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Abstract

Gentrification, the influx of high-income dwellers into low-income neighborhoods, has in the past decade become a serious cause of concern to low-income tenants in older American cities. Although gentrification has had some positive effects, one important negative effect has been the displacement of existing neighborhood residents. Various schemes have been suggested to combat displacement caused by gentrification. One strategy entails seeking legislative relief in the form of rent control and condominium-conversion laws to directly curb the influx of high-income residents; another makes use of rent vouchers and public housing to ameliorate the effects of displacement. This Article analyzes an alternative strategy: the use of Eviction Free Zones (EFZs) to prevent the displacement of low-income tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods. In contrast to strategies that rely on legislative intervention, the EFZ strategy can be applied directly in the neighborhood, by local community groups and legal services lawyers, through enforcement of the implied warranty of habitability (IWH) and other legal remedies already available to tenants. To create an EFZ, local community groups and legal services lawyers target a neighborhood on the verge of gentrification, and work with tenants to prevent or delay evictions. Their goal is to make eviction a difficult and expensive process for landlords, slow gentrification, and ultimately block displacement. In the long run, the EFZ strategy may benefit poor tenants by maintaining both the quantity and affordability of existing low-income housing. Part I of this Article discusses gentrification and the social problems associated with it. Part II describes the mechanics of the EFZ strategy: the legal tools for preventing evictions, how they are used, and by whom. Part III analyzes, through the use of an economic model, the potential long-run economic impact of the EFZ strategy and discusses, in terms of this model, when and how an EFZ should be put into effect. The Article concludes that Eviction Free Zones can, under certain circumstances, be an effective strategy for community activists and legal services lawyers to combat the destructive effects of gentrification.

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