Displacement through development? Property turnover and eviction risk in Seattle

Displacement through development? Property turnover and eviction risk in Seattle


Written by:

Alex Ramiller

First Published:

11 May 2021, 12:47 pm


Displacement through development? Property turnover and eviction risk in Seattle



While eviction is an important driver of housing precarity and economic inequality in the Global North, empirical research is often constrained by the availability of comprehensive data on where evictions occur. This paper stems from my involvement with the Evictions Study – a team of interdisciplinary researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Washington using data science techniques including web scraping and text analysis to reveal previously obscured spatial and demographic patterns of eviction filings. The Evictions Study’s research in the Seattle metropolitan area has revealed extreme racial disparities in eviction filing rates and a concentration of eviction filings in lower-income suburbs – findings which recently contributed to eviction law reform in Washington state.


With the novel data produced by the Evictions Study, which included four years of eviction filings in Seattle between 2010 and 2017, I saw the opportunity to explore a question of particular interest to displacement research: what is the precise role of property turnover and built environment investment in residential displacement? While property markets are clearly involved in processes of gentrification and displacement, it is often difficult to directly associate forms of property turnover – such as renovation, demolition, and property sales – with observable cases of displacement. Seattle provided the perfect context for exploring these relationships, both because local governments in the region provide comprehensive property and permit records that could be directly linked with evictions, and because the Seattle region has experienced significant population turnover and property investment over the past decade.


This paper reveals that there were indeed significant relationships between eviction filings and various forms of property turnover in Seattle during the 2010s. Evictions were more likely to occur at properties where a renovation or demolition permit was filed in the following year, supporting narratives of “renoviction” and “demoviction”. Evictions were also more likely to occur around the same time as property sales, pointing to the particular vulnerability of tenants at moments of ownership transition. These findings are consistent with actual accounts in the Seattle region: in one prominent example from 2018, an entire apartment complex in a nearby suburb of Seattle was evicted shortly after the property was purchased by a developer who planned to renovate the property. While this event was notable for its scale, my analysis suggests that it was not an isolated incident and was likely reproduced many times over as the region experienced successive waves of displacement and gentrification.


I believe this study has several important implications. In addition to tying eviction risk with property turnover and affirming the status of evictions as a form of potentially gentrification-induced displacement, my hope is that it will open up a number of exciting possibilities for future gentrification and displacement research. Combining various forms of administrative microdata collected through both traditional sources (such as permit records) and less traditional sources (such as the scraped court records analysed by the Evictions Study) provides the opportunity to better understand how micro-scale events are embedded in processes of neighbourhood transformation.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.