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The Inherent Affordability Narrative in New Rental Housing Policy: Gentrification through Symbolic Conflation

Authors: Zachary Hyde*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Land Use
Keywords: Housing policy, urban geography, economic geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the past several decades, high-end condominium development, led by central bank policies and low interest rates, had all but replaced the building of new rental housing in North American and European cities. However, in the face of a growing housing affordability crisis, with rising rents and the financialization of existing rental housing, policymakers and developers have begun advocating for new-build rentals by way of incentives like subsidies, tax exemptions, and re-zonings. Drawing from research on the field of urban development in Toronto and Vancouver, this paper uses the tools of economic and cultural sociology to examine the moral and discursive framing around new rental housing policy and its relationship new forms of profit-making in the city. I advance the concept of symbolic conflation to explain how policy makers, developers and the media associate rental housing with affordability, even as new high-end rentals are gentrifying neighborhoods. While research has long-noted that developers use symbolic stigma to justify the displacement of renters from working class neighborhoods, I illustrate their use of morally virtuous narratives to advocate for incentives to build new rentals. These findings contribute to debates about the governance and regulation of housing production, urban developers, and new forms of profit-extraction linked to rental housing.

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