• Methodology
  • Map Layers


This methodology seeks to identify sensitive communities, or communities where residents may be particularly vulnerable to displacement in the context of rising property values and neighborhood change. Methods were developed following a review of relevant literature and methodologies designed to measure displacement, gentrification, and the effects of zoning and regulation on housing affordability. Community stakeholders, subject experts, and policymakers were engaged to ground truth and refine maps and selection criteria.

Defining Sensitive Communities

Communities were designated sensitive if they met the following criteria: 

  1. They currently have populations vulnerable to displacement in the event of increased redevelopment and drastic shifts in housing cost. Vulnerability is defined as:
    1. Share of very low income residents is above 20%, 2017
      The tract meets two of the following criteria: 
      • Share of renters is above 40%, 2017
      • Share of people of color is above 50%, 2017
      • Share of very low income households (50% AMI or below) that are severely rent burdened households is above the county median, 2017
  1. They or areas in close proximity have been experiencing displacement pressures. Displacement pressure is defined as:
    1. Percent change in rent above county median for rent increases, 2012-2017
    2. Difference between tract median rent and median rent for surrounding tracts above median for all tracts in county  (rent gap), 2017
1 Census tracts are used to represent communities and neighborhoods throughout the state. Tracts and blocks often do not align with community and neighborhood boundaries; however, for the purposes of this analysis, these geographies are the only statewide geographies at which necessary data is available. 2 Very low income is defined as residents making below 50% of the county median income. 3 Severely rent burdened households spend over 50% of their monthly income on rent payments. 4 Outside of large metros (places with over 400,000 residents) tracts must meet both displacement pressure criteria in order to be considered sensitive. This is based on the assumption that displacement pressures are more acute in larger metro areas, where housing costs tend to be higher and more dynamic than suburban or rural areas.

Map Layers

Tier 1: Heightened Sensitivity
See the methodology summary for in-depth description of the sensitive communities methodology, which identifies places that are home to vulnerable residents and have experienced some market-based displacement pressures.

Tier 2: Vulnerable Tracts
In addition to the sensitive communities designation, the final map also displays tracts meeting vulnerability criteria (see methodology summary), but that do not display signs of displacement pressure. 

Relevant to the policy application language in SB 50, this layer shows areas within ¼ mile of high-quality bus corridors.

Relevant to the policy application language in SB 50, this layer shows areas within ½ mile of fixed rail or ferry.

5 This ½ mile rail/ferry buffer includes both a) a ¼ mile buffer where allowable height could be increased to 55 feet, and b) a buffer between ¼ - ½ mile where allowable height could be increased to 45 feet, per bill language as of November 19, 2019.

About This Map

As California’s housing crisis worsens, state policymakers have proposed zoning reform legislation, including upzoning proposals such as SB 50, to increase the allowable density in certain areas. Equity advocates, however, have called for zoning reform proposals to recognize neighborhood context— especially local displacement concerns—instead of being one-size-fits-all. To address this, the Urban Displacement Project conducted a stakeholder-engaged process to develop this map of sensitive communities, or places where residents may be particularly vulnerable to displacement in the context of rising property values and neighborhood change.

Rooted in relevant literature and extensive stakeholder engagement of academics, advocates, and policymakers, this map was developed as a basis for jurisdictions to designate sensitive communities, considering specific legislation and local context. It is important to note that questions remain in terms of how sensitive communities will ultimately be designated, and how these designations will affect the implementation of zoning reform policies. Learn more about these questions on our blog.

Moving forward, we hope that these maps are useful in defining sensitive communities for SB50 and other zoning reform legislation. We focused on creating a composite indicator of vulnerability that suggests neighborhoods where jurisdictions should work with communities to implement protective measures for vulnerable tenants and to preserve housing affordability.

The project team is grateful to all of the stakeholders who provided valuable input throughout the process.