Belonging and Community Health in Richmond



‘IS DEVELOPMENT IN RICHMOND going to displace historic communities?’ is a question now frequently heard in this city of just more than 100,000 on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay. In Oakland, Richmond’s big sister city 10 miles to the south, and San Francisco, the patterns of gentrification are already well established. Oakland’s African American population fell by over 27%, losing 38,000 people, from the year 2000 to 2013. In San Francisco, African Americans decreased by 23%, or 13,600 people, during the same period, after already having lost 20,000 the decade before.1 The three cities have the largest African American communities in the region, and share some similar history. But Richmond is also distinct, further from the economic center of the region, with more modest housing stock, and still wrestling with a reputation for industrial pollution, struggling schools, and issues with crime.

Life in Richmond is improving on multiple fronts, with greater opportunity and better community health in the city being created. Homicides and violent crime are at historic lows, parks are being renewed with community-driven visions and new investments are being made to remove barriers for workers who have been excluded from the job market. These, along with many other efforts come together to literally change the life chances of Richmond residents. Health shows the cumulative effect of the living conditions in a place. In the words of public health leader Tony Iton, “Tell me your zip code and I’ll tell you your life expectancy.” Richmond is a changing place, and while there is plenty still that remains to be done, people are taking notice. 

City and neighborhood changes that improve community health – less violence, better schools, better air quality – also make the place more appealing in the real estate market. In fact, the realtors’ mantra of ‘location, location, location’ similarly recognizes the importance of place, but toward a different end: buying and selling property. Some reports indicate real estate investors make up an increasing proportion of Richmond home buyers. In 2006 and 2007, absentee owners comprised just over 10% of people buying homes in Richmond, but by 2012 they made up more than 40% of buyers.2

Many of the community health efforts in Richmond are guided by values of equity and inclusion, with the goal of eliminating health disparities by improving the lives of marginalized community members. If these community members are also vulnerable to displacement from increased real estate values, then they may end up being excluded again from the benefits of a more economically vibrant and healthy place. This raises the question of how to make place-based improvement to community health in a way that has lasting benefits to community members. To help policymakers and community members explore this profound question, the Haas Institute set out to analyze current patterns of people and housing, and the degree of gentrification, in Richmond. 

This research assesses the extent of gentrification in Richmond by analyzing changes in the demographics and housing market between the years 2000 and 2013. Gentrification trends in gentrification in Richmond are analyzed at the neighborhood level by adapting the methodology of previous analyses of Portland3 and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland.4 People and housing conditions are analyzed across three domains – Vulnerable population, Demographic Change, and Housing Market Conditions - to estimate the state of gentrification in a given city. The analysis is done at the level of the census Block Group, a set of boundaries created by the US Census that in Richmond have an average population of 1,428 residents. For a full explanation of the research methods, see the Appendix at the end of this report.