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"It was like dancing on a grave": Eviction and Displacement in Los Angeles 1994-1999


Little is understood about displacement in urban contexts. Some of the difficulties that have impeded previous research are methodological as the data necessary for displacement research tends to be speculative, prohibitively expensive, or difficult to obtain. The greater problem I argue is conceptual. Outside of Neil Smith's rent gap hypothesis or the philosophy of property rights, there is little theoretical ground that explains urban displacement or facilitates analysis. Within the literature on urban change, where displacement would seem to have a strong theoretical foundation, displacement tends to exist uncomfortably between a range of theories from the neoclassicist's preference for atomized rational choice, the Chicago School's tenacious equilibrium mechanisms, and most recently, a version of demographic invasion based in economic restructuring. This research on evictions in Los Angeles seeks to challenge these conceptual and empirical shortcomings. Through a spatial pattern analysis of over 70,000 geographically referenced evictions, four distinct geographies of displacement are shown to have existed between 1994 and 1999 in Los Angeles including Downtown, Hollywood, Koreatown, and South Los Angeles. Logged transformations of eviction rates in the 381 census tracts comprising the area of study are furthermore regressed to three factors for each of the six years of the study. Results provide evidence that two of these factors are statistically correlated with eviction rates. The first factor is negatively correlated with eviction rates and describes deterrence to eviction based on relative affluence, educational attainment, and racial segregation in the form of high proportions of whites relative to other racial groups. The second expresses investment in desirable locations through average property sales and nonfamily households and is positively correlated with eviction rates. Taken together, the spatial pattern and spatial regression analyses confirm that evictions are socio-spatial phenomena forming three types of displacement in Los Angeles: (1) poverty- and race-related; (2) investment-related; and (3) a combination of poverty-, race-, and investment-related displacement. The four geographies of displacement are furthermore investigated using exploratory data analysis and archival methods to uncover the specific role that property owners played in each. The results of this research demonstrate that gentrification only partially explains one of the four displacement geographies while the other three are non- or pre-gentrifying contexts more appropriately described through growth machine strategies, uneven development, negative spillover effects, and financial restructuring. The dissertation ends with a call for a number of policy recommendations including a right to counsel in eviction cases and increased tenant organization.

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