, “part of what we need are patient investors, so for my neighborhood, their model doesn’t necessarily work.”

Homeownership Only a Dream?

For the less affluent buyer, it seems homeownership is sliding out of reach. Roberto Quercia, professor and chair of the city and regional planning department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, points the finger at a lack of saving for down payments. “The American dream of owning a home has impacted the national character since the time of the founding of this country. Traditionally, homes have been, for low-income families, the one and only source of wealth to transfer to kids. And that’s really at risk.”

So then, are renters really bad for the neighborhood? A survey of 3000 adults sponsored by Tulia says…maybe. 33% of those surveyed want neighbors who speak the same language. 16% want neighbors with similar ethnicity and family structure. And here’s the shocker:  35%, some of them renters, agree the best neighbors are also homeowners.