Last week, the YDN published a piece on a proposed 194-unit development on Davenport Avenue in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood. Although certainly well-intentioned, the article contains some common misconceptions about new housing — misconceptions we should address if we’re serious about solving the city’s and the country’s, housing crises.

The piece is framed as a struggle between community members in the Hill and a California-based real estate developer. Even by New Haven’s standards, the Hill has a fraught history of such conflicts. Just a twenty-minute walk from the site of the proposed development, the incomplete Oak Street Connector and now-demolished Church Street South housing complex are monuments to the failure of Urban Renewal and the harm it inflicted on the community, especially on poor households and the neighborhood’s Black population. 

The development at 354 Davenport Ave. will displace seven families, but residents expressed an additional concern: the downstream effects of new apartments on nearby rents. Hill resident Kimberly Hart fears that the “development is going to make rent go up because the other landlords are going to start saying, ‘Well if they’re making this much, so can I.’” These new apartments, Hart alleges, will generate additional displacement in the surrounding area. 

This narrative, though ubiquitous in housing discussions, doesn’t stand up to empirical scrutiny. Just last week, new research found that building luxury apartments in New York City causes nearby rents to drop. New Haven faces a severe housing shortage; just last year, I spoke with one prominent New Haven developer who reported vacancy rates as low as two percent. These low rates translate into high rents and a heightened risk of displacement. 

The decreases in rental prices from new construction are unlikely to secure housing for those at the bottom of the income spectrum. For that, we need, among other things, a massive investment in social housing and an expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher program (commonly referred to as “Section 8”). These policies are important, but none so much as the urgent need to expand our housing supply. Under our current system, ensuring individuals’ human right to housing is impossible without encouraging dense, multi-family development — like that proposed in the Hill. 

Critics of the Davenport Ave. development have questioned its affordability. Under New Haven’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, developers in the Hill must set aside five percent of units for those making 50 percent or less of the area median income. These gains sound minor, but anyone who’s studied IZ policies knows the difficulty in maintaining financial feasibility while securing deeper levels of affordability. When completed, New Haveners will gain 10 units of permanently affordable housing where before there were none. Progressives should celebrate these gains while remaining mindful of the seven families leaving the Hill who won’t see the benefits. 

Undoubtedly, the development at 354 Davenport is part of a process of gentrification in New Haven, but in housing discussions, we have to disentangle gentrification from direct displacement. The former represents a largely aesthetic process, bringing both disruption and some undeniable benefits — better schooling, economic opportunity and increased safety, to name a few. The latter, the pricing-out of low- and middle-income residents from their communities, severs social networks and uproots generations of families. 

These two forces — gentrification and displacement — often work in tandem, but they don’t have to. One of the most effective methods to combat displacement is to build more housing. We won’t put the brakes on gentrification by refusing to build new apartments in the Hill. Instead, gentrifiers will look elsewhere for housing they can afford, displacing residents in other neighborhoods across the city. Brooklyn, where the Black population fell nearly 10 percent over the last decade, is a clear example of what happens when desirable cities prevent new development. 

If we’re looking to combat displacement, we should shift our focus to a different culprit: wealthy homeowners in low-density, predominantly white communities who have captured enormous wealth gains while blocking new housing in their own neighborhoods. Despite their transit accessibility and attractive amenities, Westville, East Rock and Prospect Hill continue to prevent new housing, either through low-density zoning, historic preservation law or by imposing process restrictions that render development financially infeasible. Avoiding opposition, developers look to poorer neighborhoods, where marginalized groups lack the same political capital.  

Housing policy is complex. It’s also deeply emotional and personal. We can wring our hands at capitalism and attribute the housing crisis to greedy developers, but by laying the blame on market actors alone, we absolve ourselves of all culpability and responsibility to correct the system. Most Yale graduates will go on to lucrative careers in expensive cities and suburbs. Perhaps the most important thing we can do to advance housing justice is to say yes to dense housing, especially dense affordable housing.

ROBBY HILL is a junior at Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at