Some of my upper-middle-class to upper-class YIMBY friends have said that they don’t understand at all why anyone would be upset by gentrification. This is an analogy I use which I think helps them understand.
Imagine your neighborhood is an actually functional community. You know your neighbors; you say “hi” to people when they walk down the street; you know people who will watch your cat when you’re on vacation, or tell you about jobs they’ve heard that you’d be perfect for, or play with your kid when you’ve had a really hard day and you need a break, or help you move, or give you casseroles when someone you love has died. (For some people, this is going to be a really difficult part of the thought experiment; you might want to imagine living near all your closest Internet friends.)
Now imagine that a bunch of billionaires have decided to move into your community.
It’s not all bad at first. Billionaires have a lot of political power, so they can advocate for incredibly nice roads and public parks. The billionaires create a lot of jobs: they’re willing to pay very well for nannies and chefs.
But businesses that cater to people like you close. The taco places and Targets are replaced with yacht clubs and restaurants that serve thousand-dollar gold-plated steak. The grocery stores are full of food you’ve never heard of and can’t afford anyway, and you have a hard time buying basic staples like rice and beans.
Billionaires don’t really like having people of lower social classes loitering around, and they have much more power with the police than you do. If you throw a party that’s a bit noisy, or spend some time talking outside of a billionaire’s house, you may find yourself talked to by a police officer who tells you to stop bothering the billionaires.
Landlords realize they can sell the land to billionaires and make way more money than they can get catering to the middle-class. Some of your friends have their rent hiked up to the point that it’s unaffordable. Others of your friends are evicted, often in dubiously legal ways. Still others are unable to find a new place in the same neighborhood if they want to move because their family has grown or shrunk.
If you move away, you no longer live near your friends. It’s more-or-less impossible to coordinate dozens of people to move to the same place, so you and your friends wind up scattered to a dozen different neighborhoods. It’s not just the suckiness of living in a bunch of different neighborhoods: friendship has actual material benefits. Now you have to pay pet sitters, move by yourself, and skip Date Night when you can’t afford a sitter, and you don’t get to hear about that job that’s perfect for you.
Your new place is also far away both from your old job and all those new jobs the billionaires have created. Either you commute for an hour each way, or you stay home where there are few jobs at all.
Maybe you stay. You might have bought a house and you don’t want to give up the equity. But you can’t afford anything in any of the stores around you. All your friends are gone. You can try to befriend the billionaires, but they look at you with pity when you say you can’t afford the thousand-dollar restaurant meal and you can’t understand all their hilarious jokes about their stockbrokers. In fact, some of them notice that you’re not a billionaire and flinch away from you in the street or clutch their wallets like you’re going to steal them. Just because you’re not a billionaire doesn’t mean you’re a thief!
This isn’t a perfect analogy– as one of many flaws, I’ll point out that upper-middle-class and upper-class people can afford to, say, replace friends babysitting with nannies and daycare, which poor people often can’t afford to do– but I hope it helps people understand why many poor people would consider gentrification a harm.