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‘Neighborhood Change in Greenville’ study highlights impact of gentrification

A drone photo of Greenville showing part of downtown toward the mountains.
An aerial view of Greenville, South Carolina.

United Way of Greenville County, in partnership with Furman University, has released findings from its “Neighborhood Change in Greenville” study, the first of its kind to blend qualitative feedback from community members with quantitative, searchable online data available on every neighborhood in Greenville County to draw conclusions about the changing landscape of the area’s growing population and potential implications for the future.

The full report can be viewed and searched online at www.inclusivegvl.org.

“As Greenville County grows and our neighborhoods change, we must do all we can to bridge gaps and not leave people behind,” said Meghan Barp, president and CEO of United Way of Greenville County. “Leveraging the data and community input detailed in this report, we have a better understanding of both how these changes are impacting people and how we can respond as a community.”

“We think we’ve provided a powerful interface to look at changes over time and how those changes play out at the neighborhood level. We’re hoping that local residents and leaders use the data to corroborate perceptions of local change and solutions that will lead to positive change,” said Mike Winiski, executive director for community-engaged learning at Furman’s Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities.

An interdisciplinary research team from Furman was guided by the following questions:

  • How have measures of community well-being changed over time?
  • How have measures of poverty and need shifted historically, and how do these trends help prepare for future change?
  • Which neighborhoods are showing characteristics consistent with different stages of gentrification or displacement?
  • How are short-term and long-term residents perceiving and adapting to neighborhood change in neighborhoods at various stages of gentrification or displacement? What are their perceptions of in- and out-movement?

Five major trend topics emerged across the quantitative data, community focus groups and business interviews, including changing demographics in neighborhoods, housing affordability, workforce readiness and education, trust, and transportation.

While Greenville has enjoyed rapid growth and economic development in recent years, many stakeholders expressed concern that growth has not been felt in low-income communities. A growing population and booming economy have driven appreciation of housing costs, and median home prices in Greenville and Pickens Counties increased 18 percent from December 2015 to February 2018. Despite growth in jobs and income, and declining unemployment in metro Greenville, wage growth has not been experienced in the lowest income brackets. In fact, Greenville County is one of the worst counties in the country for children from poor families to grow out of poverty, according to research from the Greenville Network for Southern Economic Mobility.

Given these trends, there are worries about the impact gentrification and displacement are having on households in the Greenville area. With the potential for long-term residents being driven from places they have called home their entire lives, displaced populations may also be further removed from their support networks.

Some primary take-aways from the “Neighborhood Change in Greenville” report include:

  1. Changing Demographics: From 1990 to 2016, Greenville County’s Hispanic population increased by 1,284 percent. The study suggests that as Greenville becomes a more diverse community there need to be strategies for building community and trust across socio-economic and racial boundaries.
  2. Housing and Transportation: Rent and mortgage increases are vastly outpacing income growth. This pressure is especially pronounced within the Greenville city boundaries. Even affordable housing corridors, like the White Horse Road area, show unsustainable increases over the last four years. If this pattern continues, affordable housing options will likely lie beyond current public transportation routes. Based on existing trends, free-market solutions are unlikely to address current needs.
  3. Measures of Community Well-Being: The data are sobering. The majority of measures indicate that many residents of Greenville are doing worse than they were in 1990. The study tracked measures of community well-being over time and standardized for changing census boundaries and costs due to inflation. It showed a higher percentage of residents are burdened by rent or mortgage and more citizens live in poverty. Median household income dropped 5.3 percent, while median rent grew nearly 24 percent. All of these measures are worsening, despite the fact that more Greenville residents are completing a high school education.
  4. Housing Turnover: Based on county sales data from 2014 to 2018, some areas, such as the Augusta Road, Nicholtown and Sans Souci neighborhoods, are showing high sales turnover, which corresponds with increasing sales prices. This could indicate “flipping” activity.

Commissioned and supported by United Way, the “Neighborhood Change in Greenville” study was conducted using a wide cross section of Furman’s academic research resources, including students and faculty Shaniece Criss from health sciences, Amy Jonason from sociology, Jeanine Stratton from business and accounting, Matt Cohen from earth and environmental sciences and Paula Gabbert from computer science.

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