DC Guide to Gentrification

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Left: Ryan-Camille Guyot with a sign outside the Metro PCS to save their right to play go-go
Right: Mochella/Dont Mute DC rally


Table of Contents

What is Gentrification?

Gentrification in DC

DC Affordable Housing Crisis

Affordable Housing Solutions

Active Anti-Gentrification and Housing Campaigns

Get Involved

Other Pages to Check Out

Gentrification
What is Gentrification? – History of Affordable Housing Crisis – Affordable Housing Crisis Today – Eviction Crisis – Impact of Home Sharing Rental Platforms (Airbnb, etc) – Affordable Housing Solutions – Strategies for Community Organizing to Fight Gentrification


What is Gentrification?

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“Gentrification is the processes by which higher income or higher status people relocate to or invest in low income urban neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have been historically disinvested by both the public and private sector. As higher income people move to these areas its typically to capitalize on the low property values. In doing so they inflate property values, displace low income people and fundamentally alter the culture and character of the neighborhood…gentrification is further compounded by the legacy of racial inequality in America. The neighborhoods that are gentrifying in this country are disproportionately occupied by black and brown people and thus black and brown people are being disproportionately displaced…typically by the influx of white people.” Stacey Sutton – UPP, UIC

Gentrification: The process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents ” Webster

Characteristics of Gentrification

  • Exclusion
    • One consistent in most definitions of gentrification is the exclusion of marginalized populations in many levels from:
      • Political representation by local governments/federal governments
      • Equal access to jobs and community resources
      • Access to affordable housing, property and tenant rights
      • The right to continue living and/or raising a family in your local community and culture
  • Impacts of Gentrification
    • Continuation of systemic and spatial racism, racial and class wealth gap inequality
    • Raised rents beyond current wages (wage-rent gap)
    • Evictions/displacement of families who have lived in their homes for generations
      • Increased homelessness, poverty and gentrification-to-prison pipeline
    • Rapid expansion/redevelopment of housing only newcomers can afford
    • Rapid closing of POC-owned businesses
    • Disproportionately felt by communities of color

“I would also say that the current climate in gentrified spaces is one where newcomers typically come in, and instead of politically integrating, they do a political takeover. They start to take over the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in D.C. They take over the city council seats. And then, they start instituting policies that relate more to their tastes and preferences and their idea of what they want the community to look like. They advocate for things like the bike lanes, coffee shops, and dog parks.” Derek Hyra (Race, Class, Politics in the Cappuccino City)

National Community Reinvestment Coalition: Shifting Neighborhood

Gentrification and Cultural Displacement in Americna Cities

Gentrification is a powerful force for economic change in our cities, but it is often accompanied by extreme and unnecessary cultural displacement.[1] While gentrification increases the value of properties in areas that suffered from prolonged disinvestment, it also results in rising rents, home and property values. As these rising costs reduce the supply of affordable housing, existing residents, who are often black or Hispanic, are displaced. This prevents them from benefiting from the economic growth and greater availability of services that come with increased investment. Gentrification presents a challenge to communities[2] that are trying to achieve economic revitalization without the disruption that comes with displacement.

This study found that from 2000 through 2013 the following occurred:

  • Gentrification and displacement of long-time residents was most intense in the nation’s biggest cities, and rare in most other places.
  • Gentrification was concentrated in larger cities with vibrant economies, but also appeared in smaller cities where it often impacted areas with the most amenities near central business districts.
  • Displacement of black and Hispanic residents accompanied gentrification in many places and impacted at least 135,000 people in our study period. In Washington, D.C., 20,000 black residents were displaced, and in Portland, Oregon, 13 percent of the black community was displaced over the decade.
  • Seven cities accounted for nearly half of the gentrification nationally: New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Diego and Chicago.
  • Washington, D.C., was the most gentrified city by percentage of eligible neighborhoods that experienced gentrification; New York City was the most gentrified by sheer volume. Neighborhoods were considered to be eligible to gentrify if in 2000 they were in the lower 40 percent of home values and family incomes in that metropolitan area.
  • The study lends weight to what critics say is a concentration not only of wealth, but of wealth-building investment, in just a handful of the nation’s biggest metropolises, while other regions of the country languish.
  • The strict tests for gentrification and displacement  in this study and the limitations of the data available likely undercounted instances of gentrification and displacement.
  • Most low- to moderate-income neighborhoods did not gentrify or revitalize during the period of our study. They remained impoverished, untouched by investments and building booms that occurred in major cities, and vulnerable to future gentrification and displacement.

Urban Displacement Project: Gentrification Explained

Understanding gentrification

Gentrification: a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood —by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in – as well as demographic change – not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents.

Gentrification is complex — to understand it, there are three key things to consider:

  1. The historic conditions, especially policies and practices that made communities susceptible to gentrification.
  2. The way that central city disinvestment and investment patterns are taking place today as a result of these conditions.
  3. And the ways that gentrification impacts communities.

Historic conditions:

  • Redlining: From the 1930s through the late 60s, standards set by the federal government and carried out by banks, explicitly labeled neighborhoods home to predominantly people of color as “risky” and “unfit for investment.” This practice meant that people of color were denied access to loans that would enable them to buy or repair homes in their neighborhood.

  • White flight: Other housing and transportation policies of the mid-20th century fueled the growth of mostly white suburbs, and the exodus of capital from urban centers, in a phenomenon often referred to as “white flight.”
    • Take the GI Bill as an example: the program guaranteed low-cost mortgage loans for returning WWII soldiers. But discrimination limited the extent to which black veterans were able to purchase homes in the growing suburbs.
    • In fact, the FHA largely required that suburban developers agree to not sell houses to black people in order for the developers to access these guaranteed loans.
    • Resource: Read about the history of residential segregation in America: “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017).” Rothstein, Richard.
    • Resource: Read about the suburbanization of America: “Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (1985).” Jackson, Kenneth T.

  • Urban renewal: Left behind in central city neighborhoods, low-income households and communities of color bore the brunt of highway system expansion and urban renewal programs, which resulted in the mass clearance of homes, businesses, and neighborhood institutions, and set the stage for widespread public and private disinvestment in the decades that followed.
  • Foreclosure crisis: In more recent history, the foreclosure crisis also contributed to making places vulnerable to gentrification. In low-income communities of color, disproportionate levels of subprime lending resulted in mass foreclosures, leaving those neighborhoods vulnerable to investors seeking to purchase and flip homes.

Central city disinvestment and investment patterns:

Today, both people and capital are flooding back into these historically disinvested neighborhoods. Why?

  • Relative affordability
    • In many US cities, the rental market has gotten increasingly expensive, and even moderate income earners are on the hunt for lower housing costs.
    • For example, in San Francisco, the median rent of a typical 2BR apartment went up nearly 70% between 2011 and 2017. Source: Zillow Data.
  • Older, historic housing stock that appeals to new residents
  • Close proximity to city centers, where jobs, restaurants, and art spaces are increasingly locating
  • Revitalization — cities are investing in some of these neighborhoods with improved transit access and infrastructure in part to draw in newcomers

On the ground, gentrification may look like:

Impact of gentrification on communities:

While increased investment in an area can be positive, gentrification is often associated with displacement, which means that in some of these communities, long-term residents are not able to stay to benefit from new investments in housing, healthy food access, or transit infrastructure.

Learn more about the forms displacement takes and its long-term impacts on families from our displacement explainer video and accompanying resources page: urbandisplacement.org/pushedout

Another impact of displacement to consider is cultural displacement: Even for long-time residents who are able to stay in newly gentrifying areas, changes in the make-up and character of a neighborhood can lead to a reduced sense of belonging, or feeling out of place in one’s own home.

What’s next?

On the whole, we cannot ignore that the adverse impacts of gentrification, ranging from individual health effects to the suburbanization of poverty, are only the most recent wave in a pattern of urban restructuring that has been imposed upon and negatively affected low income and communities of color over generations.

Public, private, and non-profit sector leaders have the opportunity to implement strategies that give long-time residents a chance to benefit from increased investment in their communities, and even be a part of driving how some of the changes in their neighborhoods take place.

Protection of residents, production of affordable housing, and preservation of existing affordable housing stock are all key pieces of preventing displacement. Check out our Investment without Displacement workshop series for more information.

The lesson of the city: No community should fight for improvements without simultaneously fighting for community control and permanency (against displacement). It plays into the hands of developers and the government officials doing their bidding. New stores will come, new sidewalks and trails, etc – they will celebrate the “improvement” and not mind one bit if the people who championed improving their communities are no longer around to enjoy it.”  Parisa Bonita Norouzi (Empower DC)

Pushed Out: Displacement Today and Lasting Impacts

Characteristics of Gentrification

  • Increased police presence/ broken window policies
    • Communities experiencing gentrification often have significant increases in police calls
      • Long-term residents will get thrown into a criminal-justice system for nuisance laws that we’re never enforced before
        • loitering, dirty sidewalks, vandalism, public drinking, selling weed, fare evasion, etc
    • Broken Windows Policing
      • Theory that minor crimes, anti-social behavior and civil disorder create an urban environment that leads to serious crimes
        • Suggests policing methods targeting minor crimes help create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, preventing more serious crimed

“Culturally, I think the way that a lot of African American and Latino people experience gentrification is as a form of colonization. The gentrifiers are not wanting to share—they’re wanting to take over. One of the tools they can use to take over public spaces, he argues, is law enforcement…It’s not a question of how many people are committing the crime—it’s a question of where the police are directing their law-enforcement resources. Because wherever they direct the resources, they can find the crime…

…Gentrification also has long-lasting impacts on the criminal-justice system that go far beyond police surveillance. As cities become whiter, so do juries. In Washington, for example, it’s not unusual to have a predominantly white, if not all-white, jury in a predominantly black city. Jurors often have different life experiences based on their race. And so if the defense is ‘the police lied’ or ‘the police planted evidence,’ that’s something that an African American or a Latino juror might well believe or find credible. A white person might find that hard to believe based on that person’s experience with the police.” Paul Butler, Author, Chokehold: Policing Black Men

“When low-income neighborhoods see an influx of higher-income residents, social dynamics and expectations change. One of those expectations has to do with the perception of safety and public order, and the role of the state in providing it. The theory goes that as demographics shift, activity that was previously considered normal becomes suspicious, and newcomers—many of whom are white—are more inclined to get law enforcement involved. Loitering, people hanging out in the street, and noise violations often get reported, especially in racially diverse neighborhoods.” Abdallah Fayyad – The Criminalization of Gentrifying Neighborhoods

  • Negative impacts are often invisible to new white people
    • The impacts of gentrification are often compounded when there’s a lack of affordable housing

The Atlantic: The Criminalization of Gentrifying Neighborhoods

Areas that are changing economically often draw more police—creating conditions for more surveillance and more potential misconduct.

…the lawsuit—which has since made its way to the New York Supreme Court—argues that the NYPD recently increased “broken windows”-style arrests in Flatbush and East Flatbush, and claims that these “police actions have coincided with increased gentrification.” 

That claim is not just speculative. Over the past two decades, gentrification has become a norm in major American cities. The typical example is a formerly low-income neighborhood where longtime residents and businesses are displaced by white-collar workers and overpriced coffeehouses. But the conventional wisdom that image reflects—that gentrification is a result of an economic restructuring—often leaves out a critical side effect that disproportionately affects communities of color: criminalization.

When low-income neighborhoods see an influx of higher-income residents, social dynamics and expectations change. One of those expectations has to do with the perception of safety and public order, and the role of the state in providing it. The theory goes that as demographics shift, activity that was previously considered normal becomes suspicious, and newcomers—many of whom are white—are more inclined to get law enforcement involved. Loitering, people hanging out in the street, and noise violations often get reported, especially in racially diverse neighborhoods.

“There’s some evidence that 311 and 911 calls are increasing in gentrifying areas,” Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson told me. And “that makes for a potentially explosive atmosphere with regard to the police,” he added.

By degrees, long-term residents begin to find themselves tangled up in the criminal-justice system for so-called “quality of life” crimes as 311 and 911 calls draw police to neighborhoods where they didn’t necessarily enforce nuisance laws before. As Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., describes it, misdemeanor arrests are more reflective of police presence than the total number of infractions committed in an area. “It’s not a question of how many people are committing the crime—it’s a question of where the police are directing their law-enforcement resources,” Butler said. “Because wherever they direct the resources, they can find the crime.”

In 2013, the city of San Francisco launched Open311, a mobile app that allows residents to easily report public disorder like loitering, dirty sidewalks, or vandalism by snapping a photo and sending their location. The app can feel altruistic; residents, for example, are able to report the whereabouts of homeless people who seem to be in need of assistance. But some worry that the dispatches can result in unnecessary citations or harassment. And while broken-windows policing remains controversial, a 2015 poll suggested that it’s still largely accepted by the general public, so when people see something, they’re likely to say something. After the app launched, 311 calls increased throughout the city, and one study showed that gentrifying neighborhoods saw a disproportionate spike.

Butler, who recently wrote the book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, believes that this is a result of newcomers refusing to assimilate to longstanding neighborhood norms. “Culturally, I think the way that a lot of African American and Latino people experience gentrification is as a form of colonization,” he said. “The gentrifiers are not wanting to share—they’re wanting to take over.” One of the tools they can use to take over public spaces, he argues, is law enforcement.

Butler’s home of Washington, where he’s a law professor at Georgetown University, provides an illustrative example. On most Sunday afternoons, a performance group hosts a drum circle in Malcolm X Park, whose official name is Meridian Hill. The tradition dates back to 1965—shortly after Malcolm X was assassinated—and was intended to celebrate black liberation. While the drumbeats can still be heard today, the ritual was called into question when the surrounding neighborhood began to change in the late 1990s. New arrivals living in the blocks surrounding the park repeatedly complained about the noise until the police imposed and enforced a curfew on the drummers.

But increased police presence in gentrifying neighborhoods is not merely the result of new residents calling for service; police departments sometimes proactively deploy officers in areas that see bars and other alcohol-serving outlets pop up, as they tend to do in gentrifying neighborhoods. After conducting an analysis on economic development in 2013, for example, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department established its nightlife unit, which deploys officers to areas with budding or resuscitated nightlife scenes. “If you’re bringing in more bars, there’s going to be drunk people congregating in the street, so you need police to tamp that down,” Sampson said. “But that may lead to potential confrontations.” Officers can find themselves in altercations with both bar goers and longtime residents of the area.

Cathy Lanier, who was the police chief in Washington from 2007 to 2016, told me that when a neighborhood’s population and economy begin to change, certain problems are bound to arise. “You’re going to have traffic issues, you’re going to have parking issues, and you’re going to have everything that comes along with a rapidly developing community,” she said. “So you want to have that police presence there, and establish community engagement long before the change so you can work with long-term residents to help them through the transition.” Zero-tolerance enforcement, she said, can be avoided if the police are proactive in creating a safe and orderly environment in advance of any major economic disruptions.

Still, residents can feel overwhelmed by a sudden increase in security, which is not always confined to public law enforcement. Sampson said private security and third-party police contribute to a sense of over-surveillance. “In a kind of rough neighborhood that’s about to flip, there may be demand on the part of new residents for safety that goes beyond what the police can provide, which means more eyes on the street on the part of private police,” he said.

While low-income and minority neighborhoods are often subject to heavy police patrol regardless of their development status, gentrification and aggressive policing are two sides of the same coin and tend to reinforce one another. “The concern when there are misdemeanor offenses is that neighborhoods seem unsafe or disorderly and that decreases their attractiveness for gentrification,” Butler said. “So in a number of cities, people have observed that enforcement of low-level offenses against black and brown people increases when neighborhoods are prime for gentrification.”

A top concern in communities of color is that greater police presence amplifies the risk of police misconduct and violence. In 2014, when San Francisco native Alejandro Nieto was fatally shot by four police officers responding to a 911 call, many residents believed the incident wouldn’t have occurred had his neighborhood not gentrified. Nieto was accused of behaving suspiciously in a place where he’d lived his entire life, and it was a new resident who’d made the 911 call. After he had a brief altercation with a neighborhood dog, Nieto, who worked as a bouncer, was anxiously pacing with his hand on his Taser, according to the passerby who reported him. Police said that when they arrived, he pointed his Taser at them, which they mistook for a gun.

Gentrification and police violence don’t necessarily have a causal relationship. But stepped-up law enforcement does create conditions for more potential misconduct. That’d be true in any neighborhood that suddenly saw an influx of police—it’s a simple matter of numbers. “If you’re ticketing more people or patrolling more often, you’re stopping more people to ask questions on the street,” Sampson said. “Now, that’s different than pulling a gun and shooting someone, or beating someone up, but the more stop-and-frisks and the more interactions you have, then probabilistically, you’re increasing the risk for police brutality. So it’s sort of a sequence or cycle.”

Butler offered the example of Eric Garner, who first drew police officers’ attention because he was selling loosies, or individual cigarettes, in Tompkinsville Park on Staten Island, a widespread practice since New York City began to sharply raise taxes on tobacco products in 2006. The surrounding neighborhoods had experienced some economic development, and calls reporting misdemeanor offenses were increasing. After a landlord made a 311 complaint regarding illegal drug and cigarette sales taking place outside his apartment building, officers began to closely monitor the area. Several months later, when Garner was confronted by police as he attempted to break up a street fight, an officer moved to arrest him for having previously sold loosies. The arrest went awry—and subsequently drew national attention—when Garner died after an officer put him in a chokehold.

“Before there was this effort to gentrify the neighborhood around the [Staten Island] ferry, I think it’s fair to say that it hadn’t received much attention from the police,” Butler said. “And you can imagine that of all the crimes police have to worry about, selling loosie cigarettes shouldn’t be a priority.”

Gentrification also has long-lasting impacts on the criminal-justice system that go far beyond police surveillance. As cities become whiter, so do juries. In Washington, for example, it’s not unusual to have a predominantly white, if not all-white, jury in a predominantly black city. “Jurors often have different life experiences based on their race. And so if the defense is ‘the police lied’ or ‘the police planted evidence,’ that’s something that an African American or a Latino juror might well believe or find credible,” Butler said. “A white person might find that hard to believe based on that person’s experience with the police.”

The public debate over how to best deal with gentrification often brushes over these tensions, focusing solely on the economic impacts. There are some who argue gentrification is a natural part of urban development, while others say local governments should do more to regulate housing markets. But there’s one question cities haven’t really reckoned with as they evaluate changing neighborhoods: Are they prepared to decriminalize them?

What we don’t understand about gentrification | Stacey Sutton | TEDxNewYork

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Rent Cafe: Top 20 Most Gentrified ZIP codes 2000-2016

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Ruther Readings

What is Gentrification?

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Gentrification in DC

Sub Table of Contents

DC Gentrification
High Levels of Gentrification in DC
Current Lawsuit Against DC Policies Encouraging Gentrification
Criminalization of Black Communities
The Exclusionary Zoning of Single Family Units
Downfalls of “Diversity”
Montgomery Country ADUs

Poem: “Gentrification”

I have seen a neighborhood eat itself for dinner
look at its vibrant culture and call it a meal
when the food ran out
they opened a starbucks and called it community transformation
repeated the  process until property prices popped
suddenly every face on the block looked like it belonged in a Even Stevens episode
When years ago they were afraid to walk it

So here we are
The long awaited sequel to white flight
white return

I remember when they started calling my home theirs
and every story my father used to tell me about
these city streets started flying south for the winter
Along with the families forced into Maryland
I remember turning onto Georgia Ave but for a second I thought I was in Georgetown
a place where the food is expensive but the concerned stares are free
I remember when the people in the hood grew up so close they called each other cousin
When my grandmother became everybody’s grandmother
These are the kinds of people whose stories I tell
People who have lived here for so long the breeze remembers their names
And how they are beginning to vanish into thin air
I open my mouth
and they redline my voice to silence
Which is to say deny it rent based on race
And then have the audacity to
Name me visitor in a city I was born in

And there is such power in a name
The way they changed New York Ave into NoMa
And no one seems to actually knows what that means
The way they turn public schools like Spingarn into dust then watch the scattered students choke
The way they changed displacement into renovation
And black into impoverished
And impoverished into forgotten

I’m from Brookland, NE
Not Brooklyn, New York
I’m from 1.75 is all you ever needed on your smart trip
I’m from late nights in gallery place darting under the street lights
I’m from calling Malcolm X park, Malcolm X park
even though the city renamed it Meridian Hill

I’m from Southeast Benning Road
I’m from me and my niggas don’t pay for the metro
I’m from always walking distance to the white house but still never met the president
I’m from calling Malcolm X park Malcolm X park even though the city renamed it Meridian Hill
And we always have to repeat it

And people who aren’t from my city still ask me what the problem is
What this is
this is landlords raising prices till the poor fall through
this is investors promising to bring back residents after construction then going back on their word
this is city council members selling out on morals
This is college students benefiting from a community but giving nothing back
this is Brookland Manor
Columbia Heights
Georgia Ave
Barry Farms
North Oakland
Rockridge
Bayview

this is how even with all the love for my city
all the anger up in the crook of my mouth
I could come back to my home and become a part of the problem
My money the smoking gun to the bullet in my chest
move in and move out my mans and them

So when the suburban settlers begin to tell you what this city means
Of how they’ve translated your urban into something that can plymouth rock on their tongues
I hope I tell them
This is my home
born and raised in
I live on these blocks
Found First purpose
drew first blood
left my genes in the cracks of the sidewalk
this soil knows my story
I learned its face with my finger tips
I’ve got its pulse stuck in my palms

Here, we are the monuments
With cherry blossom hearts
Cut us down and watch this city lose its soul

the struggle, the way we overcame
The way we overcome
The future, the past, the way we move
And refuse to be moved
and really
I just don’t wanna lose my home

Dion Harrison and Kenny Carrol

Source: shelterforce.org/2017/10/17/poem-gentrification/

DC Gentrification

WUSA? Is gentrification good or bad for DC?

  • National Community Reinvestment Coalition study found from 2000-2013 the following occurred:
    • Gentrification and displacement of long-time residents was most intense in the nation’s biggest cities, and rare in most other places.
      • 7 cities accounted for nearly half of the gentrification nationally: New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Diego and Chicago.
    • Displaced 135,000 people of black and Hispanic residents
      • Portland, Oregon, 13% black community displaced over the decade.
  • DC had the highest % of gentrifying neighborhoods
    • Nearly 50% of neighborhoods experiencing gentrification
      • 36% of those communities experiencing strong displacement
        • Displacing more than 20,000 black residents
      • Many neighborhoods (ward 7,8) experiencing low income concentration
      • The continuation of a robust real estate market since 2013
        • Means it is likely that this trend is continuing to this day

“The displacement has been most pronounced in Wards 1, 2 and 6, particularly in the area bounded roughly by the Petworth and Logan Circle neighborhoods to the north and south, and the Adams Morgan and Bloomingdale neighborhoods to the west and east. The strongest low-income displacement in the city, however, occurred in Navy Yard, which saw its overall population rise to 251 percent of its 2000 number while simultaneously seeing low-income residents as a percentage of its population drop from 76.9 percent in 2000 to 20.8 percent in 2016.” Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity

Paul Duggan, In Kenilworth, a D.C. Neighborhood on the Brink of Gentrification, the Past is about to Meet the Future

“…Fair housing laws and liberalizing racial attitudes had opened suburbia to middle-class blacks, who followed whites in abandoning cities. From 1978 to 1998, the District’s population would fall by 100,000, to fewer than 600,000 people, a dire percentage of them poor. The eroding tax base, combined with official mismanagement and a staggering demand for costly social services, would eventually cripple the D.C. Government..

With the city facing bankruptcy, unable to pay its bills, Congress in 1995 created a financial control board to manage the municipal purse strings, empowered to veto decisions by the mayor and city council. Six years later, the board chairman, economist Alice Rivlin, declared that the city was back from the dead, its revenue adequate, its budget balanced. As D.C. officials reassumed the reins of government, she wrote in 2001, they should focus on growing the tax base by attracting 100,000 additional residents. The more money they had, the better.

For this reason, and many others, gentrification took hold in the nation’s capital. Following a strategy laid out by Rivlin to entice new city dwellers, the District adopted policies favoring entertainment, restaurant and high-rise apartment and condo development in the downtown area. At the same time, it helped immensely that the local job market stayed relatively strong through the post-2007 recession. The results were remarkable.

In the 2000s, for the first time since World War II, the District’s population grew, topping 600,000, an increase of 30,000 people. It has since gone up again, by 70,000, amid a forest of construction cranes near the city’s core. About 40 percent of newcomers in the late 2000s settled in the Shaw, Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter and Chinatown areas, according to a study in the Journal of Urban Affairs.

As a consequence, though, many longtime residents of modest means are anxious about rising rents and escalating property values that lead to heftier tax bills. There is cultural disruption, too, as newcomers of all races, but largely affluent whites, settle in communities where deeply rooted neighbors have lived in rhythm for years, relying on one another when times are hard. After 60 years in the majority, blacks now account for 49 percent of the D.C. population…”

“Washington, D.C., had the highest percentage of gentrifying neighborhoods. Nearly half the neighborhoods in the city were eligible for gentrification in 2000, and 41 percent of those neighborhoods gentrified by 2013, displacing more than 20,000 people. The continuation of a robust real estate market since 2013 means it is likely that this trend is continuing to this day.” National Community Reinvestment Coalition: Shifting Neighborhood

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“I would also say that the current climate in gentrified spaces is one where newcomers typically come in, and instead of politically integrating, they do a political takeover. They start to take over the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in D.C. They take over the city council seats. And then, they start instituting policies that relate more to their tastes and preferences and their idea of what they want the community to look like. They advocate for things like the bike lanes, coffee shops, and dog parks.” Derek Hyra (Race, Class, Politics in the Cappuccino City)

High Levels of Gentrification in DC

DCist: D.C. Has Had the Most Gentrifying Neighborhoods In The Country, Study Finds

When it comes to the intensity of gentrification across the country—at least over the first 13 years of the 21st century—the District tops the list.

D.C. had the highest percentage of gentrifying neighborhoods in the country between 2000 and 2013, according to a study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a group that works to “increase the flow of private capital into traditionally underserved communities.” It estimates that around 20,000 black residents were displaced over that period.

The study, which was first reported on by the Washington Post, identified more than 1,000 neighborhoods in 935 cities and towns across the country where gentrification occurred during that time frame. Rapidly rising rents, property values, and taxes forced more than 135,000 residents to move away in 230 of those neighborhoods.

These neighborhoods for each city were considered eligible for gentrification if they were in the lower 40 percent of home values and family incomes in the area (the study used a type of census data that characterizes urban areas beyond just their physical borders). When the study began, half of the neighborhoods in D.C. were considered eligible for gentrification, which the study defines as a force that happens when “lower-income neighborhoods receive massive levels of new investment, adding amenities, raising home values and bringing in new upper-income residents [which] can lead to cultural displacement.”

By 2013, 41 percent of those neighborhoods were gentrified.

Black residents, in particular, have struggled to stay in D.C. Once known as Chocolate City, the D.C. population used to be 71.1 percent black in 1970. By 2015, that number had dropped to 48.3 percent. The study showed that D.C. was one of four cities that had the highest percentage of black displacement when adjusted for the number of gentrified neighborhoods it has, along with Richmond, Charlottesville, and New Orleans.

While D.C. was the most gentrified city by percentage of eligible neighborhoods that experienced gentrification, New York City was the most gentrified by sheer volume. Both cities were among the seven cities in the country that accounted for nearly half the amount of gentrification nationally, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Diego, and Chicago.

The period that the study examined coincided with significant population growth in D.C. for the first time in decades, particularly amid the region’s comparatively stable economy during the Great Recession. While that growth has slowed somewhat in recent years, housing costs have continued to rise and make affordable housing increasingly scarce. 

“The tens of thousands who have migrated to the Washington, D.C., over the last five years live in a city that rolled out the proverbial red carpet for their arrival. Infrastructure has been altered, public property has been privatized, the will of voters has been rescinded, minority-owned businesses have been shuttered and the bodies of people of color have been stopped and frisked to accommodate and enhance the respective presence and comfort of newcomers,” Sabiyha Prince, an activist with the group Empower DC, wrote in an essay accompanying the report.

Last year, one group of residents sued the city over its housing and renewal policies.

WUSA9: DC is the most gentrified city; Navy Yard is its most gentrified

WUSA9: DC is the most gentrified city; Navy Yard is its most gentrified neighborhood

Report says D.C. is seeing more low-income displacement and concentration than any other large U.S. city.

Washington, D.C. has experienced the worst gentrification in the country since 2000 among large cities, according to a new study by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity on how American neighborhoods have changed.

The study, titled “American Neighborhood Change in the 21st Century,” was produced by researchers at the University of Minnesota Law School and released this month.

In it, researchers looked at income data for 2000 and 2016 for every census tract in the country to classify them in one of four categories:

  • Growth – Tract is economically expanding and has low-income population growth
  • Low-income displacement – Tract is economically expanding and has low-income population decline
  • Low-income concentration – Tract is economically declining and has low-income population growth
  • Abandonment – Tract is economically declining and has low-income population decline

The report defines “low-income” as anyone below 200 percent of the federal poverty level – which, in 2016, would mean individuals that make up to $47,520 annually or a family of four with a household income up to $97,200.

According to the study, D.C. had the highest rate of economic displacement – or gentrification – of all large cities in the U.S., with nearly 36 percent of its population living in areas experiencing “strong displacement.”

The displacement has been most pronounced in Wards 1, 2 and 6, particularly in the area bounded roughly by the Petworth and Logan Circle neighborhoods to the north and south, and the Adams Morgan and Bloomingdale neighborhoods to the west and east.

The strongest low-income displacement in the city, however, occurred in Navy Yard, which saw its overall population rise to 251 percent of its 2000 number while simultaneously seeing low-income residents as a percentage of its population drop from 76.9 percent in 2000 to 20.8 percent in 2016.

Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity: Low-Income Displacement and Concentration Map

At the same time, Wards 7 and 8 have experienced the opposite trend, with multiple neighborhoods seeing what the report classifies as low-income concentration. The Fort Dupont area saw the largest concentration, with low-income residents rising from 52.9 percent of its population in 2000 to 77.3 percent in 2016.

In D.C., and nationwide, black residents were “significantly more likely than the population at large to be located in areas that have experienced decline,” according to the report. In all five census tracts located between 16th and 14th streets and Massachusetts Avenue and Spring Road NW, for example, the total black population decreased from 2000-2016, for a total loss of nearly 2,500 black residents. During that same period, the white population increased in all five census tracts, for a total growth of just under 6,000 residents.

Navy Yard, the neighborhood which saw arguably the city’s most intense gentrification over the time period studied, lost 531 black residents while adding 2,828 new white residents.

In the Fort Dupont area, the neighborhood actually saw a slight decline in its white population even as the overall population increased by nearly 20 percent.

While D.C. might be the most extreme example of a city experiencing gentrification, it’s hardly atypical, according to the report.

“By far the most common form of neighborhood change is low-income concentration,” the report says. “In the 50 largest metros, tracts that have experienced strong low-income concentration include about 36.5 million people, and are predominately suburban.”

In the greater D.C. area, Arlington and Alexandria saw significant low-income displacement as the number of middle-high income residents increased. Maryland counties immediately surrounding D.C. to the east and northeast tended to see a pattern of low-income concentration.

DC Direct: Gentrification and the Changing DC

Further Readings

Current Lawsuit Against DC Policies Encouraging Gentrification

Washington Post: Lawsuit: D.C. policies to attract affluent millennials discriminated against blacks

For more than a decade, D.C. officials have celebrated the city’s economic renaissance, touting reinvigorated neighborhoods and glittering new attractions as evidence of Washington’s emergence as a world-class metropolis.

But a new federal lawsuit alleges that the policies that officials initiated to attract younger, more affluent professionals discriminated against poor and working-class African Americans who have lived here for generations.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by lawyer Aristotle Theresa on behalf of several African American residents, claims that the residential buildings springing up throughout the city — many of them with studio and one-bedroom apartments — catered to what urban theorist Richard Florida famously identified as the “creative class” and ignored the needs of poor and working-class families.

The lawsuit says the “New Communities” program initiated by the District to turn aging public housing complexes into mixed-income developments was meant to “lighten” African American neighborhoods and break up long-established communities.

D.C. policies that were intended to “economically integrate” neighborhoods, Theresa argues in the lawsuit, “are classist, racist and ageist” and “lead to widespread gentrification and displacement.”

“Every city planning agency . . . conspired to make D.C. very welcoming for preferred residents and sought to displace residents inimical to the creative economy,” Theresa wrote in the 82-page complaint.

The plaintiffs — Paulette Matthews and Greta Fuller of Southeast Washington and Shanifinne Ball of Northeast — are seeking in excess of $1 billion in damages.

Robert Marus, a spokesman for the District’s Office of the Attorney General, said the city would not comment on the lawsuit until it files its response, which is due June 25. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who is approaching the end of her first term, has focused on growing the city’s stock of affordable housing while celebrating the opening of new attractions such as the Wharf, a $2.5 billion mix of luxury housing, hotels and fine dining along the Southwest Waterfront.

As the District gentrified over the past two decades, income and wealth disparities between whites and blacks deepened. But Derek Hyra, an American University professor who has written about gentrification in Washington, said Theresa would have to produce evidence that D.C. officials were targeting a certain race to prove discrimination.

“Developers are looking at areas in the city where they can buy low and sell high,” Hyra said, pointing to traditionally working-class black neighborhoods such as Shaw and Petworth, which have drawn more affluent residents in recent years. “Developers want to maximize their return. This is not a conspiracy. This is capitalism.”

At the same time, he said, the D.C. government encouraged development, sometimes providing subsidies, “to maximize value and bring in greater revenue.” Even if the District hasn’t explicitly favored anyone, the development has “had a different impact” on whites and blacks, he said.

Theresa, an Anacostia-based civil rights attorney, has in recent years represented a number of community groups opposing massive redevelopment projects in neighborhoods such as Union Market in Northeast and the McMillan reservoir in Northwest, as well as at the Barry Farm public housing complex in Southeast.

In 14 cases, he has asked the D.C. Court of Appeals to overturn city approvals of projects, twice successfully. The rulings forced D.C. officials to review the projects, causing costly delays and widespread consternation among developers who worry that their projects will be slowed by legal challenges.

As a result of appeals filed by Theresa and others, the Bowser administration has proposed changes to the city’s land-use policies to block avenues for what it considers nuisance lawsuits.

Theresa, in an interview, said the federal lawsuit was an outgrowth of the work he has done representing communities fighting development projects. To accommodate more affluent newcomers, Theresa said, D.C. officials and developers over the past decade identified working-class black “communities that aren’t that sophisticated about the zoning process or politics. They slapped it on these communities and took advantage of people.”

He traces the District’s initiatives to the early 2000s, when, as the Internet proliferated and the technology sector flourished nationwide, Florida popularized the idea that cities could become newly prosperous by appealing to a “creative class,” an amalgam of entrepreneurs, tech specialists, artists and other purveyors of creativity.

In the District, according to Theresa’s complaint, which was filed April 13, it was the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) that embraced Florida’s view as it set out to broaden the city’s identity from government town to a magnet for technology entrepreneurs and others who were part of the “creative economy.”

From Shaw to Bloomingdale to the H Street corridor, developers and business owners descended on neighborhoods, constructing apartment towers, renovating rowhouses and opening restaurants, coffeehouses and bars that catered to new Washingtonians, younger and more affluent than previous generations.

To Theresa, the Fenty administration’s promotion of a “Creative Action Agenda” in 2007 represented a “paradigm shift” for D.C. government. Instead of prioritizing what was best for the land, it was focusing “on the predilections of a certain class of individual,” he says.

Fenty’s successor, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), also championed the creative economy by changing zoning regulations to “increase affordable space for creative businesses,” Theresa says. By targeting businesses that “produce innovative goods” or “use innovative processes,” the District offered tax breaks and other incentives that favored a “discrete class” and discriminated against more traditional modes of business, according to the lawsuit.

“District government has a clear preference for millennial creatives, making it somewhat harder for those residents that aren’t notable assets,” Theresa says in the lawsuit.

That focus on millennials had a greater impact on African Americans, he adds, because “they were disproportionately missing from the identified class D.C. was seeking to grow.”

As evidence, Theresa cites census statistics for several gentrifying neighborhoods, including Bloomingdale, which adjoins North Capitol Street, where the overall population grew by 1,000 from 2009 to 2016 but the number of African Americans fell. The population along the U Street corridor grew from 6,700 to 9,400 over a decade, as the number of whites increased by 1,300 and the African American population declined by nearly 400, the lawsuit claims.

Theresa also cites the neighborhood around the Navy Yard, which has exploded with growth over the past decade. As its population soared from 625 to 4,664, the percentage of whites — once 22 percent — rose to 66 percent. At the same time, the percentage of African Americans fell from 73 percent to 22 percent.

For projects larger than what the District’s zoning code allows, developers must seek approval from the Zoning Commission, which Theresa says has sought to “head off any dissent” by refusing to grant party status to neighbors opposing the projects at hearings. He also argues that D.C. officials have routinely failed to produce required reports that analyze whether proposed projects would drive gentrification.

“Such disregard for current residents’ concerns was calculated to re-segregate black communities into white upper class and creative class communities,” he writes in the complaint.

Theresa concludes his complaint by focusing on Anacostia, which he describes as “the newest close-knit black community slated for destruction.”

A number of residential and commercial developments are planned for the area, including the opening of a Busboys and Poets restaurant and a Starbucks franchise. Theresa characterizes the projects as delivering “housing that is for singles in an area that has a great need for family housing not kept in slum conditions.”

“Such development,” Theresa predicts, “will also bring retail out of step with the vast majority of local residents, displacing local, non-creative businesses.”

Further Readings

DCist: D.C. Is Being Sued For Gentrifying. Here’s What To Know About The Case

Criminalization of Black Communities

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“After fighting back against go-go music silencers and melanin-deficient elites who want to walk their pups through The Yard at Howard, D.C.’s Black community joined forces on another protest: Moechella.

The Save Chocolate City Protest occurred at the iconic Washington intersection of 14th and U street northwest Tuesday night and had the District rocking. A combination of the annual Coachella music festival and “Moe,” a local term Washingtonians use to describe friend, Newsone reports that around 3,000 people were in attendance to use Moechella as a way to combat against those who see fit to alter the cultural landscape of Washington.

Moechella is another response to a complaint filed by individuals living near the famous Metro PCS store on Seventh Street and Florida Avenue NW in April. Per an earlier Blavity report, tenants at the Shay filed a complaint against T-Mobile, which owns Metro PCS, about the incessant playing of go-go music from the shop’s speakers. Protestors didn’t take too kindly to their efforts at silencing something so recognizable to D.C.’s historic Shaw-Howard neighborhood and consequently launched the #DontMuteDC movement to stop city officials from banning the playing of the recognizable funk and R&B beats.

Moechella marks the third protest since those grievances were initially filed in early April.”  Vinciane Ngomsi, With Moechella, D.C. Put On The Blackest Protest Against Gentrifiers Who Tried To Quiet The Block

#DontMuteDC: Locals say gentrification is crushing Go-Go tradition at DC store


Daily Beast: How Gentrification Brings Over-Policing for D.C.’s Black Residents

A store in the historically black Shaw neighborhood blasts Go-Go music. Has for years. No one minded until the white folks moved in. It’s the tip of a big iceberg.

The MetroPCS store on the corner of Florida and Georgia avenues in Washington, D.C., sits at the heart of the Shaw neighborhood. Once surrounded by boarded homes, fast food joints, and Howard University, the store, which sells cellphones and electronic accessories, is now wedged between luxury condos, hipster cafes, and a concert venue.

For 25 years, one thing hadn’t changed: Go-Go, a funk-like music unique to the district, blasting from the store. That was until a noise complaint threatened to shut it down.

“It started with condo residents writing letters to the owner, then noise complaints to police,” says Natalie Hopkinson, a Howard University professor and advocate for the store’s owner, Donald Campbell. “When they didn’t get their way, the residents threatened to sue.”

At first they were successful. Soon executives from T-Mobile, Metro’s parent company, notified Campbell that the music should be shut off. Corporate executives didn’t anticipate, however, that appeasing condo residents would ignite a firestorm of backlash from D.C. natives, leading to anti-gentrification protests. More than 50,000 people signed a petition demanding that the Go-Go music resume, and by late April dozens of protests—including live concerts in front the store—became a rallying call for black natives to take back D.C., at one point nicknamed “Chocolate City.”

After nights of demonstrations, T-Mobile CEO John Legere announced that the Go-Go music would resume. But the incident is one example of how communities in transition create cultural clashes between mostly black and low-income longtime denizens and rich, white transplants.

“Everyone thought it started from one noise complaint, but this was a coordinated campaign to shut the store down,” Hopkinson says. She says MetroPCS had already received multiple police visits, each one requiring the store’s employees to prove the volume was within regulation.

“Many white people, when they feel threatened by African-Americans, call 9-1-1 because they know the state will respond to their racial anxiety.”

“That’s harassment, which creates unnecessary interaction between law enforcement and people of color,” she says.

The store’s owner isn’t the only one facing increased police scrutiny. Across the District of Columbia, black natives complain that with each new resident comes increased targeting by law enforcement tasked with keeping their communities safe.

“Gentrification and police work can feel like they have the same goal,” says Paul Butler, a Georgetown University professor and former federal prosecutor. “Many white people, when they feel threatened by African-Americans, call 9-1-1 because they know the state will respond to their racial anxiety.”

According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Washington, D.C., experienced the most “intense” gentrification of any major city in the country. Between 2000 and 2013, 40 percent of all low-income neighborhoods in D.C. experienced gentrification, displacing more than 20,000 African Americans. The District ranks third in the number of neighborhoods to transform overall.

Although African Americans remain the city’s largest ethnic group, their numbers declined since the 1970s, when a 70 percent population earned D.C. the nickname “Chocolate City.” A black majority ended in 2011, and the African-American population stands at 47 percent today. Butler says that rapid change can make people of color vulnerable to the prejudices of their new neighbors.

“[These studies] reflect the experiences of black Americans everyday and the fact that police are laser focused on them,” he says. “It feels like police are not there to serve and protect their communities but are part of the apparatus making them feel unwelcome in the neighborhoods they’ve been in for generations.”

Open The Government, a consortium of government transparency groups, and the ACLU, examined arrest data from the Metropolitan Police Department between 2013 and 2017, finding sharp disparities in arrests for minor offenses like noise ordinances, driving without a license, and marijuana consumption. Black residents were 47 percent of the city’s population but 86 percent of all arrests—a rate 10 times that of white people.

“The complaints we’re getting from community members are of officers stopping them or arresting them without probable cause,” says lead attorney Michael Perloff. “By and large the people complaining to us are overwhelmingly black.”

Disparities are citywide. Black people are disproportionately arrested in every D.C. neighborhood no matter its racial makeup or crime rate—making any link to gentrification difficult to determine. One element preventing the researchers from making that connection to is how many arrests stem from calls to 9-1-1 or 3-1-1.

“The Metropolitan Police Department is not doing a good job collecting data on stops overall,” Perloff adds. Metro police are required to provide data as part of a transparency law enacted in 2016. But Perloff notes researchers acquired the data via the Freedom of Information Act but are suing Metro police over what they consider further non-compliance.

Recent cases of police stopping black people for moving into an apartment or barbecuing originated from a 9-1-1 call. While the report’s researchers can’t correlate arrests to gentrification, research does suggest that changing communities nationwide lead to increased policing of black people.

According to Brenden Beck, assistant professor at the University of Florida who studies sociology, criminology and law, calls to police tend to be higher in gentrifying communities. That’s because as richer, mostly white transplants permeate once black and brown neighborhoods, with them come new standards and expectations. Cultural differences can result in new residents calling law enforcement to report neighborhood norms as nuisances.

“Early research already shows a pretty clear connection between gentrification and increased stops or arrests,” he says. “Whether looking at gentrification from a class, race or housing-market standpoint, it’s pretty clear that as race and class tensions get exacerbated, 3-1-1 calls to the police increase.”

By 2015, natives of D.C’s historic H-Street Corridor met with Metropolitan Police Department complaining of increased racial profiling and unwarranted stops. There, both law enforcement and longtime residents implored new residents to stop calling police on their black neighbors for mundane activities. Then-police chief Kathy Lanier promised better community relations; Hopkinson smirks when reminded of that meeting.

“Last week was the first annual D.C. Natives Day, a city holiday commissioned by the mayor in response to the anti-gentrification protests.”

Instead, she recalls a 2010 press conference when Metro police credited a drop in crime to their crackdown on the local Go-Go scene. Her book, Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City, details how Go-Go has been stigmatized to perpetuate anti-black stereotypes of violence and danger.

“Even back then law enforcement’s rhetoric positioned itself as doing the work of gentrifiers,” she says. “It’s reinforced the power they now feel they have to take over parts of the city by weaponizing their whiteness and newness.”

The condo community’s campaign to mute the MetroPCS store may have failed, but Hopkinson still worries. While one native business stays open, more shut down or are under threat.

Last week was the first annual D.C. Natives Day, a city holiday commissioned by the mayor in response to the anti-gentrification protests. For many transplants, it was their first exposure to the rich, black history that has made the city a go-to destination in the first place.

Justin Johnson, an artist whose protests, combined with a social media campaign called #DontMuteDC, sparked an anti-gentrification movement, says Go-Go is for everybody, pointing to Metro Police’s community band as an example of engagement without the erasure. The band, whose make up is primarily black, D.C. natives, has performed in area schools since the 1970s, but only recently relaunched as a form of community engagement.

“We welcome anybody here in D.C.,” he says. “But learn about us, learn our history and our culture because we ain’t going nowhere. Cracking down on Go-Go culture and D.C. natives as a whole just makes us fight harder to stay.”

Downfalls of “Diversity”

CityLab: Gentrification Doesn’t Mean Diversity

A historically black D.C. neighborhood markets its diversity to lure Millennials. But what happens when the new arrivals never interact with the longtime residents?

“Like many other cities, D.C. saw an influx of young people starting in the 1990s, encouraged, among other things, by local efforts to revitalize the downtown area. This back-to-the-city movement ushered in a new era for the U Street-Shaw corridor…

…For Derek Hyra, an associate professor of public administration and policy at American University, the neighborhood is the perfect grounds to study dynamics between different groups in what looks like an integrated space, but is actually a contested one. In his new book, Race, Class, Politics in the Cappuccino City, he lays out his findings:

In the book, you talk about how the black history of the neighborhood is being leveraged to advertise it to young urbanites. Could you talk about that?

In the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, if a neighborhood was branded black, it usually led to economic decline and white flight. And in the ‘90s and 2000s, you see low-income African-American neighborhoods being branded black and yet attracting whites. That is the unique dynamic of the Shaw-U Street area. Many of the developers are branding the buildings after iconic African Americans. There’s the Langston Lofts, there’s the Ellington Apartments. There’s Marvin’s, which is a restaurant that’s named after Marvin Gaye, who grew up in Washington, D.C. There’s Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal’s restaurant, named after Langston Hughes, which is very well-known in the D.C. area and also around the country. There’s also a historic walking trail, and you can see where Alain Locke, who wrote The New Negro—the philosophy of the Harlem Renaissance—lived. There’s historic preservation related to this community’s black history that is appreciated by whites and some whites are moving to this area because it is a diverse area.

But I also write that some whites are moving to the area because they know it was once the former ghetto. They know 14th Street used to be an open air drug market in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. And some white residents are looking for racial stereotypes. They’re looking for the iconic ghetto. They’ve seen shows like The Wire, and maybe New Jack City or Boyz N The Hood, and they have a connotation of what inner-city African-American areas that were once low-income look like. They’re actually moving here, in part, because they think that they’re moving to an area that they consider “authentic.” It’s not a homogenous affluent white area. It’s not in Georgetown. It’s not Foggy Bottom. It’s not Dupont Circle: It’s Shaw-U Street.

Elaborate on what’s positive and what’s problematic about this change, and with this perception of the neighborhood.

We have been so segregated in the United States and that now that whites are attracted and willing to move into what was formerly a low-income African-American neighborhood does symbolize some progress, in terms of race relations in the United States. That we have mixed-income, mixed-race neighborhoods, I think, is a very positive thing.

But that diversity not necessarily benefiting the former residents. Most of the mechanisms by which low-income people would benefit from this change are related to social interaction—that low-, middle-, and upper-income people would start to talk to one another. They would problem solve with one another. They would all get involved civically together to bolster their political power. But what we’re really seeing is a micro-level segregation. You see diversity along race, class, sexual orientation overall, but when you get into the civic institutions—the churches, the recreation centers, the restaurants, the clubs, the coffee shops—most of them are segregated. So you’re not getting a meaningful interaction across race, class, and difference. If we think that mixed-income, mixed-race communities are the panacea for poverty, they’re not.

During my research, for example, I had a lot of people tell me that they were pleased with the redevelopment because they felt it was associated with reductions in crime. They felt that it would be safer for their kids and their families. But then I would say, “What else is happening in this neighborhood?” “Oh well, the amenities are coming in that we can’t utilize or don’t want to utilize them.” “We’re losing our political power, because most of the civic associations used to be African-American, and then flipped.” So there’s a political loss that’s also occurring.

And then also you’ve got some people in this community that I say in the book are “living The Wire”—looking for iconic ghetto stereotypes. Some newcomers thought it was hip and cool, that it actually brought them more credibility because they were living in a neighborhood that was edgy and rough. Crime and blackness is associated in the minds of some newcomers—and that’s really problematic. Low-income residents, on the other hand, think crime is detrimental to their kids’ opportunities and to their health.

Sociologist Robert Sampson writes a lot about collective efficacy: that controlling crime brings people together across difference, as a community. But in a place where crime is perceived differently by a long term and newcomer populations, that’s not going to happen.

So, for newcomers, the diversity is an aesthetic or a superficial feature. It attracts them to the neighborhood, at times, because they have stereotypical ideas about the culture of that neighborhood. And once they start living there, they often don’t engage with neighbors—especially across racial and class lines—in a meaningful way. At the same time, you note in your book, that older residents are also suspicious of newcomers. What’s the reason that different groups are reluctant to talk to each other?

We just have to look at race relations in America to understand that there tends to be a mistrust of people who are different, regardless of whether you’re living miles and miles away, or whether you’re living next door to them.I would also say that the current climate in gentrified spaces is one where newcomers typically come in, and instead of politically integrating, they do a political takeover. They start to take over the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in D.C. They take over the city council seats. And then, they start instituting policies that relate more to their tastes and preferences and their idea of what they want the community to look like. They advocate for things like the bike lanes, coffee shops, and dog parks.

There’s a great example in the book where the first off-leash dog park was developed in the Shaw-U Street area. It was advocated for by a civic association that was dominated by white newcomers and they got less than half a million dollars for it. I spent time doing my ethnography at this park, and I noticed that African-Americans, who had dogs, that were living around this park, didn’t enter it. I asked them, “You’ve got a dog, why don’t you use this space?” “Oh, no, no, no. We’re not going to use that because that space is not for us.” I said, “why isn’t it for you?” “It was put in place by a white-led civic association. They got the money and that’s their space.” This person felt like they weren’t included in the political process. Other residents mentioned how, for years before newcomer whites came in, they had been advocating for improvements in that park—and nothing occurred. So there was a lot of resentment by longterm residents.
What’s the best way to go about bridging this divide? If it wasn’t for affordable housing policies in Shaw, it would maybe be 90 percent white. Many of the African-American longterm residents who are living there are living in subsidized housing that dates back to the 1960s. And so we’ve got to preserve and maintain affordable housing in transitioning communities. That’s one. But if we just focus on housing and don’t go beyond that, we’re really not stimulating the benefit for low-income people.We really need community based organizations that are focused on bringing people together across difference. I call these neutral third spaces. Public policy isn’t geared toward funding community based organizations in gentrified areas that are trying to bring people together to dialogue about inequality or differences. It’s not going to happen organically. There are very few foundations, a few city governments using their Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to focus on bridge-building. I really think we need that. We need affordable housing first, but we have to go beyond housing to make mixed-income, mixed-race communities work for everybody—to make them more inclusive.”

The Exclusionary Zoning of Single Family Units

NY Times: Cities Start to Question an American Ideal: A House With a Yard on Every Lot

Washington, D.C.
36% of residential land is zoned for detached single-family homes

In the predominantly white, upscale neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, 72% of residential land is zoned single-family.

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About one-third of D.C.’s residential land is zoned for rowhomes, which predominate east of Rock Creek Park.

Such maps reflect the belief that denser housing can be a nuisance to single-family neighborhoods just as a factory would be. That conviction is at least as old as the 1926 Supreme Court decision that upheld zoning in America.

Apartments, the court warned, block the sun and air. They bring noise and traffic. They act as a parasite on single-family neighborhoods — “until, finally, the residential character of the neighborhood and its desirability as a place of detached residences are utterly destroyed.”

Today, the very density that the court scorned is viewed by environmentalists as an antidote to sprawling development patterns that feed gridlock and auto emissions. It’s viewed by planners as an essential condition to support public transit, and by economists as the best means of making high-cost cities more affordable.

Single-family zoning “means that everything else is banned,” said Scott Wiener, a California state senator, speaking this spring at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Apartment buildings — banned. Senior housing — banned. Low-income housing, which is only multi-unit — banned. Student housing — banned.”

Cities regularly “upzone” individual neighborhoods or properties to allow more housing options. Minneapolis’s remarkable approach was to upzone every single-family neighborhood at once. That was the fairest solution, officials argued.

“If we were going to pick and choose, the fight I think would have been even bloodier,” said Heather Worthington, director of long-range planning for the city.

Montgomery Country ADUs

WAMU: A Big Fight Over Small Apartments In Montgomery County

Some in the affluent county say loosening regulations on tiny houses and basement units would produce more affordable housing. But critics warn of unintended consequences.

Montgomery County can be an expensive place to live for senior citizens, hourly wage-earners and people just entering the workforce. But some relief from high housing costs may lurk inside the homes of residents like Laurie Welch.

Below the creaking floors of her living room in Takoma Park, Welch has a basement apartment she’s rented out for 20 years. It’s a fully equipped living space with a kitchen and a bathroom. A separate entrance opens onto a verdant backyard with a trickling pond. Amid the sounds of bird calls, the crackling voice of a train operator echoes from nearby Takoma Metro station.

One-bedroom apartments in this neighborhood often rent for $1,500 a month or more. Welch charges $950, utilities included.

“I never have any trouble renting out this apartment, I’ve got to say,” she chuckles, padding through her backyard in bare feet. “I try to live my values, so I don’t want to charge too much.”

Welch believes it should be easier for her neighbors to add similarly separate living spaces — technically called accessory dwelling units, or ADUs — to their properties. But that’s not always possible under current county regulations. And many people in Montgomery County, including the jurisdiction’s top elected official, are fighting a proposal to relax the rules.

County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) is behind that proposal — Zoning Text Amendment 19-01 — which is tentatively scheduled for a vote July 16. In January, he introduced a measure that would slash some of the red tape that can complicate the process of adding a separate apartment to a single-family lot. It would eliminate a requirement that neighborhoods can only have one ADU every 300 or 500 feet, depending on the zone they’re in. The proposal would also remove a ban on tiny homes and other detached apartments on smaller lots, like those often found in Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Rules on ADUs are “keeping people out of our community,” says Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer.

Riemer calls the restrictions “a real problem” in a jurisdiction where approximately half of renters and a third of households headed by seniors are overburdened by housing costs. He says he’s heard from homeowners who want to build the units to house their aging parents, rent to their adult children or defray their mortgage costs, only to find they can’t meet licensing requirements.

“These rules are preventing people from living the way that families increasingly want to have the option to live,” the council member says. “They’re keeping people out of our community.”

Riemer says basement apartments and tiny homes could bring cheaper housing options to amenity-rich neighborhoods. They could also keep families together, he says, and give homeowners more financial flexibility.

Laurie Welch says her ADU allows her tenants to live near transit and jobs, which has environmental benefits. “The climate is burning up. We’ve got to keep people from driving from Frederick to work here,” she says. “Those of us who have houses on half an acre are hogging the land that other people would like to use.”

But opponents of the measure say adding more ADUs could crowd neighborhoods, worsen traffic congestion and exacerbate stormwater drainage issues, all while failing to create more affordable housing options. Others predict they’ll attract too many low-income residents, bringing down property values in the process. (Multiple county officials, including Council President Nancy Navarro, condemned that perspective after a county resident aired it in the pages of the Washington Post.)

Now, as Riemer’s initiative makes its way through the council, the debate has come to encapsulate a question many local leaders are struggling to answer: How can jurisdictions balance the needs of a growing population without alienating existing residents who believe change threatens their quality of life?

The Case Against Little Apartments

From inside the elegant four-bedroom Tudor she rents in Chevy Chase, Andy Leon Harney has been steadily working to pump the brakes on Riemer’s proposal.

In her role as village manager of Section 3 of Chevy Chase Village, Harney has become one of the more prominent and engaged critics of the measure, formally called ZTA 19-01. She’s monitored its progress in the council and submitted testimony against it, asking officials to seek more feedback from residents and study how the county’s existing 473 ADUs have affected communities.

“I haven’t seen any data to support why we need this, and why suddenly all single-family zoning should be thrown out the window,” Harney says. “An ADU is another dwelling unit on your property. That’s two different households producing two sets of garbage, two sets of children, two sets of parking issues.”

Neighborhoods like hers, Harney says, simply can’t accommodate more density. Houses in Section 3 may be large, but they sit on relatively small lots. Many local streets are narrow, with shared driveways and precious little room for parking. If residents start building tiny houses throughout the community, Harney says, that would also create more impermeable surfaces, potentially worsening problems with stormwater drainage.

Harney says the controversial anti-ADU letter published by the Washington Post doesn’t represent residents like her. Most people fighting Riemer’s measure, she says, aren’t motivated by prejudice.

“Most of the people who are against it are against it for very practical, real reasons,” she says. “And their voices are not being heard.”

Residents like Harney have found an influential advocate in County Executive Marc Elrich, who recently sent an email to constituents saying the zoning change would “fundamentally alter virtually all residential areas in the county now zoned for single-family detached homes.”

In remarks to council members, Elrich — who did not make himself available for an interview about ADUs — pointed out that the council already relaxed rules on the dwelling units last year. He also cast doubt on the idea that little apartments will add much affordable housing to the county, because construction costs — especially for detached “tiny house” units — can soar into the six-figure range.

“Viewed through an equity lens,” Elrich wrote to council members in February, “the benefits associated with relying heavily on ADUs to increase the rental housing stock can disproportionately accrue to wealthier households who can afford to build them, while failing to serve those already cost-burdened by rents.”

According to Montgomery County’s 2017 rental housing study, households earning less than 30 percent of the area median income — roughly $36,400 today — have the fewest housing options in the county. The study also shows that three quarters of renters in the jurisdiction earn less than 100 percent of the AMI, which is now $121,300, according to 2019 figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The benefits associated with relying heavily on ADUs to increase the rental housing stock can disproportionately accrue to wealthier households,” says Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich.

Responding to residents’ concerns about affordability and quality-of-life issues associated with accessory dwelling units, the executive has floated a number of modifications to Riemer’s proposal. They include offering incentives to ADU owners who charge under-market rents, banning detached units from smaller lots, blocking residents from converting accessory dwellings to Airbnbs and tacking hefty impact fees onto units with more than one bedroom.

Elrich has also fired back at residents who have called him and others “short-sighted” and “narrow-minded NIMBYs” for criticizing Riemer’s proposal.

“Actually,” Elrich wrote in a June memorandum to council members, “most of us think ADUs are a viable housing option — and only ask that the county adopts measures that assure a clear, well-regulated program.”

Riemer says sweetening the pot to encourage more affordable tiny homes and basement apartments is worth exploring, but it’s not clear whether council members have seriously considered all of Elrich’s proposed changes. Zoning text amendments do not require executive approval; they can be passed with a council majority.

A Partial Solution To A Bigger Problem?

Riemer and other “smart growth” advocates acknowledge that accessory dwelling units are not a panacea for the county’s affordable housing shortage. Instead, they describe them as one tool among many.

“This is such a modest, targeted intervention,” Riemer says. “What we need are a combination of solutions [for affordable housing]. It’s not acceptable to fight off every solution while disingenuously saying, ‘I oppose this because it doesn’t do enough for people in poverty.’”

Last year, Riemer sponsored successful legislation that increased affordable housing requirements for new construction in high-income areas. (Elrich, who served on the council at the time, voted for it.) But during budget negotiations this year, the council rejected the executive’s request to reduce contributions to an affordable housing construction fund.

Riemer says worries about stormwater drainage, overcrowding and Airbnbs are overblown. ADUs have to meet the same stormwater standards as other residential construction, he says, and the units aren’t likely to crop up all over the county, because not everyone wants, needs or can afford to build one. And it’s difficult to convert the little homes to short-term rentals, he says, because they have significantly different licensing requirements.

Riemer’s zoning amendments have found support among organizations like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and local chapters of Habitat for Humanity and the Sierra Club. They’ve also received support from members of the county’s planning board, including new appointee Partap Verma.

Sitting on a sofa inside the Forest Glen home he shares with his husband, au pair and three children, Verma says the debate over small dwelling units — and growth in general — is an indicator of how well off Montgomery County really is.

“It shows you how much privilege there is in this county. We have these conversations of like, ‘Should we grow? Should we build?’” Verma says. “These are conversations that 99% of counties around the country would love to have, but don’t have that luxury.”

Verma agrees that tiny houses and basement apartments aren’t always going to help residents at the bottom of the economic ladder. But he thinks they could put transit-adjacent land to better use while offering cheaper alternatives to commercially available apartments.

Plus, the matter is personal for Verma and his family.

The attorney and his spouse plan to sell their current home and build a new house nearby, just a short walk to the Forest Glen Metro station. Their goal is to provide enough room for themselves, Verma’s parents, their au pair and a renter who will occupy an accessory apartment. Under current zoning code — which restricts ADUs to homes at least five years old — they wouldn’t be able to do the latter.

“This ADU policy is really important for me, because I feel like my family is so blessed to have this opportunity to build a house next to the Metro,” Verma says. “I don’t want it to be just a single-family home. I want it to be an opportunity for another family.”

Further Readings

Washington Post:  Montgomery ADUS: Here’s why some people strongly oppose

DCist: D.C. Is Being Sued For Gentrifying. Here’s What To Know About The Case

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DC Affordable Housing Crisis

DC Affordable Housing Units

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  • HUD says affordable housing
    • Is 1/3 of income often based on the Area median income (AMI)
      • AMI is the household income for the median — or middle — household in a region.
  • 2018 DC Area median income (AMI) is $117,200 – family of 4
    • DC 2017 median income was $75,506
      • Below 80% AMI
    • DC 2016 median income for white families was $127,369
      • over 100% AMI
    • DC 2016 median income for black families was $37,891
      • 32% AMI
    • Earning $15 an hour, 40 hours per week
      • Earns $31,200 a year (27% AMI)
    • Annual salary to afford average 1 bed unit is $80,466.67
      • Or $41.90 per hour
    • 1 in 4 DC renters spend more than 50% income on rent

“The number of apartments deemed affordable for low-income families across the US fell 60% between 2010-16. Most new construction of multifamily housing generally serves high-income renters” Freddie Mac

Empower DC Slides from a Presentation on DC Affordable Housing & Gentrification

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  • 3/4 DC renters with housing cost burden in DC are extremely low-income
    • Below 30% of area median income, or $33,000 for a family of four
    • Less than 1/3 of new rental units produced by DC’s housing programs have been affordable to this group
    • DC’s Inclusionary Zoning requires 8–10% of residential area to be affordable

Where is Affordable Housing In DC

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  • Only 53 homes out of the 9,285 total recent affordable homes, or about 0.6%, are located in Ward 3
  • All affordable units West of Rock Creek created by inclusionary zoning
  • Not Trust Funds or tax credits
  • Restrictive zoning and neighborhood opposition to multifamily construction have impeded new housing development west of Park

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Only A Small Portion of Affordable Units Are Within Reach for DC’s Lowest-Income Residents

  • 3/4 DC renters with housing cost burden in DC are extremely low-income
    • below 30% of area median income, or $33,000 for a family of four
    • Less than 1/3 of new rental units produced by DC’s housing programs have been affordable to this group

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Possible Solutions

The lesson of the city: No community should fight for improvements without simultaneously fighting for community control and permanency (against displacement). It plays into the hands of developers and the government officials doing their bidding. New stores will come, new sidewalks and trails, etc – they will celebrate the “improvement” and not mind one bit if the people who championed improving their communities are no longer around to enjoy it.”  Parisa Bonita Norouzi (Empower DC)

Empower DC Slides from an Presentation on DC Affordable Housing & Gentrification

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Greater Greater Washington: Planned Unit Developments, explained

When it comes to development, there’s often tension between what’s practical or ideal and what the zoning rules at a given site allow. One tool available to builders in DC is called a Planned Unit Development. PUDs allow flexibility in the rules, and since they’re happening all over the city, it’s worth understanding what they are and how they work.

What is a Planned Unit Development?

Many residential or mixed use construction projects, whether carried out by a homeowner or a developer, meet the letter of DC’s current zoning laws. In these cases, the city deems the plans “by right” and goes on to issue a construction permit. But other times, zoning rules allow for flexibility in their interpretation, and “zoning relief” can be granted.

For projects where a homeowner or developer wants to do something a bit different, like building closer to the edge of the lot than what’s prescribed, additional review and approval are required, typically by DC’s Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). However, the BZA process is for relatively minor zoning relief, such as exceeding lot coverage or reduced parking requirements.

A third type of project, a PUD, gives developers more significant zoning relief. This can come by way of allowing a building to be taller or denser than what the zoning code says is allowed, or building a residential or commercial building in space that’s zoned for industrial.

PUDs are managed by DC’s Zoning Commission, which is in charge of changes to the zoning regulations or zoning map. The commission can grant zoning relief if it believes the proposed project— and, in particular, the way it deviates from what’s allowed by right— will allow for something better for the surrounding neighborhood or city.

Because a PUD can provide substantial zoning relief, developers are expected to provide benefits to the community in return. The PUD process also provides the community an opportunity to engage with and influence the project in a substantial way. So while a PUD often means a developer can build higher or denser buildings, it also means the community can get things like streetscape improvements, community resources, or additional affordable housing.

Below is a map of all of the developments in DC that currently have approval to move forward, or whose approval is pending, and that used a PUD. There are 221 of the former and 28 of the latter.

What do PUD cases mean for the community?

Any case that requires zoning relief provides an opportunity for neighbors to weigh in on the planned project, through the ANC or the BZA. Because a PUD is typically a larger project with larger impacts on the community, PUDs typically involve a longer and more detailed community engagement process.

Another important feature of PUDs is that they require developers to provide a benefits and amenities package to the community in exchange for the request zoning relief. This means community participation in the PUD process is critical.

What is a benefits and amenities package?

When a developer asks for exceptions to zoning rules through a PUD, those exceptions clearly have some value; that means the developer has to “pay” for them. That payment usually comes in the form of a suite of benefits and amenities to the community, which should be roughly equal to the value of the zoning relief.

Benefits and amenities packages vary by project, and there are relatively few restrictions or even guidelines on what a package can include. The “benefits” component accrues to the community, while the “amenities” are typically more relevant for the residents of the development. An example of a benefit might be improvements to a local dog park or streetscape upgrades. Another might be a transportation “hub” in the development that provides information to residents on local transportation options.

Here are some typical categories of benefits and amenities:

  • Architecture and landscaping
  • Efficient and economical land utilization
  • Safe vehicular and pedestrian access; transportation management measures
  • Historic preservation projects
  • Employment and training opportunities
  • Affordable housing
  • Social services or facilities
  • Environmental benefits

In general, District agencies involved in PUD cases prefer public benefits that are physical investments, like playground equipment or bicycle racks, rather than “soft” investments, such as monetary contributions to a nonprofit organization. The rationale is that physical investments are relatively guaranteed to provide benefits to the community for the long term while soft investments may not always provide the intended stream of benefits (for example, the nonprofit could close).

PUD benefits don’t have to be right on the development site, but they must be within a quarter mile or within the boundaries of the ANC in which the PUD sits.

DC Planned Unit Development (PUD) Process

Full Presentation

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Greater Greater Washington: Who decides DC’s zoning?

DC’s Zoning Administrator recently ruled that the ARTS overlay around 14th and U has reached its bar and restaurant maximum of 25%, prompting many blog posts about the decision.

Some commenters specifically charge that DCRA, the agency of which the Zoning Administrator is a part, is stifling restaurants. But they’re not actually the ones who make the zoning policy. To fully comprehend this issue, it’s helpful to understand the complex set of boards and agencies responsible for making zoning policy.

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) is the agency actually responsible for giving out building permits and certificates of occupancy for buildings and businesses. The Office of the Zoning Administrator, inside DCRA, makes the determination about what the zoning regulations allow.

If someone wants to build a building or open a business that isn’t allowed by the strict interpretation from DCRA, they go to the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA). The BZA grants variances and special exceptions. Variances are permission to do something not permitted in the zoning regulations, while special exceptions are permissions to do something that the zoning regulations allow but require a special review beforehand.

Under the ARTS Ovelay, restaurants exceeding the 25% would only need a special exception, but that still can take months to get through the BZA’s lengthy quasi-judicial process and crowded calendar; establishments seeking one also are likely to need to pay a zoning attorney for considerable amounts of time.

If this is not acceptable, the solution is to change the zoning rules. That is done by the Zoning Commission, made up of three Mayoral appointees and two federal representatives, one from the National Park Service and the other from the Architect of the Capitol. The Zoning Commission reviews Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), larger-scale projects that get some relief from zoning in exchange for community benefits, and also amendments to the zoning map and regulations.

Most of the time, changes to the zoning regulations come from the DC Office of Planning (OP). They often suggest individual text and map amendments, though residents can also petition for amendments.

OP is also running the citywide zoning update process to rewrite the District’s zoning code. OP has recommended setting restaurant limitations on a zone-by-zone basis and the Zoning Commission wants a simpler tool, but there is not yet a specific alternate plan. An ANC 2F committee recommended increasing the limit to 40-50%, but the zoning update itself will take another year or more to complete.

When OP formulates recommendations and when the Zoning Commission rules on them, they are supposed to be guided by the District’s and federal government’s overall plans, especially the Comprehensive Plan. There are also smaller neighborhood plans.

OP writes these plans and the DC Council (for the District) and National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC, for the federal government) review them. The Council isn’t allowed to change Small Area Plans, but can disapprove them.

Therefore, unlike in most jurisdictions, the elected representatives don’t directly make specific decisions about zoning at the level of individual properties. Instead, they can set very broad policies, which OP tries to turn into text and maps and the Zoning Commission rules upon, DCRA enforces and the BZA grants exceptions to.

If the 25% restaurant limitation is inappropriate, there are a few ways to fix the problem. Expecting DCRA not to enforce an existing regulation, however, is not one of them. OP could propose an immediate text amendment to change the rules sooner than the full zoning update, or ANC2F or other groups could. The Zoning Commission would hold a hearing, and could approve the change. MidCity Business Association has said they want to try to get such a text amendment moving as soon as possible.

Dcist: ‘We’re In A Crisis’: Advocates Launch New Citywide Tenant Union

When Ronnie Jackson’s landlord put his building up for sale more than a decade ago, he said that he and other residents felt like they were kept in the dark about what would happen next.

The residents decided to sue, kicking off a nine-year legal battle. “We found out a lot of things in increments,” said Jackson, who is now the president of the Waterside Towers Resident Association near D.C.’s Southwest waterfront. Looking back, he wishes he had gotten more support along the way.

Now, he’s working towards creating an organization that would provide help to other residents in a similar situation. On Saturday afternoon, Jackson was one of around 150 people who gathered for the launch of a new citywide tenant union at All Souls Church in Columbia Heights.

“More and more minorities are being pushed away,” Jackson said. “We need to be unionized because chunk by chunk, place by place, ward by ward, gentrification is taking over.”

The event, hosted by the Latino Economic Development Center, drew activists, tenant leaders, and residents from across the District’s eight wards. They gathered in a stiflingly hot church hall with fans whirring to discuss the future of tenant organizing in the District, form neighborhood chapters, and elect new leaders for the union.

“Slumlord housing, it’s a crime. Time for slumlords to serve their time,” the crowd repeated, fists in the air, as organizers translated the chants into Spanish and Amharic.

This new union comes at a time when affordable housing is harder to find in the city. In the last two decades, rapid gentrification has displaced low-income District residents at some of the highest rates in the country. A recent survey showed that one fifth of residents in Wards 7 and 8 are worried that rising housing costs will force them out of their homes within the next three years. Washington is currently among the nation’s top five most expensive renting markets, according to a July report by Zumper. And those rents are rising at increasing rates, especially in areas near Metro stations.

“We’re in a crisis,” said Rob Wohl, tenant organizing manager for LEDC. “We have to act quick, and we have to act dramatically.”

The new group is not a union in the technical sense of the word—like the Teamsters or the United Automobile Workers—but Wohl hopes that bringing the District’s tenant leaders together will help secure stronger housing rights for the city’s many low-income residents who may be at risk of displacement. He said that while LEDC is well organized across Northwest D.C., the organization still has a lot of work to do in other parts of the city.

The group’s top priority will be to get established leaders of tenant associations to mobilize residents of other buildings, Wohl said. People will have more leverage as part of a larger group than as disparate entities, and can better share information. And in terms of policy, Wohl hopes the group can help close loopholes in D.C.’s rent-control legislation and change housing laws along the lines of the landmark rent-reform bill passed last month in New York City.

D.C.’s citywide tenant union will be broken up into three branches: the Uptown chapter (Wards 1, 3, 4) the Midtown chapter (2, 5, and 6), and the East of the River Chapter (7 and 8).

Several participants in the East of the River breakout session said they worried that Wards 7 and 8, which include some of the poorest parts of the District, would be marginalized within the union. Karen Settles, a veteran tenant organizer in the District who chairs the citywide advisory board for the D.C. Housing Authority, objected to dividing the union into chapters out of concern that it could sow division within the organization.

But organizers contended that splitting the group into chapters would help ensure it could meet the needs of its members. “We want people to be able to walk to a meeting ideally,” said Wohl. “We need to have things that people can be a part of in their day-to-day lives.”

After congregating in All Souls Church’s main hall, people broke off into separate rooms to elect five new leaders for their respective chapters. Participants could nominate themselves, or anyone else in the room. It was a blitz election—nominees were given a short minute to say something about themselves before each chapter proceeded to a vote.

Beatrice Evans was among those nominated as a leader of the East of the River chapter, though she didn’t win. Six months ago, Evans got help from LEDC to create the residents association at the Triangle View apartments in Fort Dupont and she said that getting information out to residents is one of the biggest challenges for tenant organizers.

“If people knew what was happening in the city and what rights they have about getting things accomplished in their building, then people would participate more,” Evans said.

Settles was elected as one of the leaders for the East of the River chapter on Saturday. For the organizing efforts to be successful, she said, leaders will have to learn from past mistakes and overcome infighting.

“What we should focus on is what we all have in common,” Settles said. “And that is our human right to have a place to live—whoever you may be.”

Market Watch: Four years, $13 million and dozens of hands: How ‘affordable housing’ gets made in America

Why is it so hard to build and maintain inexpensive housing?

Jennifer Sumler has lived in her apartment building on Cedar Street in the Takoma section of Washington, D.C., for her entire life, but the sound she heard one late November evening a few years ago was like nothing she’d ever experienced.

“All of a sudden the sky got dark and there was a ‘Wizard of Oz’ moment,” recalled Sumler, who’s 50. “Leaves started to whip up. There was this ferocious wind. Then there was this noise. It was loud and really otherworldly.”

As sirens blared, she and several neighbors gathered outside in the leafy courtyard. Through the rain, they could see the source of that horrible noise: a huge portion of the roof had been ripped off.

The freak storm that night in 2016 displaced more than just the roof. Several neighbors were never to return. But for Sumler and a few others, it marked a turning point. Over the next few years, they’d make the journey from discontented renters to affordable-housing advocates, resolved to keep 410 Cedar St. accessible to people of moderate means for generations to come.

Nearly three years later, they’re not done. The financing to repair and renovate the 30-unit building has only now been agreed to and will take another year to finalize. By the time that happens, dozens of parties will have had a hand in the project: developers, community organizers, government workers, bankers, regulators, lawyers, property managers, a historical consultant, lobbyists, investors and more.

The story of 410 Cedar St. isn’t just the story of one Washington, D.C., building; it’s the story of how America creates “affordable housing” — and why it’s so incredibly hard. Anytime a project comes together, it’s thanks to a patchwork quilt of the public purse, private funding, regulatory incentives, tax quirks and even exceptional individuals like Sumler. Those involved aren’t necessarily working against gentrification as much as working toward safe, stable, affordable housing, sometimes one neighborhood, one block or one unit at a time.

“It’s great that we have all these millennials and people moving into D.C. and we’re seeing restaurants and night life pop,” said Gerry Joseph, the real-estate developer whom the Cedar Street tenants eventually hired. “But you can’t do it all at the expense of the people who’ve been here their whole lives. It’s important to try to save as many of [these older buildings] as we can. We’re not going to save them all.”

Washington, D.C., a planned city from inception, is unique in many ways. In particular, it has made a strong public commitment to helping its residents access housing that’s affordable, and providing tools that support tenants.

Its mayor, Muriel Bowser, is “doing more for affordable housing than any other mayor in the country,” said Kathryn Howell, an assistant professor of urban planning at Virginia Commonwealth University. Bowser committed $100 million a year to affordable housing in her first term, which began in 2015, and has increased the budgeted amount every year since.

Some initiatives, such as city-budget dollars directed toward initiatives like the Cedar Street restoration, are Bowser’s to claim. But the Cedar Street project owes its existence to Washington’s TOPA, or Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, laws, which precede the mayor’s tenure. It’s this program that perhaps best illustrates the opportunity and complexity facing tenants, developers and other investors in the affordable-housing ecosystem.

Under TOPA, tenants of any building whose owner has decided to sell have the right to buy the building themselves. They can become owners in a condominium or cooperative conversion, or they can transfer their rights to someone they hire, usually a developer like Gerry Joseph, to keep the building operating in its rental format.

D.C. provides the tenants of multifamily buildings resources to organize themselves, including matching them with legal counsel, for example. As long as the tenants (or their own developer) can match the bid that the building’s owner receives on the open market, tenants are given priority.

TOPA is “one of the really unique things about D.C.’s housing landscape. It’s centered on the residents, whom they see as the city’s assets. Most affordable-housing policy looks at rentals as temporary, like [renters are] not really citizens of the city,” Howell said. In contrast, she said, TOPA “gives a lot of agency and control and power to residents.”

In D.C., these programs are increasingly tapped as the population has surged, adding 100,000 residents between 2000 and 2015, a 16% increase. During roughly that same time frame, rents have jumped anywhere from 14% for the lowest earners to 32% for the highest, while incomes have not grown for the two lowest quintiles, according to an analysis from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

In fact, the gentrification experienced in the nation’s capital in recent years has been among the most intense in the U.S., in its case resulting in the displacement of mostly African-American residents from low-income neighborhoods, according to a recent study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

“While gentrification increases the value of properties in areas that suffered from prolonged disinvestment, it also results in rising rents, home and property values,” the NCRC noted. “As these rising costs reduce the supply of affordable housing, existing residents, who are often black or Hispanic, are displaced. This prevents them from benefiting from the economic growth and greater availability of services that come with increased investment.”

Even with TOPA in place, when a D.C. landlord gets ready to sell, tenants aren’t always interested in making a bid for the property. Many would rather take a buyout and vacate.

Yet Ramon Jacobson, who leads the city’s office of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a national community-development organization that helps fund projects like Cedar Street, often hears D.C. residents saying they “want a piece” of the community. It was Jacobson and LISC that provided the developer Joseph and the Cedar Street tenants, led by Sumler, financing to match an open-market bid received by their landlord.

“It used to be a big concern of ours that there would be tenants who were just interested in flipping the property,” Jacobson told MarketWatch. “I think people see [D.C.] as a much more desirable place to live, and want to stay as long-term residents. This is a property in a lovely neighborhood. You could easily see that someone could buy [Cedar Street], fix it up, and it could be luxury housing, and there would be no place for the residents that had been there for 30 years. We see this as a tool of equity.”

LISC is the linchpin of a system so complicated that it sometimes resembles a Rube Goldberg contraption. Without all the players and all the levers, affordable housing would not be produced.

“Cities where they’ve been most successful in really moving the needle forward have some group, whether LISC, or the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago, or other local nonprofits, that are really essential to bringing a lot of people to the table and taking something difficult and figuring out how it works,” said VCU’s Howell.

Likewise, the struggle to preserve and create affordable housing has many local characteristics but a broad outline that looks pretty similar across the country. Developers cobble together funding packages from all levels of government and attract money from private sources whenever and however possible.

LISC borrows most of its money from banks that want to fulfill their obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act, a decades-old federal mandate that requires financial institutions to meet the credit needs of diverse communities.

“Make no mistake about it: Absent CRA, the partnerships that we have with banks would not be anything close to what they are now,” said Maurice Jones, president of LISC’s national organization. “It is an invaluable tool for us to get loan capital that we can deploy for projects” like Cedar Street.

LISC currently borrows from banks at interest rates averaging about 3.7% to 4%, Jones said, and, to a lesser extent, from “impact investors” and philanthropic groups at about 2%. They lend to developers like Joseph at a rate of 3% to 6%. The spread pays for LISC’s cost of doing business. (LISC also goes directly to the capital markets to raise money; it has an AA rating with a negative outlook from Standard and Poor’s.)

With the Cedar Street tenants’ blessing, Joseph and his partners used a loan from LISC to acquire the property. Joseph then applied to the city for permanent financing to pay back the acquisition loan and prep for reconstruction.

In early March 2019, one agonizing month behind schedule, Joseph and the tenants learned that the city had approved their proposal for funding. The project had been allotted $5 million earmarked to low-income-housing tax credits, which are sold to investors to raise equity capital for the project.

As of this writing, Joseph is getting ready to hire a syndicator, an agent responsible for matching interested investors to developers. Those investors — usually, but not always, banks — will bid for the right to buy those tax credits, which have a 10-year life span, meaning that every year for the next decade, those investors will see their taxes reduced by $500,000.

The city also gave Cedar Street a little over $4 million of municipal funds. And several banks have already expressed interest in granting Joseph a $2.7 million mortgage.

Between finalizing construction plans, ensuring renovations conform to historic-preservation standards for the 1920s building, putting the rest of the financing into place and pulling construction permits, work won’t begin until early 2020, and is forecast to wrap up roughly a year later.

In all, it will have taken over three years and $13 million to restore 30 units of affordable housing.

Many in the industry liken the process to the messiness of democracy in general: perhaps the worst way to get anything done, except that all the other approaches are even worse.

In an interview in January, Joseph mused on the complexity of the industry: “Every time I close one of these projects I take a deep breath and say there’s got to be an easier way to do this, even though if it was easier, I probably wouldn’t make my living doing it. It’s sort of a deal with the devil — the idea that we can’t produce housing with government money only; we have to get private funds into the transaction. It’s created a whole business sector of people who work in and feed off this … accountants, lawyers, bankers, consultants … and the transactions themselves have umpteen documents. You say, if someone just wrote a check you could just build the housing a lot more quickly.”

LISC’s Jones laughed when told about Joseph’s ruminations.

“We are putting deals together where there may be 15-plus sources of capital, so I agree wholeheartedly there’s got to be a simpler way of doing it,” he said. “But the notion that the public sector is going to produce enough revenues to build all the housing that we need for everybody, the facts belie that. We’ve got to find a way to get the private and the public sector in the game.”

Jennifer Sumler was born in Washington, D.C., in 1968. Her father spent many years as the chauffeur and bodyguard for the president of Howard University, and her mother sandwiched her years at home taking care of the children between stints at the Federal Reserve.

Sumler remembers riding bikes around the neighborhood and swimming in the local pool. She also remembers the Cedar Street building full of families, and how the neighbors would congregate on the wall surrounding the building’s courtyard.

“We used to all meet up after work or school and sit and talk and gossip and play a little music and catch up,” she said. “It’s one of my fondest memories. I remember the gas lines of the ’70s,” as the building sits across the street from a filling station.

Sumler has been in Takoma longer than the Metro, the sprawling transit system that spans D.C. and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. “I remember the talk about the Metro coming and the construction. When it did open, I remember when we got off at the stop we would be the only ones. We would always laugh to ourselves getting off, ‘It’s a secret, nobody knows.’ Boy, has that changed.”

Sumler attended Howard University, majoring in broadcast journalism. She’s worked in television and radio news, and briefly toyed with trying to become on-air talent. But when she learned that would mean leaving Washington to work her way up in smaller news markets, she reconsidered.

After a few decades in media, Sumler wanted a new challenge. She had been volunteering as an adult-literacy tutor and “found it rewarding in ways that I had never imagined.” She went back to school and got a master’s degree in education. But life happened: Her mother became sick, and Sumler put the new career on hold to care for her.

“It’s been a lot of stress and a lot of work, and about 2½ years ago, where I thought [my mother] was stable enough [to] let me try to get my life on track, our owner decided to sell the building,” Sumler said. “That created a whole ’nother set of circumstances. Now we’ve got to organize, a third of our population is homeless, and we’re wondering about the roof.”

Jacobson of the local LISC is of the view that it takes a unique type of individual to execute the implausible task of organizing lower-income tenants into a quasi–real estate development partnership. “In a lot of places in our society there’s not a lot of venues for people to express themselves,” he said. “You have people who, if society were structured differently, they would be leaders in other ways.”

Sumler’s professional background likely gave her an advantage compared with the typical TOPA organizer. But in other ways, the Cedar Street tenant association faced a mightier challenge than most groups vying for TOPA funds: The building’s post-storm disrepair had discouraged many of the tenants from the get-go. Sumler found herself in a position that’s familiar to the LISC staffers but jarring to a lifelong renter with no professional experience in real estate.

“The weird thing is that you are in a position to make a decision about who gets your building,” she reflected in January. “You interview a bunch of developers who all have to come in and kiss the ring. It’s very interesting to see who’s resentful of that. TOPA is a very powerful piece of legislation, and not everyone thinks it’s a good idea that the tenants get to decide who buys the building.”

The tenants’ attorney had prepared them well, she said. “You’re making a decision based on who you think you can get along with and who respects you as tenants and who you can respect as an owner.”

The neighbors found that they had converged on a simple yet profound principle: It wasn’t enough for them to retain affordable rentals for themselves; they wanted to pay it forward, to make sure generations to come had the same options.

“This was a very conscientious building,” Sumler said. “We didn’t want to become another property that sold out to condos and got the best offer in terms of buyouts.”

In fact, 12 current tenants did decide to accept the buyout offer of $15,000, including of all those whom the storm had displaced.

Ultimately, Joseph’s development company was “the most aligned” with the tenants’ desires, Sumler said. So far, it’s been a respectful, collaborative process, if risky. “There were other developers that could come over in 90 days and get construction started, but their commitment to affordable housing was not in line with ours. We chose the harder path. We took the chance, and, quite frankly, we’re not even sure the chance is going to pay off.”

Joseph, 65, is far from the brash wheeler-dealer that one may associate with big-city real-estate development, but he’s proven to be a genuine partner for this group of tenants striving for housing equity.

He began his career in Springfield, Mass., organizing low-income residents and then ran a community development corporation before moving to the nation’s capital to join a nonprofit that included TOPA projects among the developments it undertook. He struck out on his own in 2010, establishing an affordable-housing consulting practice.

The Cedar Street project is only his second solo turn as a developer, and the first time he’d ever applied for tax credits for a project, a reality that the Cedar Street tenants had to take into account when weighing whether to hire him. And Joseph is also, despite his background in social justice, a for-profit developer, a consideration that gave LISC pause in deciding whether to fund him.

Even more pressing: LISC’s financing was merely keeping the lights on in a building where maintenance had been deferred for years, where one-third of the tenants, and their rental revenues, had left. Interest on LISC’s loan to Joseph cost the developer approximately $20,000 per month. With the building not fully occupied, the rent rolls covered the cost of operating the building and a sliver of that interest.

Every resident of Cedar Street who spoke to MarketWatch, as well as Joseph, described chronic problems in the building that a more responsive landlord would have taken care of. Sumler experienced ceiling leaks in both the bathroom and the kitchen, bubbling paint on a bedroom wall, shoddy workmanship in fixing a gas furnace and patching floor tiles, and a gas stove that received a city citation for leaks.

‘It’s sad that the city is being given away to the highest bidder. We can at least say we stood up. We want to keep this place low-to-moderate affordable for years to come.’

Lillian Hanger, lifelong 410 Cedar St. resident

MarketWatch reached the former landlord, Brad Gillian, and offered him the chance to comment. Without hearing specifics, Gillian responded: “I don’t have any response to any of that. That’s a bunch of nonsense.”

The building will see a significant transformation: Its plumbing, heating and electrical systems will be modernized; the portions destroyed during the storm repaired; and it will be made accessible to people with disabilities. Each individual unit, even those not damaged by the storm, will be upgraded. And perhaps most significantly, its mix of apartment configurations will change to make the building more family-friendly, as noted below.

Lillian Hanger is, like Sumler, a lifelong Cedar Street resident. Hanger, 56, works on Capitol Hill and has a master’s degree in public administration from Georgetown University. She’s helping Sumler with the TOPA organizing after seeing firsthand the impact of gentrification on her city, as well as what she sees as the value of rent control.

“My parents retired and moved away, my sister got married and moved away,” Hanger said. “I kind of never left. I’ve had thoughts about moving, but I said, let me stick around here. My father always told me, whatever you do, don’t give the apartment up. I never understood that, but now I do. He foresaw the changes coming.”

Hanger has withstood several attempts at being moved out, she said, and even a buyout offer by the former landlord. “I was like, uh-uh, no way. They realized that they couldn’t force me out. I was a good tenant, paid my rent, did what I was supposed to.”

Even though the TOPA pursuit has been a lot more work than she bargained for, Hanger is proud of the line the tenants drew. “It’s sad that the city is being given away to the highest bidder,” she said. “We can at least say we stood up. We want to keep this place low-to-moderate affordable for years to come so people can come and live in this neighborhood. It was nice to grow up here.”

Tenant Don Mosteller, who grew up near Philadelphia and has lived in D.C. since graduating from college, took the buyout offer. He had mixed feelings about leaving Cedar Street but was living there with a girlfriend who was “insistent” that they take the cash.

“The long-term economic decision would be smarter to stay here for a rent that is locked in, but I don’t think we saw ourselves staying here for a long time,” Mosteller said. Shortly after coming to that decision, the couple broke up. Each will receive still one-half of the $15,000 buyout.

Mosteller mused on the torrid D.C. housing market: “I’m 34, I have a good job, I’m a Yale graduate, I work in energy policy,” he said. “But almost all of my classmates from Yale in D.C. do not own homes. There are a few people who are married, who’ve managed to get a 600-square-foot condo and are paying condo fees. When the news was announced that Amazon was coming [to nearby Crystal City], most of us in the city were like, ‘Crap, this is really bad — how could it possibly get worse?’ ”

Now, Mosteller is back out apartment hunting. He believes that living in a three-bedroom apartment with two roommates is “the monetary hack” for the D.C. housing market.

“Everyone I know knows it: Owning a home is the way to go,” he said. “But there’s almost nowhere left in D.C. where owning a home is reasonable. I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that’s incredibly far away, or be dependent on a car, or get a home that’s in disrepair that I’m going to have to put a lot of money into.”

Mosteller has found the TOPA process emotionally resonant. “There are so many people who’ve been displaced because people like me have moved in,” he said.

Mosteller has been paying $1,265 a month for the one-bedroom apartment at Cedar Street. It’s very hard to get accurate price data for rentals at the ZIP Code level, but a recent search on Zillow for a one-bedroom apartment in the same ZIP as 410 Cedar St. showed that the least expensive availability cost $1,466. Other options went as high as $2,500 per month.

Hanger and Sumler declined to reveal the monthly rents for their apartments.

For all the grim statistics about D.C.’s housing challenges, it’s especially daunting in one important respect.

As of 2017, the most recent data available from the Census Department, black median household income in the city is about $42,000 — less than a third of the white median household income of $134,000, according to an analysis from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Meanwhile, a 2016 report from the Urban Institute found that a typical white D.C. resident possessed a staggering 81 times the wealth of a black resident.

“White incomes have always been significantly higher, but it’s definitely been the case that white income has bumped up as the city has changed, whereas black income has remained stagnant,” the VCU professor Howell said. “In part that’s because blacks who have the means to buy a home are going out to the counties. They move for the same reason we all do — schools, services, access to home ownership. They’re voting with their feet.”

LISC staffers often encounter city residents who have few, or no, such choices. Adam Kent, who works with Jacobson at the agency’s Washington office, taught for a time in the Washington public schools.

He was thoughtful for a moment when asked what drew him to the issue of housing.

“I saw the talent that our society was throwing away. I got into community development work because we are just forgoing so much potential in so many neighborhoods. Everybody needs a place to go home to at the end of the day. I feel like if so many of my kids had more stability, they would have been able to focus on school, focus on realizing their dreams. Having a safe, affordable and stable home is a key part of working toward the rest of your life,” he said.

‘Highways were driven through black communities, isolating them from investment, so what you’re seeing is not something that just organically developed. It developed with the help of public policy.’

Maurice Jones, Local Initiatives Support Corporation

As president of the national LISC organization, Jones takes a broader view.

“This is overwhelmingly a challenge for black and brown communities throughout the country,” he said. “Highways were driven through black communities, isolating them from investment, so what you’re seeing is not something that just organically developed. It developed with the help of public policy. We need to own that, and we need to do something about it as a country. You can’t have a policy without race to correct a problem that was created by policies explicitly about race.”

One of the curiosities about 410 Cedar St., though, is how diverse the building and the neighborhood around it are.

“It’s a very mixed neighborhood in terms of race, ethnicities, economic demographics — everything,” longtime resident Hanger said. “It’s a place where people can raise their kids, even if you’re living in an apartment building. There’s a great elementary school within walking distance of the apartment complex.”

She remembers with a laugh how “hippies” used to live together in large Takoma houses, until those hippies grew up and bought the houses themselves.

In communities all around the country, LISC’s Jones has seen how neighborhoods were purposely cut off from areas of development, or split in two, stripping residents of resources and leaving segregation and economic hardship in its wake.

The complex at 410 Cedar St., he said, “doesn’t have any of that. This one is a gem.”

It’s a gem that was constructed in 1927, and that’s about all that’s certain about the property’s origins. According to local lore, it was built as hospice housing in association with the Walter Reed Medical Center, which was located a few blocks away until it relocated a few years ago. But in response to a MarketWatch inquiry, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum said that pedigree is doubtful.

Because of its age and its location within the Takoma Historic District, an official designation from the National Parks Service, the property is eligible to apply for Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits.

Within the affordable-housing category, however, the term “preservation” doesn’t necessarily imply historic, as the designation may apply to anything other than new construction. “Wouldn’t it be better to just knock it down and build something new?” is a question developers, government officials, consultants and investors hear often.

Yet as LISC’s Jacobson puts it, “People are rooted in preservation deals. Social fabric takes a long time to develop. You have to go through some snowstorms and people going out to shovel at the same time, someone bringing an infant home. With new housing projects, we just count up the units and the numbers and forget that there’s a community that has to be built.”

While the notion of social fabric sounds poetic, as VCU’s Howell likes to point out, it also makes preservation deals “a lot messier” than new construction.

And the clock is ticking. The types of financing incentives that the developer Joseph is using to fund his project, and which developers use to build new affordable homes, have expiration dates. A 2015 mayoral task force determined that nearly 14,000 units of affordable housing with such subsidies are “at risk of loss” by 2020 in Washington.

Read: Meet the little bank that’s helping immigrants achieve big American Dreams

Counterintuitively, the complexity of the affordable-housing funding process may be what keeps it going.

A cynical view is that the thousands of people who have a hand in projects like 410 Cedar St. now represent an entrenched constituency for this way of doing business. A more generous take is that the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has actually become the Holy Grail of public policy: a bipartisan solution that can be leveraged for far bigger impact than the amount of money it requires.

“LIHTC has rehabilitated the reputation of public policy for affordable housing,” Buzz Roberts, the CEO of the industry group the National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders, told MarketWatch.

In 1986, when a housing tax credit was being considered as part of the massive tax-reform effort then underway, “there were a lot of skeptics that anyone could manage affordable rental housing effectively,” Roberts said. “There had been all these previous government projects that were poorly managed, poorly located, beset with crime and other social problems.”

By involving private investors, the LIHTC program established a sense of market stability that helped convince banks to enter the space, too.

That private-sector involvement — along with the fact that LIHTC is a tax expenditure, not a direct spending program — has also kept Republicans, who might not ordinarily support public funding for affordable housing, on board, and has helped LIHTC survive party-rule changes over three decades.

In April, after the city approved the funding that enabled the Cedar Street project to move forward, everyone involved breathed a sigh of relief.

LISC’s Jacobson and Kent had faced an extra layer of scrutiny from their national colleagues over the risk associated with the Cedar Street project: the building’s disrepair, the uncertainty of city financing, Joseph’s comparative lack of relevant experience and, no small matter, rising interest rates. In February, LISC was handed a downgraded outlook by the credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s, which cited a growing debt burden.

That made the city’s financial boost extremely timely. LISC will get back the money it lent to Joseph relatively quickly, which means that the repaid money can be recycled into another project.

Joseph faces his own version of that dilemma. “The thing about this kind of work is that it’s all money out for a long period of time, until we get a return,” he said. He got an unpleasant reminder of that — and of the complex’s recent history of deferred maintenance — in March. One apartment had a leak severe enough that he temporarily relocated the tenants until the problem was patched, costing time, energy, and about $1,000.

The Cedar Street project has what Joseph calls “a double bottom line”: one that pays the bills but also feeds the soul of someone who originally got into housing as a way of affecting social change.

“I believe that the economic forces that are creating displacement in these hot markets will continue. But I also believe that what you’re seeing now is more people in the public and private sectors who are willing to actually get into the game,” LISC’s Jones said in March. “I think that there is the possibility here for us to get more laborers in the vineyard and thus do this work on a bigger scale.”

Jennifer Sumler had never expected to be called to any kind of cause. She just wanted to save her home, even as the ground under her feet has continued shifting.

“I love the neighborhood and the location and the history here,” she said. “But it is going through a transformation right now. It’s just a little scary right now in terms of seeing how this all shakes out. What we will be able to maintain and what we will lose is the scariest part of all.”

Further Readings about DC PUDs Process

Washington Post: Court delivers blow to D.C.’s plan to redevelop Barry Farm public housing complex

Biznow: When Public Approval Means Naught: How Federal Judges Are Delaying 4,000 Units Of D.C. Housing

Further Readings about DC Housing Crisis

Ny Times: D.C. Homelessness Doubles National Average as Living Costs Soar

Washington Post: After a decade of gentrification, District sees a surge in families crushed by rent

The Atlantic: Will D.C.’s Housing Ever Be Affordable Again?

The Atlantic: In D.C., White Families Are on Average 81 Times Richer Than Black Ones

Washington City Paper: An Oral History of Gentrification in Shaw and U Street NW

Washignton Post: Pushed out

Dcist: How D.C. Can Help Its Black Population Stay In The City

Back to Top


Affordable Housing Solutions

  • Greater investment on local and federal level in:
    • Public housing (to build more units and repair existing)
      • Important to keep tenants in place during any repairs
      • Scattered-site housing (avoid concentration of poverty)
    • Subsidized housing (section 8 housing vouchers)
      • Make it illegal for landlords to refuse tenants on the basis of housing assistance
    • More affordable housing at 30% AMI or less
  • Policies
    • Inclusionary zoning
      • requires new housing to have a percentage of affordable units
    • Right of Counsel for evictions
    • Tenant rights
      • Right of First Refusal, code enforcement, etc
      • D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)
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    • Rent control/rent stabilization
    • Just-cause eviction protections
    • Foreclosure and eviction intervention policies
    • Home buying assistance
      • down payment assistance, low-interest home loans, Mortgage Credit Certificates
    • Anti-speculation policies
    • Rehabilitation assistance
    • Right of Return Programs
  • More oversight
    • More power over development decisions for the communities effected
    • More legitimate impact studies required on gentrification and racial disparities for developments and funding decisions
    • More oversight and enforcement power on developments not meeting expectations
    • More oversight and tenant protection for privatized models
      • Including longer guarantees units remain affordable
  • Community development agreement
    • Agreement between community, developer, and sometimes gov, for
      • Ensuring certain conditions are met before development
      • That local communities benefit from development
      • There’s a mechanism for addressing issues and community harm
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    • introduction-to-community-development-agreements-cdas-8-638.jpg
  • Cooperative Housing Models
    • Community Land Trusts, Limited Equity Co-op, Tenement Syndicates, Mutual Aid Housing Cooperatives
  • Housing Trust Funds, Land Banks
    • Funds dedicated to affordable housing with a dedicated funding source
  • Property Tax Relief
    • For Businesses and homes
    • Detroit, Sankofa

Grounded Solutions: What about Housing? A Policy Toolkit for Inclusive Growth

Grounded Solutions Network created this toolkit to help communities understand their housing policy options and the approach that will work best for them. Community leaders and policymakers can start with local dynamics—their community’s housing situation and the outcomes they want to achieve—and determine which policy tools best suit their needs.

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Century Foundation: Attacking the Black–White Opportunity Gap That Comes from Residential Segregation

Public Policy Remedies

Government is the laboratory in which many of the schemes for black–white segregation were (and still are) concocted; it is also, therefore, where much of the effort must be placed in order for racial segregation to be undone. Members of government who want to reverse segregation must work to remove policies that promote and protect white supremacy, and replace them instead with ones that actively fight segregation. The rest of this report outlines a four-part strategy to address the following four key facets of black–white segregation: (1) the legacy of generations of racial discrimination in housing; (2) contemporary residential racial discrimination; (3) contemporary residential economic discrimination that disproportionately hurts African Americans; and (4) the re-segregating effects of displacement that can come with gentrification.

Addressing the Legacy of Generations of Racial Discrimination in Housing

When Congress passed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in 1968, it intended for the executive branch to take steps to reduce housing segregation, with several courts interpreting the FHA as assigning HUD a nonnegotiable “statutory duty to promote fair housing.”54 But it was not until decades later, in 2015, that the Obama administration introduced a rule to implement the Fair Housing Act’s “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” (AFFH) requirement. The 2015 rule charged HUD with “taking meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics” and “replacing segregated living patterns with truly integrated and balanced living patterns.”55

The failure to implement the AFFH requirements for nearly a half century after passage of the Fair Housing Act allowed segregation to remain the norm—particularly in predominantly black areas. “Segregation decreases most quickly in metro areas with small black populations,” observes NYU’s Furman Center. “Conversely, metropolitan areas with large black populations living in poverty showed the highest levels of black–white segregation, as measured by the dissimilarity index, in 2010.”56 As noted in the first section of this report, while the black–white dissimilarity index has declined over time, it remains extremely high. Furthermore, although the portion of neighborhoods that have only a tiny share of black residents has declined, the proportion of black people living in racially integrated neighborhoods in certain communities has also declined. In New York City, for example, the proportion has actually decreased from 41 percent in 1970 to 21 percent in 2010.57 Rigorous enforcement of the AFFH rule is as important as ever.

Despite this need, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson suspended the AFFH rule in 2018. HUD also removed, without public comment, the Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH) tool, which aided communities in determining housing needs and segregation patterns. This suspension aligns with Secretary Carson’s public disdain for the AFFH rule, which he unfairly derided as “social engineering” and “a tortured reading of fair housing laws.”58

Ben Carson at the opening ceremony of the fiftieth Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act Opening Ceremony. Source: Flickr/U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development

Housing justice and the fulfillment of the Fair Housing Act should not be held hostage to the political whims of an administration led by a man who was himself investigated for racial discrimination in his own real estate holdings.59 Reinstatement and rigorous enforcement of the AFFH are clear next steps in the quest to narrow the black–white housing opportunity gap.

In addition, government should undertake efforts to address the legacy of discrimination in the financing of homes. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for example, has appropriately proposed providing new mortgage assistance to buy homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods.

Addressing Contemporary Racial Residential Discrimination

Attacking contemporary racial discrimination will require additional tools specifically aimed at both racial bias in the sale and rental of properties and in the financing of residential purchases.

Increase the Number of, and Resources for, Fair Housing Testers and Enforcement

Fair housing testing is an effective means to uncovering evidence of discrimination in renting or purchasing homes. Typically responding to tips from prospective homebuyers belonging to a protected group, individual testers (with no true intent to purchase or rent a home) pose as potential buyers or renters for the purpose of gathering information on possible FHA violations. In accordance with the Fair Housing Act, testers are looking to uncover discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.

When testing is conducted, results can be eye opening. A study by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, “Fair Housing Testing Project for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations,” tested for source of income and racial discrimination in seventy properties in six Chicago neighborhoods. Of the tests conducted, thirty revealed one or both forms of discrimination.60

HUD funds many of these exercises through the Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP), and should increase the resources allotted to the program to match the prevalence and gravity of the problem. Because discrimination can be difficult to prove, and because evidence indicates that it is quite widespread, increased resources for testing have been productively used to unearth cases of bias and secure remedies for victims of housing discrimination. When HUD offered grants to a small number of localities for testing programs in the mid-1990s, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission was able to conduct over 900 tests, found 136 possible violations, and filed 41 complaints. During the expansion of this program within Bill Clinton’s first term as president, HUD settled 6,517 cases out of court, took enforcement action on another 1,085, and received nearly $18 million in compensation for housing discrimination victims.61 Localities need more resources to continue the work of rooting out tough-to-prove acts of discrimination.

Reestablish and Strengthen Federal Interagency Taskforces That Combat Lending Discrimination

Established early in the Obama administration, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) brought together a broad coalition of law enforcement, regulatory, and investigatory agencies to combat financial fraud. As part of its mandate, the FFETF looked closely at discrimination in lending practices, such as racialized loan steering.

In 2015, based upon the work of the coalition, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its largest residential fair lending suit in history against Countrywide Financial Corporation and its subsidiaries. The complaint alleged that Countrywide engaged in a widespread practice of discrimination against more than 200,000 qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in their mortgage lending between 2004 and 2008. Countrywide did so by charging them higher fees and interest rates, and by steering thousands of black and Hispanic borrowers into subprime mortgages when non-Hispanic white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans. Disturbingly, the suit also alleged that Countrywide was aware of this racial discrimination and took no meaningful action to stop it or prevent it from continuing.

The federal government, which at one time was itself a purveyor of racist lending and housing practices, should provide the appropriate resources and coordination to seek justice for continued fallout of financial racism on the well-being of black Americans.

This was the first time that the Department of Justice alleged and obtained relief for victims of loan steering, but the process of investigating and organizing the suit made clear how challenging these cases are to prove and bring forth. The federal government, which at one time was itself a purveyor of racist lending and housing practices, should provide the appropriate resources and coordination to seek justice for continued fallout of financial racism on the well-being of black Americans.

Addressing Ongoing Economic Discrimination That Disproportionately Hurts African Americans

Action should also be taken to curb the discrimination against African Americans (which is illegal) cloaked as income discrimination (which, unfortunately, frequently is still legal).62 As noted above, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racial zoning laws in 1917, jurisdictions rapidly adopted economically exclusionary zoning policies that ban apartment buildings and other multifamily units, in order to achieve much the same result. Today, exclusionary zoning is pervasive in the United States and has been found to exacerbate both economic and racial segregation. Jonathan Rothwell and Douglas Massey have found that “a change in permitted zoning from the most restrictive to the least would close 50 percent of the observed gap between the most unequal metropolitan area and the least, in terms of neighborhood inequality.”63

In another study, Rothwell concludes that local and exclusionary land-use regulations are largely responsible for differences in racial segregation between cities.64 One study by Harvard researcher Matthew Resseger finds that in Massachusetts, census blocks “zoned for multi-family housing have black population shares 3.36 percentage points higher and Hispanic population shares 5.77 percentage points higher than single-family zoned blocks directly across a border from them.”65

To address contemporary income discrimination, we need a five-pronged approach: (1) adoption of an Economic Fair Housing Act that launches a direct assault on exclusionary zoning; (2) funding of disparate impact litigation under the Fair Housing Act that challenges exclusionary zoning when it disproportionately affects people of color; (3) adoption of “inclusionary zoning” policies that set aside a portion of new housing developments for families of modest means; (4) adoption of laws outlining “source of income” discrimination targeting public housing residents; and (5) adoption of “mobility programs” modeled after the federal Moving to Opportunity Act, which provided residents of public housing the chance to live in high opportunity neighborhoods. Each of these approaches will reduce economic segregation and also reduce, indirectly, racial segregation.

Institute an Economic Fair Housing Act

We need an Economic Fair Housing Act—to parallel the 1968 Fair Housing Act—to curb explicit economic discrimination in the form of exclusionary zoning laws.66 The concept of an Economic Fair Housing Act is straightforward: just as it is illegal to discriminate in housing based on race, it should be illegal for municipalities to employ exclusionary zoning policies (such as banning apartment buildings, townhouses, or houses on modestly sized lots) that discriminate based on income and exclude the non-rich from many neighborhoods and their associated schools. At the individual housing unit level, free market forces would continue to discriminate by income, because some apartments and houses will be more expensive than others—that simply is what markets do. But government zoning policies should not, on top of that, discriminate based on income by rendering off-limits entire communities where it is impossible to rent an apartment, live in a townhouse, or purchase a home on a modest plot of land.

One alternative to a complete ban on exclusionary zoning would be a federal (or state) policy to reduce the amount of mortgage interest that a family can deduct in jurisdictions that practice exclusionary zoning, as the University of North Carolina’s John Boger has suggested.67 Another variation would bar federal funding for infrastructure to municipalities that insist on exclusionary zoning policies. For example, HUD currently allocates $50 billion for a variety of forms of public housing, including $5 billion in community planning and development grants. Although exclusive suburbs do not often rely on these housing grants, there are other federal spending programs that can provide leverage over wealthy communities.68

Federal legislators have begun to propose action along these lines. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), for example, has proposed legislation to curtail exclusionary zoning.69 Under Booker’s proposal, states, cities, and counties would receive $16 billion in a variety of infrastructure programs, and would be required to develop strategies to reduce barriers to housing development and increase the supply of housing. Plans could include authorizing more high density and multifamily zoning and relaxing lot size restrictions. The goal is for affordable housing units to comprise not less than 20 percent of new housing stock.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), likewise, has proposed a comprehensive housing plan that includes a new $10 billion infrastructure program with powerful incentives to reduce exclusionary zoning rules, such as “minimum lot sizes or mandatory parking requirements.” As she explained in March 2019, “to even apply for these grants,” localities “must reform land-use rules to allow for the construction of additional well-located affordable housing units.”70

Similar legislation to reduce exclusionary zoning, particularly near mass transit hubs, has been introduced and debated in California. Spurred by affordability concerns (even more than concerns about segregation), Massachusetts and Seattle have also considered proposals to curtail exclusionary zoning. And in Minneapolis, the city recently adopted a proposal to end single-family zoning restrictions entirely.

California activist Brian Hanlon notes that progressives are rightfully proud of their openness to immigrants, so why, he asks, are some standing by exclusionary zoning, which says, “we welcome outsiders—but you’ve got to have a $2 million entrance fee to live here.”71

Fund Disparate Impact Litigation

Government should devote greater resources to bringing litigation to challenge economic zoning laws that don’t explicitly discriminate based on race but have a “racially disparate” impact. Over time, the courts interpreted the Fair Housing Act to allow plaintiffs to bring such lawsuits targeting policies that have a discriminatory impact on minorities, even absent a discriminatory intent. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this interpretation of the act in the 2015 case of Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project.72

Adopt Inclusionary Zoning Policies

More localities should support “inclusionary zoning” policies. Under such programs, a developer must set aside a portion of new housing units to be affordable for low- and moderate-income residents. In exchange, the developer receives a “density bonus,” allowing them to develop a larger number of high-profit units than the area is zoned for. This benefit for developers has proven critical to the idea’s political acceptance. Among the states most dedicated to inclusionary zoning are New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, and California.73 In all, about 400 municipalities have inclusionary zoning programs.74 According to researcher David Rusk, 11 percent of Americans now live in jurisdictions with inclusionary zoning policies.75

A leading example is Montgomery County, Maryland, which adopted a groundbreaking program in 1974. Under the policy, when a developer builds more than a certain number of units, 12.5 percent to 15 percent of a developer’s new housing stock must be affordable for low-income and working-class families. Between 1976 and 2010, the program produced more than 12,000 moderately priced homes, of which the housing authority has the right to purchase one-third for public housing.76 Unfortunately, almost 90 percent of American municipalities lack any inclusionary zoning policies.

Expand Housing Choice Vouchers and Ban of Source-of-Income Discrimination

More states and localities should pass legislation to ban discrimination based on “source of income”—that is, discrimination against individuals using government subsidies to pay for part of their rent. According to the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, as of May 2017, fourteen states and sixty localities had passed legislation to bar source of income discrimination.77 Senator Warren has also called for making it illegal for landlords to discriminate against renters with federal housing vouchers.78 In addition to banning discrimination based on source of income, the Housing Choice Vouchers Program (formerly known as Section 8 housing assistance) should be fully funded. Housing Choice Vouchers (along with a few other smaller programs) served only 4.7 million households in 2016 of the 25.7 million who qualified.79 The combination of full funding and reduced discrimination could greatly reduce economic and racial segregation in America.

Expand Housing Mobility Programs

“Housing mobility” programs, which allow public housing residents to live in high-opportunity neighborhoods, should be expanded. The primary federal foray into this area was the federal Moving to Opportunity Act, a 1990s experiment in housing mobility that eventually produced substantial wage gains for people who moved to higher-opportunity areas as children.80 Harvard’s Raj Chetty and his colleagues found that the total mean income for those who moved before age 13 was 31 percent higher than for the control group. The researchers also observed in this group a 16 percent increase in the likelihood of attending college between the ages of 18 and 20.81 Such programs, which reduce both income and black–white segregation, should be expanded.

Addressing Displacement from Gentrification that Fosters Re-Segregation

New tools are also needed to dismantle the ills caused by gentrification and displacement. As formerly segregated neighborhoods become more diverse, they do not automatically become more equitable, as rising costs often displace long-term residents and threaten cultural institutions and practices. Washington, D.C. provides many recent examples of this common phenomenon. Residents of an expensive, high-rise, majority white apartment in the historically black Shaw neighborhood allegedly complained about go-go music—a cultural institution of working-class black D.C.—loudly playing from a longstanding neighborhood shop run by a black owner. After the owner was forced to turn down the music, black Shaw and D.C. residents began to protest, not only arguing that the music was the enduring soundtrack of the block, but that this was but one example of how white gentrifiers wanted the economic benefits of the neighborhood but lamented their actual neighbors.82 Not far from the site of these protests, students at Howard University, one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), decried that new white residents of the surrounding neighborhood used the private university’s historic yard as a dog park. When a news station interviewed a white male neighbor about the controversy, he suggested that if students of the 152-year-old historic institution did not want dogs on the yard, they should “just move the campus.”83 Incidents like these highlight how residents of color frequently experience gentrification as colonization rather than as revitalization.

Racially concentrated poverty is an evil that public policy must address, but pro-integration housing plans should seek solutions that respect and amplify the economic and cultural power of the longstanding institutions and people in that neighborhood.

Reconsider Tax Abatements and Implement Longtime Owner Occupancy Programs

In a desire to revitalize disinvested neighborhoods, policymakers frequently introduce laws that entice wealthy individuals and investors into the area but ultimately underserve or harm current residents. One example of such a policy is long-term tax abatements, which allows owners of newly constructed or significantly renovated properties in underserved neighborhoods to avoid paying property taxes for an extended time period.

Offering wealthy investors long-term tax relief, with no guarantees that those investments will materially improve the lives and economic stations of current residents, prioritizes property over poor people. Such policies allow the wealthy to live and operate in a neighborhood while having no obligation to contribute to the public good of it—the upkeep of its streets and parks, its public safety, its schools, and so on. Meanwhile, the neighborhood’s original residents continue to shoulder this burden because they have received no such tax abatements. This type of trickle-down real estate might spur growth, but such growth will be inequitable.

From 2014 to 2016, for example, the City of Philadelphia’s controversial ten-year tax abatement on new property applied to nearly 4,300 properties, forgoing more than $420 million in revenue. A conservative estimate based on recent market trends found that, over the next decade, the struggling Philadelphia School District could lose out on nearly $1 billion in property tax revenue due to this abatement plan.84

However, Philadelphia’s Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP) seeks to productively respond to the possibility of the displacement of long-term residents. LOOP assists those below 150 percent area median income (AMI) who have lived in their homes for over ten years and have experienced at least a three-fold increase in assessed home values. Too often long-term residents experiencing this increase lack the liquidity to pay outright the higher taxes imposed on the newly appreciated property. The average LOOP participant is a senior citizen who purchased their home in the 1970s and 1980s.85 An April 2018 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that LOOP had proven effective in both reducing tax delinquencies and reducing displacement in gentrifying areas.86

Localities need to strongly consider reevaluating tax abatement programs, making them shorter or partial, or writing stipulations into them that encourage investors to focus on equity (as explained further below). Simultaneously, they should design programs that protect black, brown, and low-income people whose intellect, labor, and creativity helped shape the original neighborhood.

Invest in People, Not Power-Brokers

Why are people who craft public policy so eager to provide funding to area newcomers—who are unlikely to hail from the same racial or socioeconomic station as long-term residents—but unlikely to offer black, brown, and poor folks in the same area that same opportunity? First, this choice likely reflects society’s consistent favoritism of fiscal capital above the social and cultural capital created and accumulated by poor and nonwhite communities. This preference makes sense only if the benefits of those financial advantages are redistributed, and thereby consistently felt by the residents with the greatest need. Unfortunately, this is no guarantee. Second, the choice of policymakers to invest in newcomers over long-term and legacy residents seems to reveal a historical tendency to distrust people of color with self-governance. The tendency of many Americans to assign moral judgment to poverty and wealth—alongside the nation’s enduring current of racism—has led some policymakers to conclude that segregated, marginalized communities struggle due to the moral and intellectual failings of their residents, rather than due to the moral and political failings of those who ensured that their poverty was intractable. Lawmakers pursuing any and all neighborhood revitalization plans that might lead to gentrification should also consider the following actions to prevent displacement and re-segregation:

  • If tax abatements are deemed necessary for growth, offer them with enforceable stipulations that new businesses must employ, at a living wage, members of the community that host it. Offer tax abatements first to already existing small businesses to allow them to expand and employ more people.
  • Invest in educational programs, community gardens, health care facilities, and job programs in equal or greater amounts as the investments made in real estate.
  • Require that new housing developments set aside a percentage of homes at affordable rates. AMI for the entire city is an insufficient threshold for inclusion. “Affordable” should be scaled to median and below-median incomes for the neighborhood in which the new development is located.
  • Regard long-term residents as decision makers in their neighborhood. Developers and policymakers should not only consult with, but also take direction from the democratic representatives of community members when determining what gets built and where.

Conclusion

Black–white racial segregation, deliberately created by whites over decades to subjugate black people, continues to thwart opportunities for millions of African Americans. Of the many ways in which American society unfairly treats black people, the continued segregation of residential areas remains a central source of racial inequality. Taking bold action of the type outlined in this report would constitute an important step in cleansing this enduring stain from the fabric of American society, and making it solely the resident of history.

Dcist: ‘We’re In A Crisis’: Advocates Launch New Citywide Tenant Union

When Ronnie Jackson’s landlord put his building up for sale more than a decade ago, he said that he and other residents felt like they were kept in the dark about what would happen next.

The residents decided to sue, kicking off a nine-year legal battle. “We found out a lot of things in increments,” said Jackson, who is now the president of the Waterside Towers Resident Association near D.C.’s Southwest waterfront. Looking back, he wishes he had gotten more support along the way.

Now, he’s working towards creating an organization that would provide help to other residents in a similar situation. On Saturday afternoon, Jackson was one of around 150 people who gathered for the launch of a new citywide tenant union at All Souls Church in Columbia Heights.

“More and more minorities are being pushed away,” Jackson said. “We need to be unionized because chunk by chunk, place by place, ward by ward, gentrification is taking over.”

The event, hosted by the Latino Economic Development Center, drew activists, tenant leaders, and residents from across the District’s eight wards. They gathered in a stiflingly hot church hall with fans whirring to discuss the future of tenant organizing in the District, form neighborhood chapters, and elect new leaders for the union.

“Slumlord housing, it’s a crime. Time for slumlords to serve their time,” the crowd repeated, fists in the air, as organizers translated the chants into Spanish and Amharic.

This new union comes at a time when affordable housing is harder to find in the city. In the last two decades, rapid gentrification has displaced low-income District residents at some of the highest rates in the country. A recent survey showed that one fifth of residents in Wards 7 and 8 are worried that rising housing costs will force them out of their homes within the next three years. Washington is currently among the nation’s top five most expensive renting markets, according to a July report by Zumper. And those rents are rising at increasing rates, especially in areas near Metro stations.

“We’re in a crisis,” said Rob Wohl, tenant organizing manager for LEDC. “We have to act quick, and we have to act dramatically.”

The new group is not a union in the technical sense of the word—like the Teamsters or the United Automobile Workers—but Wohl hopes that bringing the District’s tenant leaders together will help secure stronger housing rights for the city’s many low-income residents who may be at risk of displacement. He said that while LEDC is well organized across Northwest D.C., the organization still has a lot of work to do in other parts of the city.

The group’s top priority will be to get established leaders of tenant associations to mobilize residents of other buildings, Wohl said. People will have more leverage as part of a larger group than as disparate entities, and can better share information. And in terms of policy, Wohl hopes the group can help close loopholes in D.C.’s rent-control legislation and change housing laws along the lines of the landmark rent-reform bill passed last month in New York City.

D.C.’s citywide tenant union will be broken up into three branches: the Uptown chapter (Wards 1, 3, 4) the Midtown chapter (2, 5, and 6), and the East of the River Chapter (7 and 8).

Several participants in the East of the River breakout session said they worried that Wards 7 and 8, which include some of the poorest parts of the District, would be marginalized within the union. Karen Settles, a veteran tenant organizer in the District who chairs the citywide advisory board for the D.C. Housing Authority, objected to dividing the union into chapters out of concern that it could sow division within the organization.

But organizers contended that splitting the group into chapters would help ensure it could meet the needs of its members. “We want people to be able to walk to a meeting ideally,” said Wohl. “We need to have things that people can be a part of in their day-to-day lives.”

After congregating in All Souls Church’s main hall, people broke off into separate rooms to elect five new leaders for their respective chapters. Participants could nominate themselves, or anyone else in the room. It was a blitz election—nominees were given a short minute to say something about themselves before each chapter proceeded to a vote.

Beatrice Evans was among those nominated as a leader of the East of the River chapter, though she didn’t win. Six months ago, Evans got help from LEDC to create the residents association at the Triangle View apartments in Fort Dupont and she said that getting information out to residents is one of the biggest challenges for tenant organizers.

“If people knew what was happening in the city and what rights they have about getting things accomplished in their building, then people would participate more,” Evans said.

Settles was elected as one of the leaders for the East of the River chapter on Saturday. For the organizing efforts to be successful, she said, leaders will have to learn from past mistakes and overcome infighting.

“What we should focus on is what we all have in common,” Settles said. “And that is our human right to have a place to live—whoever you may be.”

Community Land Trusts (CLT)

ILSR: Protecting Communities from Gentrification

“About 15 years ago, the half-century flight from America’s cities came to an end. A growing number of cities began see a growing in-migration, often of people with higher incomes. Rising real estate prices spurred land speculation and new developments, threatening existing neighborhoods with displacement and reducing affordable housing.

Some cities have tried to do right by their long-term residents. But the strategies they’ve embraced look to bribe developers with tax breaks or higher densities than the zoning code allows in return for the developer including in their high rise condos a portion with a sales price set to households with less than the area’s median income. On the whole, these bribes have only marginally increased affordable housing, done little if anything to preserve existing neighborhoods and in the long run, are unsustainable.

In the 1960s activists proposed a new strategy: Community Land Trusts (CLT) The first incorporated land trust was established in 1969. New Communities was a 5,700-acre land trust and farm collective in southwestern Georgia owned and operated by approximately a dozen black farm farmers from 1969 to 1985.

In 1972 Robert Swann, one of the creators of New Communities, wrote Community Land Trust: A Guide to a New Model of Land Tenure in America, which among others things, explained in detail how a land trust differs from conventional ownership.  A trust separates the ownership of the land from the ownership of the building.  A nonprofit organization, with a board usually composted of representatives from tenants and the surrounding neighborhood, owns the land and leases it to the homeowner for a designated period, often 99 years.  The homeowner has the right to sell the land at any time, but the return to the homeowner is limited.

Keeping the land out of the real estate market holds down housing prices, as does limiting the equity gains that accrue to the homeowner. The objective of the land trust is not to maximize profit, but to maximize community and diversity…

…Evaluations have demonstrated the viability and effectiveness of land trusts.  They stabilize neighborhoods, revitalize communities, and keep housing costs affordable.

And they build equity for low-income households. The Urban Institute, found that 90 percent of low-income households remained homeowners five years after buying a shared equity, CLT home, far exceeding the 50 percent average home ownership retention rate among conventional market, low-income homeowners, as reported by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.   Reviewing the resale of 205 housing units in land trusts between l988 and 2008, analysts found that, on average, a CHT homeowner who resold her home after five and one half years, recovered her $2,300 down payment and earned an additional $12,000 net gain in equity…

…Despite the overwhelming evidence of their success, community land trusts are still on the margins of urban policy, a result of at least four factors.

First, banks continue to be wary of financing units where ownership is divided. Blumgart reports that the North Camden (New Jersey) Community Land Trust collapsed in 2007 because local banks would not allow it to refinance its loans after the Great Recession.

Second, many cities tax CLT property the same as conventional property, despite the fact that its unusual ownership structure results in a lower market value for the property.  A few states have adopted legislation requiring that CLT property be assessed at a lower value than unrestricted property. (e.g. Florida, North Carolina, Vermont).  Otherwise it is a city-by-city proposition

Third, new land trusts are confronting rapidly escalating real estate prices that outpace their ability to finance expansion.  When the Dudley Street Initiative was born, land in that part of Boston could be had for a song.  Now its price is rising rapidly. In 2015, the nascent Chinatown Community Land Trust was thwarted in its first attempt at acquisition when it came short in a bidding war with a developer. (Undaunted, this past March, an a dozen local neighborhood groups formed the Metro Boston Community Land Trust.)

Fourth, cities remain lukewarm, at best, to the concept despite the evidence that the city as well as its low-income residents may benefit.  Foreclosed properties significantly diminish nearby housing values, leaving the remaining homeowners vulnerable to foreclosure and the neighborhood to increased crime. Foreclosures also impose costs on municipalities.  The cumulative costs of administrative fees attendant to foreclosure, demolition of vacant properties, and declining property taxes can run into the tens of thousands of dollars per house.

One reason cities are reticent about supporting land trusts is the very reason land trusts have been created.  A significant percentage of municipal revenues come from property taxes, giving the city financial interest in maximizing the market/assessed value of real estate.   The land trust slows the increased price of real estate.”

“Land banks vacuum up land, many times after other damage has been done. Access to this land is determined however the bank sees fit, working under any number of agendas, and frequently makes them a preferred tool of gentrifying forces. Land banks CAN be used to develop an ailing market or area, but are COMMONLY used to cherry-pick tenants and fuel speculation profit.

On paper, land trusts sound like an answer to gentrification problems, in that they hold costs down on properties in a given area and over a period of time. But much like land banks, trusts are tools, and only as beneficial as the intent of the entity wielding it. Forgive me if I’m not sold on a solution delivered by city leadership that can’t even bring itself to admit it has a problem that, for the record, it caused and continues to run lead on. This all feels like the recent play by the mayor and city council to install campaign finance reform that was a) already being lobbied by other parties and b) with far worse terms. It’s like a child smashing a cookie jar on the floor, then picking up a couple of the cookies and claiming they’ve invented vacuum cleaners. Having development consultant Jim Sweeney sign off on this after he aided gentrification in Franklinton while being the director of the Franklinton Development Association is laughable. Maybe worse. A year ago the Dispatch was touting that land banks were boosting the local economy. Now they’re being painted as the problem.

One of the things missing from this entire story are numbers, and that’s important and telling. Everybody keeps throwing around the word “affordable” housing but I don’t think we agree on what that means, or for whom it may apply. Gentrification happens in waves. There is the traditional neglect phase, the displacement of original owners/renters, then the new owners, then the more profitable new owners, and on and on until an area caps or a bubble bursts. Here, the city is trying to tell us that land trusts are better for neighborhoods and account for affordable housing. What’s not being pointed out is that the people that many citizens talk about being displaced aren’t the people that the city is trying to meet halfway with land trusts. This proposal is for that third phase owner, not the first phase owner. Like a lot of things, these speeches aren’t for everyone who can hear them. Look at the areas where the city plans to pilot the plan – Franklinton, the South Side, the Near East Side and Weinland Park – areas where gentrification has already done major damage. This isn’t about preserving low income home ownership or transitioning renters into homeowners who make, say, less than $40,000 a year. This is about attracting and placating second and third wave gentrifiers, people who suddenly find they can’t afford to live in German Village or the Short North or Olde Town East anymore. There is a reason why the phrase “mixed-income” is used in this article (ad all the speeches) while “low-income” appears zero times. There are no ideas or real support for that population. That’s not where the money is.

They’re not trying to make it easier for poor or low-income or even middle class people to live here, or in areas where they traditionally try to build their lives. They’re setting up a straw rebuttal for critics pointing out all of the gentrification that they do.

This sounds like a good idea. As an idea it could be good. But Columbus isn’t using it that way, not for the people who already struggle to live here.” Scott Woods

Fast Company:  4 Radical Real Estate Ideas To Fix Our Broken Housing System

“At the core of the American housing system of today is the fundamental belief that housing should be a vehicle for private wealth creation. Privately owned housing on the market makes up 96.3% of the total housing stock in the U.S. Homeownership, once one of the surest ways for a family to accumulate wealth, has declined across the country; rates dropped to 63.4% in 2016, their lowest since 1967. Big banks and mortgage companies attach stringent criteria and high interest rates to loans that often lock lower-income people out of buying a home.

So instead, they’re forced into the rental market. As wages have stagnated and property costs have continued to rise, an astonishing number of Americans struggle to afford monthly payments. Almost half of all renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent, which is the ratio the federal government deems affordable. One in four renters shell out half their income to hold onto a place to live. Homeowners aren’t any better off: Around 41% are struggling to make mortgage payments, and risking foreclosure as a result. Across market-based housing, people of color, gender nonconforming people, and those with a criminal record routinely face barriers to securing housing.

Scattered throughout this mess is the remaining 3.7% of the American housing stock. These homes fall under the category of “social housing” which includes government-owned housing, and nonprofit-financed, community-based models. Investment in the former has fallen precipitously; Chicago’s demolition of the Cabrini-Green Homes, completed in 2011, perhaps best encapsulates the nation’s move away from public housing and increasing dependence on the market to provide housing for low-income people. Permanently affordable, inclusive housing models like community land trusts (CLTs)–represent a tiny portion of the housing stock, but if it could go mainstream, they could give people the affordable options they need and the market can’t provide.That’s the crux of a new report from the Right to the City Alliance, a nonprofit focused on creating equitable urban areas, and its Homes for All Campaign, which advocates for affordable, dignified housing for all. “Communities Over Commodities: People-Driven Alternatives To An Unjust Housing System” details four models of “decommodified housing” (in other words, housing that is a place to live, not an investment vehicle) that have proven, in other countries, to provide stability to families struggling to afford a place to live.

“It’s extremely timely because of the sheer scale of the crisis and suffering, and the failure in general of elected officials and policymakers in general to acknowledge the crisis, or to come up with anything other than quick fixes that don’t address the root causes of the problem,” says Tony Romano, director of organizing and strategic partnerships for the Right to the City Alliance, in a recent webinar.

The four models follow the organizations’ Just Housing principles, which both Right to the City and Homes for All believe are necessary for creating truly affordable and dignified housing: community control, affordability, permanence, inclusivity, and health and sustainability. “We see community control as the linchpin upon which all the other principles are made possible,” the report notes. Essentially a model that puts the community first is the reverse of market-oriented housing–and that’s why organizers are optimistic about its potential to effect real change.

Political will behind these models is scant. The idea of houses as an appreciating asset has become a key part of American economic policy and an important part of many people’s financial planning. But the system does not work to house all people: We need something different.  “These examples dispel myths that alternative models can never reach scale, that there are no feasible financing mechanisms and that they stagnate the economy,” the report reads. Right to the City hopes that its work can translate into policy recommendations for cities and communities struggling with housing affordability.


Limited Equity Cooperatives

In this model, member-residents jointly and democratically own and reside in their building, which they secure through a combination of collective purchasing and a low-interest mortgage, often with the assistance of a nonprofit. Households–which generally have to fall below a certain income level to be eligible–purchase shares in a corporation or nonprofit that owns the limited equity cooperative (LEC), and in addition to paying for that share, they pay monthly fees to cover property taxes and operating costs, which the LEC manages. By purchasing a share, households are given a unit to live in under a lease that protects tenants from unjust eviction and typically lasts 99 years–essentially, for a lifetime. But if a member-resident chooses to leave, they are not permitted to sell the unit for profit; the LEC members collectively determine a cap on resale values to keep units affordable. The resale price cannot exceed the sum of the original cost of the unit plus the cost of any upgrades to the property throughout the time of the first tenancy.

LECs have a long history in the U.S., dating back to when the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union set up this housing structure and financing mechanism for their workers. Unlike market-based housing, LECs are “not a vehicle for real-estate investment or profit,” according to the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. They aim instead to give low-income people–those who are particularly struggling in the current market–an affordable place to live and perhaps most importantly, put down roots for long enough to build a life.

Community Land Trusts

If LECs manage buildings, who controls the land upon which they build? In places like Oakland, where exorbitant land costs have hampered affordable housing (developers feel pressured to charge enough to tenants to recuperate the costs of land), land management is a crucial part of the affordable housing picture that’s often left out.

Community land trusts can work in tandem with long-term affordable housing structures like LECs to keep both land and units affordable. CLTs, using a combination of public and private funds, buy up parcels of land–either vacant lots or existing properties–and place them into community ownership through a nonprofit. Anyone who develops property on the land owned by the CLT has to adhere to cost guidelines set by the community, pegged to the median incomes of people within the CLT–not to market rates. If, say, a developer wants to build an apartment building on the CLT, they have to set the cost of units by taking one-third of the local median wage, multiplying it by the standard 25-year mortgage rate, and adding a deposit rate of 10%. If the owner of a unit wishes to sell, they must follow the same formula. A similar formula, set by the CLT, applies to individual homes and businesses.

CLTs are able to regulate costs in this way because they own the land and, as such, determine its value. And because CLTs are motivated by providing community benefit, not creating profits, they keep the value of land steady, rather than subjecting it to market speculation and raising its price. CLT members also follow a democratic process in determining what gets built on the land.

New York City, one of the flashpoints of the American housing affordability crisis, last year moved to establish its first CLT on parcels of land across the city, with the support of a coalition of nonprofits and stakeholders, who helped finance the initial land purchase. While this is a win for the city, it’s frustrating in light of the fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio has, in his four-year tenure, sold 202 parcels of land to developers for $1 to spur housing creation, but just one of those developments is permanently affordable. Those parcels could instead have been fed into a land trust, and it’s a mark of the lack of political will for the model–despite its benefits–that they were not.

Tenement Syndicates

While the U.S. has a handful of LECs and CLTs, the Tenement Syndicate model originated in Germany, and is confined to Europe. This model defines itself as a “solidarity network” and its key feature is a dual ownership model, in which member buildings are managed by two entities: the tenants organized by individual housing projects, and an overall syndicate, which provides organizational support and supervision,  and is comprised of members of each house project as well as legal support and counsel, often provided by associated nonprofits. Tenants decide issues like setting the cost of rent and what building renovations are necessary, and the syndicate manages loans for projects, and advises the individual buildings within the network on operational matters.

Unlike LECs or CLTs, which may be eligible for public funding to get started, each new building that comes into a syndicate structure is paid for via a conventional mortgage loan that requires a down payment of around 20%. The building residents collectively finance the down payment and often tap resources like alternative lenders to do so. And a particularly compelling feature of this model is that tenants of existing buildings in the syndicate pay a small amount each month into a “solidarity fund,” which then goes toward bringing new projects into the syndicate. The idea behind tenement syndicates is that no one is in this alone–and that the larger syndicate structure exists to support buildings in which people reside according to this ethos.

Mutual Aid Housing Cooperatives

Like tenement syndicates, mutual aid housing cooperatives (MHACs) are a foreign concept in the U.S., but quite popular in several countries in Latin America, where they were first established in the 1960s. What sets it apart from the previous three models is that the residents of a MAHC work together to both maintain and build their own housing.

A group of families band together and decide to form a MAHC. They then seek out land on which to build, which they secure either via a grant or a purchase. If the latter, the families go in on a collective loan with which to purchase the land, which minimizes risk. The whole family participates in the building and management process–MAHCs make a special point give women and people with disabilities responsibility–and the work contribution saves an estimated 15% to 20% of labor costs. Federación Uruguaya de Cooperativas de Vivienda por Ayuda Mutua (FUCVAM), based in Uruguay, is the largest and oldest federation of MAHCs in the world, and to date, it comprises more than 500 housing developments for 25,000 families; its success has spurred the expansion of the model to 17 countries. Not only does the collective organizing and building structure create a community support system for individual families, it also equips young people in the MAHC with construction and organizing skills.

A New Way Forward

As housing becomes less and less affordable, rates of homelessness have spiked in the country, and numerous previous studies have shown that it’s much less expensive to house people decently than it is to manage their needs–from shelter to health–without a stable home.

If we’re going to try to truly tackle the affordability crisis in the U.S., the report contends, we can’t just continue to work within the current system. While the report’s authors acknowledge that establishing community-based systems is radical, what choice, exactly, do we have?

“The current U.S. housing system, rooted in the commodification of land and housing and speculation, is not our only option,” Romano says. “There are alternatives, and these alternatives do work and are guided by a vision of housing as a human right and undergirded by principles including community control.”

CNHED: The Ones That Failed: Housing Policy Flops

In 1978, City Council passed a temporary anti-speculation tax after debating various versions in legislative hearings. The Residential Real Property Transfer Excise Tax was written in response to concern about widespread flipping and speculation in the residential property market.

Speculation is, roughly, an investment in a property that carries very little risk but offers the possibility of large gains. It can drive up the cost of housing and property taxes to the point where the residents of the area can no longer afford to live there. Speculation can also be predatory. In D.C. in the 1970s speculators took advantage of the wave of first time black homeowners who didn’t have “the expertise to go through land records to find out what the slum speculator paid, and when.” The new homeowners often paid exorbitant rates for houses that just weeks earlier were listed at a fraction of the price. A Council study found the following: “Between October 1972 and September 1974…one out of every five sales of homes in the District involved two or more sales of the same property, 80% within 10 months of each other.”

Inspired by the politics of SNCC and the just-passed D.C. Human Rights Act, which protected against discrimination in housing, the law levied a steep tax (near 100%) on short-term buying and selling of residential properties without improvements. It also required an inventory of all transfers of residential property and the disclosure of the seller’s purchase price and costs to buyers of residential property. All three of these measures were the first of their kind in the country. (Caveat: Vermont at the time had a tax to stop speculation of rural land.)

The law expired in 1981 with the City Council’s blessing. By December 1979, the Washington Post had already deemed the law an utter failure. By that time, the law had only been implemented three times, thanks in large part to easy-to-find loopholes.

Some blamed the failure on the City Council and Mayor, specifically the way its progress on civil rights was not met with progressive stances on economic justice. Mayor Walter Washington once asked, “But what’s wrong with speculation?”

Others cited the influence of the real estate industry.  They first became politically organized through the debates on the tax and actively opposed it. In addition, there was the racial politics of speculation. With the new win of home rule, many black leaders thought it was finally their turn to turn a profit—and the development industry was the place to do it. Speculation sounded to many like a form of economic power that was owed to black city residents. As a result, one observer wrote that it was difficult for “activists to invoke the same degree of outrage at black profit seekers as they do when the perpetrators are white.”

Katie J. Wells: A Housing Crisis, a Failed Law, and a Property Conflict: The US Urban Speculation Tax

“…the reality of the 1970s and 1980s housing crisis in Washington, DC, which forced
city residents to contend with a deteriorating housing stock from years of disinvestment; an increase in evictions connected to speculation; demands for housing by a
new population of white professionals; and the possibility that much of the city
would no longer be a place where working-class residents like the Harveys could
live. In 1975, when Harvey testified at the City Council, housing options were dire
for poor and working-class residents, the majority of whom were black. Abandoned, run-down, and foreclosed shells stood next to unaffordable, renovated
homes on the same street. This landscape of uneven development was one of
extremes. An estimated 22,000 vacant structures littered overcrowded neighbor-
hoods while roughly 260,000 families could not afford or access decent places to
live (Diner and Young 1983). Incomes remained steady but housing prices
skyrocketed; gentrification seemed imminent, and the city’s small supply of hous-
ing for low- and moderate-income residents began to disappear (Goldfield 1980)…
…one of the Council’s most radical responses to the housing crisis of the
1970s: a speculation tax. The Council passed the tax in 1978 as a means to deter
residential property flipping, which involved quick sales of a purchased property at
dramatically increased prices. This tax cut to the core of the principles that undergirded
the housing market, and it was for this reason that the policy spurred the creation of
the city’s first realty lobby. The policy also raised serious questions for tax supporters

about the purposes and effects of capitalist housing markets. I argue that these questions, which were left unanswered,ultimately undermined the efficacy of the country’s first and only urban speculation tax. At the end of 1981, the Council let the tax expire…

…For political economists, the answer to Friedrich Engels’ housing question—the question of why decent, clean places to live continue to be out of reach for many—is the profit-oriented nature of the housing industry and market (Bratt et al. 1986, 2006). Though exacerbated by racism and sexism, the root of housing problems is the commodification of residential space. Geographic research has explored at length regulatory mechanisms, sophisticated credit systems, labor-market restructurings, “free” market ideologies, and practices like speculation that produce housing as a commodity. This work has helped scholars like David Harvey (1976), Manuel Castells (1979) and Chester Hartman (1983) to see speculation as a predatory practice and one that differs from traditional development. Neil Smith (1979:25), too, has argued that there is “a vital distinction between the speculator proper who buys a house to sell it unaltered, at a profit, and the developer who buys a house to rehabilitate it before selling”. The only thing a real estate speculator hopes to produce is a rising land value…

…In 1970 the city’s (DC) population was 72% black and 28% white. As the decade went on, the number of black residents living in the city shrank for the first time in history and a demographic dichotomy emerged. The city’s population became increasingly either white and wealthy or poor and black. There was a rush of condominium conversions, a surge of gentrification, and a larger number of white residents moving into the city than out (Gale 1987). A cardboard sign taped to the window of a house, and captured in a newspaper photograph, described some of the racial politics of these changes:

Black families who have
paid to live on this st. for 30 years
have been given 30 days
to leave by whites who seek status
of an in-town address: their status
our homes.
I hate you white vultures and
spend all my waking hours
thinking how best to drive you
away. You will get exactly
what you deserve.
At the moment that the city’s long-term population of black renters became
eligible for federally backed mortgages and won protections against discrimination
in leasing, housing construction shrank, credit for the housing industry dried up,
funding for public housing was diverted, and affordability in the housing markets
disappeared (Diner and Young 1983).
“The Wild West”
Across the city, tenants, the majority of whom were black, were kicked and priced
out of their homes. In Adams Morgan, a row of houses that were in use as rentals
sold one week for $26,000 and a few weeks later with no remodeling for $65,000.
On Capitol Hill an entire block of six-bedroom townhouses that were in use as
rooming houses was converted to single-family dwellings and sold to 19 new
homeowners in a single summer (Zeitz 1979).
A white realtor who was active at this time, Brian Logan, described the fervor in an interview with me:
“It was sort of like the Wild West back then. Oh…they would do flipping where you
would get a contract on a shell, you know, for $4,000 and that person would flip it
to another one for $5,000 and it might change, the contract might change hands
two, or three, four times before you actually got to settle it for $10,000. I mean,
prices were going up high then, I mean, quickly. People were just flipping. There
was a bunch of guys who made enough money that they moved to Costa Rica and
bought a big farm and are now doing something in Costa Rica, I don’t know. Any-
way, there was a whole lot of people, little developers, and contractors that would
buy these things and actually fix them up a little bit and then sell them and other
people would just buy them and sell them without fixing up. It was great. It was a
lot of fun.”
Another white realtor of the early 1970s said in an interview with me:
[t]here were so many people making so much money…There were people from California coming here because they heard about money. A little man from Iran came with a suitcase full of cash because D.C. was the most under-priced capital city in the world.
Between 1970 and 1974, the median sales price of a home increased in Washington, DC roughly the same amount as it did in the preceding 10 years: 80%.  Property tax assessments sometimes increased as much as 10% from the previous year.
“Little old ladies” were “badgered to death” to sell their homes, according to
a City Council member. More than 30 real estate agents told a newspaper
reporter that they had pressured “elderly, black homeowners in gentrifying
areas” to sell their homes (quoted in Gale 1987:163). If residents were unwilling
to sell, realtors sent housing inspectors. Then, if homeowners lacked the means
to repair the identified infractions, they would be forced to sell, which often
meant selling to the speculator whom they had refused in the first place.
Citywide Tenant Revolt
In the 1970s a citywide tenant revolt erupted. Residents demanded new kinds of
neighborhood planning, demonstrated at City Council, and organized the city’s first rent strikes against landlords for inadequate maintenance (Reed 1981). If the metropolitan region had indeed become the wealthiest in the USA, for whom had benefits accrued?
The moment for answers arrived in 1974 when the city finally achieved limited
self-governance after a hundred years of Congressional control. That year, Congress’ Home Rule Act went into effect. City residents elected their own mayor and
a 13-member City Council, all but two of whom were black and more than half
of whom had some kind of alliance with the radical Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. In its first year, the City Council considered 35 bills to address the
housing problem. They passed eviction moratoriums, condominium conversion
restrictions, and limited-equity cooperative provisions. The speculation tax, which
had gained popularity at a “reverse blockbusting” forum, was one of the most radical and, of those passed, one of the shortest-lived.
After much lobbying by the Anti-Speculation Task Force, the bill was introduced to the City Council by the council members representing the gentrifying Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. A member of the Task Force, a new group of community leaders from the areas of Adams Morgan, Capital Hill, and Shaw, and a local lawyer from Ralph Nader’s tax reform group drafted the original speculation tax bill. They proposed levying a tax of up to 70% on the profits made by quick sales of row houses.
A speculation tax, in theory, discourages flipping by penalizing the offender. If it is successful, such a tax can discourage speculation by taxing away short-term gains. If the tax does not deter speculation, it can still serve a useful purpose by capturing a portion of the windfall profits when properties change hands and funneling those revenues into housing resources for low- and moderate-income residents. But, in the latter case, price escalation could nevertheless result (Bratt et al. 2006)…
…renovation,restoration, and redevelopment of housing were not described as problematic. The city badly needed physical repair. And who if not the real estate industry would repair it? The problem was the flipping without the repairing and the inflation without the The US Urban Speculation Tax improvements. Such a standpoint that vilified speculation while endorsing the private property market proved a complicated and ultimately damaging position.
Realtors and other opponents of the tax latched onto this claim about a difference
between speculation and restoration. Opponents presented a naturalized view of
speculation as no different from any other kind of conventional capitalist practice
and suggested that few distinctions existed between speculators and other real es-

tate actors…Opponents to the tax went further with this point. They repeatedly alleged that any regulation on speculation would “virtually end” all private investments in housing…

…A false choice emerged in the debates: housing development through an unregulated housing market or no housing development at all. A representative of the Office and Apartment Building Association was explicit: “It’s not a choice between houses for poor people and houses for rich people. It’s a choice between houses for rich people or no houses at all.”…

…The final tax included a loophole to exempt renovated properties if a seller offered a one-year warranty on infrastructure like heating, plumbing, and electrical systems. A council member explained, “homesellers and speculators who have done nothing more than put up a new coat of paint will ‘warranty’ that all parts of the house are in good condition”. During its three years on the books, only seven people paid the tax, and, of that group, one was refunded.

After intense lobbying by real estate executives and housing developers to make sure the flawed law was not repaired or extended, the City Council ended the short-lived affair with the speculation tax and let the tax expire in 1981. The tax, designed to counteract the racialized pressures of the property market, became a signal of the market’s hegemony. The defeat of the speculation tax became a signal of an urban landscape where material property existed as a lucrative space for investment, property rights were based on ideologies of exclusion, and traditional private ownership was treated as an empowerment vehicle in the civil right struggles of working-class black residents.
By exploring some of the racialized political discourses through which hegemonic
property rights were made to endure in Washington, DC in the late 1970s, this pa-
per shows how property rights can function as narrative barriers to housing justice
in unexpected ways. Speculation tax supporters held tight to a vision of a city in
which residential space was largely distributed by the market, primarily developed
by the real estate industry, and heavily controlled through home ownership. Home
ownership was seen as a way to provide low- and moderate-income black residents
forms of social and spatial security and the possibility of economic mobility that no
other social relation could. For the project of racial justice in Washington, DC, the
housing market was portrayed, despite all the talk of detrimental speculation, as
essential. Neighborhood change may be “something that’s happened since the dawn of time ”, as one developer I interviewed said. But the key question, according to Mandi Jackson (2008:223), “is not whether cities should be revitalized or redesigned…The question is who [or what] controls the strategy, process, and model for such a transformation.” In the case of the speculation tax, supporters and opponents contributed to a narrow ontology of neighborhood change where control of neighborhood transformation largely sat with the market. Their discursive treatment of the real estate industry, housing profits, economic wealth, and tenure security contributed to a conservative view of urban development. The quick death of the speculation tax was the quiet death of alternate narratives about housing justice and urban futures.”

DCist: Sankofa’s Tax Break Wins Approval From The D.C. Council

A decades-old District institution on Georgia Avenue NW looks like it’s slated for a 10-year tax abatement, after the black-owned bookstore lobbied for relief from the city.

The D.C. Council was unanimous on Tuesday in its approval of a tax break for Sankofa Video Books & Cafe (aside from At-large Councilmember Anita Bonds and Ward 4’s Brandon Todd, both of whom are on a trip to Israel with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce). Like all permanent legislation, the bill requires another vote at the council before heading to the mayor’s desk. There’s no date set for the second vote, though it could come as soon as July 9, according to the office of Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who introduced the legislation.

While the city has long used tax breaks and other incentives to entice corporations and developers, it has less frequently directed those tools towards retaining small businesses.

“I hope that the Sankofa example is a spark for protections to be put in place for small black businesses,” says Sankofa co-owner Shirikiana Gerima. “Legacy businesses who’ve been here through crack, through, in some cases, the riots, through gentrification—the latest devastation, they need to be supported in really, really concrete ways.”

As written, the bill exempts Sankofa from taxation for the coming decade, as growing property values in Pleasant Plains have left the business with a rising tax bill. This year, Sankofa owes $30,000 in property taxes, a 25 percent increase over the past decade, according to Gerima’s testimony to the D.C. Council. That number is projected to rise to $36,000 by 2022, according to D.C.’s chief financial officer. The CFO valued the abatement at $415,346 over a 10-year period, and determined that the business could survive without it.

But Gerima says that Sankofa is more than bookstore—it’s a community meeting place for “people who are thirsty to know about their culture and history.” She says all of the people who signed a petition and lined up to testify at the D.C. Council on Sankofa’s behalf earlier this June are a testament to that mission. “We’ve been out here working hard for a long time and the sustenance has been the growth of people around us and ourselves, too,” she says.

The shop sits just down the street from Howard University and a few blocks from the Metro PCS store in Shaw, which have been at the center of recent conflicts over who has a right to space in the city.

Gerima thinks the city needs to be involved in these discussions. “The government is a gatekeeper and they have a responsibility to look out for D.C. residents old and new,” she says.

In exchange for the tax break, the legislation requires that more than half of Sankofa’s employees live in D.C., with more than 30 percent of them living in Ward 1. Gerima says this measure won’t be a problem.

But for another Ward 1 business fighting for its significantly larger tax break, the question of whether it has prioritized District residents in the hiring process has become a major issue.

The Line D.C., a posh hotel in Adams Morgan, received a $46 million tax break over 20 years from the D.C. Council if it met certain conditions, including construction jobs for people who live in D.C.

A recent audit from the Department of Employment Services was the latest analysis to determine that The Line failed to meet at least two of the seven requirements for securing the tax abatement (the hotel’s owners dispute the audit’s findings). DOES recommended that The Line go through a “substitute compliance plan,” in which the hotel pay a $600,000 penalty over four years in exchange for the $46 million tax break.

But Nadeau and At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman questioned whether DOES could waive the requirements, and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine determined that the hotel needed to meet all seven requirements laid out in the legislation to score the tax break.

Ultimately, the D.C. Council voted on June 17 to delay the tax abatement by a year and to require DOES to release materials related to the audit.

To prove that The Line D.C. did indeed satisfy the terms of the deal, its owners made a website that included a list of the construction employees with District residences, the Washington Post reports. That list included architects, developers, and chef Eric Bruner-Yang, who has a restaurant inside the hotel.

Activists aren’t buying it. Today, they parked a large truck outside the hotel accusing The Line D.C. of breaking its promises to the city.

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Active Anti-Gentrification and Housing Campaigns


Barry Farms

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“Barry Farm was constructed in 1941, on a portion of a settlement created by the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1862. It was D.C.’s first homeownership community for African Americans after the Civil War. The street grid in the development is the last remnant of that early post-Emancipation community, according to the BFTAA.

The redevelopment of Barry Farm was delayed more than a year ago when the D.C. Court of Appeals sided with the Barry Farm Tenants Association, and sent the project back to the zoning commission. Part of the court’s decision said the commission falsely concluded that the proposed relocation for Barry Farm residents wouldn’t cause hardship or displacement.

Despite that decision, families in 444 units and more than 200 buildings — which have already been torn down — have moved into temporary housing. Hundreds who once lived at Barry Farm were given vouchers, making way for the long-promised redevelopment. Residents were told by city officials they could move back once the redevelopment is finished, but some doubt they will be able to return to the property.” Sasha-Ann Simons

“Under the New Communities Initiative, the 444-unit Barry Farm complex is slated to become a 1400-unit development with market-rate apartments, town homes, retail and other amenities, in addition to public housing.

Officials had assured the remaining tenants that they would be relocated during demolition and reconstruction, and would have an opportunity to move back.

But residents have argued that they would be displaced because plans call for the creation of 344 units for low-income residents — 100 fewer than exist now.” Fenit Nirappil

Washington Post: Facing gentrification, D.C. residents fight to preserve historic neighborhood

Brookland Manor

“Brookland Manor is set to be re-developed into a more upscale housing complex and residents have mixed feelings about that. Brookland Manor is a 20-acre, 19-building housing community that is located at the corner of Rhode Island Ave., N.E. and 14th Street., N.E. in Ward 5. Brookland Manor is located close to the economically-booming Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station and the housing and retail surrounding it.

Mid-City plans to tear down the existing buildings, some of which are decades-old, and build 1,760 new units. HUD would retain control of 373 of the new units and the remainder would rent out at market rate. Presently, Brookland Manor contains 535 affordable units, including three, four and five-bedroom units that accommodate families.” Special to the AFRO

Washington City Paper: Some Brookland Manor Residents Continue to Resist a Subsidized Development

Afro: D.C.’s Brookland Manor Mired in Controversy

Chinatown Museum Square Apartments

“Bush Companies (owner) informed residents that they would stop receiving the Section 8 government subsidy for low-income residents and that the 302-unit building would be replaced with a newer one. But under the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, residents have the right to buy their building before it can be gutted or sold to a third party. Bush Companies told tenants the building would cost them $250 million, or about $830,000 per unit. The residents and some city officials contended the price was arbitrary and exorbitant, prompting tenants to sue in D.C. Superior Court, alleging that Bush Companies had violated their rights.” Perry Stein 

Washington Post: Last remaining Chinese residents in Chinatown score a victory in court

Kenilworth

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“If all goes as planned, the city next year will begin razing the blighted Kenilworth Courts public housing complex, across the road from Matthews, and replacing it with a larger, upscale project of stylish design, including not only public housing but nicer apartments for middle-class renters and townhomes for sale at market prices.

Gone will be 26 low-slung blockhouses separated by shadowy labyrinths of courtyards and alleys. Although the city has vowed that the impoverished tenants will be allowed back in when the work is done, many of them are skeptical. And even if the promise holds true, the residents, who depend on one another daily for help, dread the loss of their mini-communities, their vital support networks within the buildings.” Paul Duggan

Washington Post: In Kenilworth, a D.C. Neighborhood on the Brink of Gentrification, the Past is about to Meet the Future

Ivy City and Crummell School

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“In 2016 when the city released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for development of the historic Alexander Crummell School in Ivy City, Empower DC organized a team of youth to engage the community, create a development team and submit a proposal which represented the community’s vision for the long-vacant yet cherished site. The proposal dedicates half of the site – 1 acre – to desperately needed green space and outdoor play space, to be controlled by a Community Land Trust along with the historic School, which would operate as a nonprofit Community Center providing needed programing for youth, adults and seniors. The remainder of the site would provide affordable rental housing, community health care and day care centers, an indoor recreation building, and a Habitat ReStore which offers low cost household goods.” Parisa Norouzi, Empower DC

McMillan Redevelopment

“McMillan Park is an historic national landmark Olmsted park. Since the District of Columbia government purchased the McMillan Park Sand Filtration Site in 1987 from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Site has deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and is now threatened by pressure for commercial and residential development. The property was selected by the now-defunct public-private National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCPC) in a land swap deal for Anacostia Riverfront property used to build DC’s baseball stadium. In advance of a NCPC completing a Request for Proposals process, disgraced DC Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. selected a sole-source development team that proposed a scheme that included 1,200 units of housing in buildings up to 10 stories tall, a 100,000 square foot shopping center, a 125-room hotel and conference center, and underground parking. This team proposes to essentially bulldoze the entire park and pave it over with dense urban development, leaving very limited open green space to remain.” Friends of McMillon Park

Other Past and Present Issues

Curbed: Finally, An Easier Way to Keep Track of Developments in D.C.

Biz Journals: Greater Washington’s Crane Watch

Biz Now: 8 Major Projects Planned In D.C.’s Opportunity Zones

WUSA9: List of DC public housing proposed for demolition revealed

Washington Post: The D.C. Housing Department forfeited millions as families waited for help

Washington Post: Rent strikes grow in popularity among tenants as gentrification drives up rents in cities like D.C.

WTOP: To protect affordable housing, DC bill aims to limit short-term rentals

City Paper: Life Is Hell for Tenants of Giant D.C. Slumlord Sanford Capital

Dcist: Sankofa’s Tax Break Wins Approval From The D.C. Council

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Get Involved

 1. Create an Alternative to Calling the Cops Plan

Crisis and Mediation Hotlines

List is primarily from the Petworth Immigrants Rights & Police Accountability resource list called, “Alternatives to Calling the Police: Washington DC

***Always consider calling a hot before the police.  Click to learn why***

  • Mediation: Community Mediation DC (240) 766-5311 M-F 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM Mediation offers a chance to listen and to be heard, to build relationships, and to develop your own solutions to your own conflict. Mediation works because when people develop their own solutions, these solutions last longer.  Mediators are professionally trained volunteers who reflect the diversity of your community. Call or email communitymediationdc@gmail.com for more information.
  • Mental Health: Mobile Crisis Services (202) 673-9300 every day 9:00 AM – 1:00 AM Teams respond to adults throughout the District experiencing a psychiatric crisis. They provide crisis stabilization including dispensing medication, assessing for voluntary and involuntary hospitalizations, and link to other services such as crisis beds and substance abuse detoxification. The teams work with family members  to help with follow up.
  • Human Trafficking: National Human Trafficking Hotline (888) 373-7888 24/7 200+ languages.  A trained and experienced Anti-Trafficking Advocate will speak with you about your needs, your options, and the resources. Anonymously report tips, seek services, and ask for help.
  • Victim Support:  DC Victim Hotline  (844) 443-5732 24/7 by telephone, text, or online chat. The hotline provides comprehensive information, resources and referrals in D.C. to connect victims of crime to free resources and  help them navigate the physical, financial, legal, and emotional repercussions of crime.
  • Sexual Assault: DC Rape Crisis Center Hotline  (800) 656-4673 24/7 The Center, committed to the belief that all forms of oppression are linked,  helps survivors and their families heal from the aftermath of sexual violence through crisis intervention, counseling, advocacy, community outreach, education, and legal and public policy initiatives. They will connect you to an advocate and other survivor resources.
  • Severe Heat or Cold: Hypothermia Shelter Hotline (800) 535-7252 24/7 They will dispatch a van equipped with water, blankets, gloves and jackets. When it is 32 degrees or below the van can take the person from the street to an emergency shelter or to a hospital if needed. When it is 95 degrees or above the van can transport the person to cooling centers. Transportation is always voluntary.
  • Runaway Support: National Run Away Safe Line 1-800-RUNAWAY 24/7  NRS provides education and solution-focused interventions, offers non-sectarian, non-judgmental support, respects confidentiality, collaborates with volunteers, and responds to at-risk youth and their families.

ATCP-8.5x11-SURJ-print color-1

2. Financially support, volunteer with, and amply local advocacy

Fair Budget Advocacy

DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI)
DCFPI conducts research and public education on budget and tax issues in the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on issues that affect low- and moderate-income residents

Fair Budget Coalition
Advocates for a more socially just budget and public policy initiatives

Housing Advocacy

The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development (CNHED)
Fosters just and equitable community development solutions that address the needs and aspirations of low- and moderate-income District residents by convening, advocating, and educating diverse stakeholders

  • Housing For All Campaign
    CNHED led campaign of nonprofit community development organizations in ensuring that residents with low and moderate incomes have housing and economic opportunities

DC Grassroots Planning Coalition
A network of DC residents & organizations from all 8 Wards committed to pursuing racial, economic, and environmental justice through equitable development.
Gathers every second Saturday

Empower DC
Working to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents, in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life through organizing around Affordable Housing, Public Education, and community empowerment.

ONE DC
Community Justice organization around 3 areas: One Right to Housing, One Right to Income, and One Right to Wellness

DC Housing Advocacy Resources

DC Comprehensive Plan
DC Comp plan is a 20-year framework that guides future growth and development.

DC Tenant Bill of Rights
Rights for tenants in DC

DC’s five year plan to build equitable neighborhoods

DC for Reasonable Development: Fair Development Resources
Resources to understand and advocate for more fair development

Reports on topics effecting poor people in DC from housing, to education to budget etc.

DCFPI: A Resident’s Guide to the DC Budget
A guide to advocating for funding in the DC budget.

CNHED’s summary of the failed 1978 DC council temporary anti-speculation tax

Evicted
A National Building Museum exhibit with Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted, offering an immersive experience bringing our visitors into the world of low-income renter eviction. With unique design elements and striking graphics, the exhibition challenges adults and youth to face the enormity of a difficult subject, while providing context and a call to action.

3. Do Anti-Racism Work

Anti-Racism Groups

Black Lives Matter DMV
Black Lives Matter DC is a collective of organizers, activists, and artists in DC who work to combat anti-blackness and racialized oppression in all of its manifestations as experienced by Black and African diasporic people

Black Youth Project 100 DC Chapter
Black Youth Project 100 is a member-based organization of Black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. We do this through building a network focused on transformative leadership development, non-violent direct action organizing, advocacy, and education.

Smash Racism DC
Advocating against Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and any other white nationalist group.

Stop Police Terror Project DC
Working to change DC’s system of racist, militarized policing

Showing Up for Racial Justice DC (SURJ – DC)
SURJ-DC is the DC chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice

Anti-Harassment Advocacy

Collective Action for Safe Spaces
Working to empower people in the DC metropolitan area to build a community free from public sexual harassment and assault.

DC Trans Coalition
Volunteer, grassroots, community-based organization dedicated to fighting for human rights, dignity, and liberation for transgender, transsexual, and gender-diverse (hereafter: trans) people in the District of Columbia

4. Learn Local DC History

Historical Justice Groups

D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice
Network of educators who seek to strengthen and deepen social justice teaching

Prologue DC
Washington based historians working on historical DC projects such as Mapping Segregation

Right to a City
Anacostia Smithsonian Museum that explores more than five decades of neighborhood change in the nation’s capital as well as the rich history of organizing and civic engagement that accompanied it.

Books

5. Organize local advocacy campaigns

  • Organize
    • Tenant associations, community action groups, civic associations, ANCs, etc.
      • Gov/developers often need community approval
    • Join and fund affordable housing orgs
      • DC Grassroots Planning Coalition, Empower DC, One DC
    • Promote, support, amply local leaders/orgs
    • Housing Counsel and Home Ownership education
      • Legal assistance, eviction court representation, etc
  • Advocate
    • Local gov budgets
      • Learn budget cycle/when to advocate to protect/increase funds
      • Local legislation and policies
        • DC Comp plan, Rent controls, tenant rights, community land trusts, public housing funding, affordable housing regulations
      • Community Benefit/Development Agreements/PUDs
        • Right of return, develop while residents stay,
      • More community oversight/spread word about
        • Public hearings, zoning appeals, comment periods, debates, etc
      • For more affordable housing solutions check out:
        • Grounded Solutions Housing Policy Toolkit
  • Direct action
    • Disrupt, expose, challenge bad development/policies
    • Demonstrations, petitions, boycotts, rent strikes
      • ACLU: Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests

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Neoliberal Urban Development vs Community Economic Development

  • Neoliberal Urban Development (Gentrification)
    • “many U.S. cities prioritized profit-driven activities to build up new economic bases and revenue streams. Without prioritizing comprehensive and community-driven policies, however, these changes rarely accounted for the needs and interests of existing residents. We know this to be a neoliberal approach to development.” Causa Justa
    • Private and/or public investment that purposefully or accidentally inflates the cost of living and displaces a disproportionate amount of minorities from their homes

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  • Community Economic Development (Community First Model)
    • Development approach that starts with the people in a community, and supports their ability to develop institutions that fill the needs that exist in their communities – in a way that contributes to the residents’ ability to own, control, manage, replicate and sustain this positive change.
    • Intentional rebuilding of a community from the bottom up, in which the community still remains affordable for low-income families and the existing community has power over the type of development.

“The lesson of the city: No community should fight for improvements without simultaneously fighting for community control and permanency (against displacement). It plays into the hands of developers and the government officials doing their bidding. New stores will come, new sidewalks and trails, etc – they will celebrate the “improvement” and not mind one bit if the people who championed improving their communities are no longer around to enjoy it.”  Parisa Bonita Norouzi (Empower DC)

Advocate for More Community Oversight

  • More community oversight
    • More power over development decisions for the communities effected
    • More control over legitimate impact studies required on gentrification, displacement, and racial disparities for developments and funding decisions
    • More oversight and enforcement power on developments not meeting expectations
    • More oversight/tenant protection for privatized models
      • Including longer guarantees units remain affordable
      • 1:1 replacement on affordable housing
      • Remove restrictive entry policies
  • Community Development Agreements
    • Agreement between community, developer, and sometimes gov, for
      • Ensuring certain conditions are met before development
      • That local communities benefit from development
      • There’s a mechanism for addressing issues and community harm
  • Planned Unit Developments (PUD)
    • Large residential or mixed use construction projects that need “zoning relief”
      • building a residential or commercial building in space that’s zoned for industrial
    • Managed by DC’s Zoning Commission
      • 5 member body (3 appointed by Mayor, 2 appointed by feds)
      • Can approve zoning relief if project is “deemed” beneficial for community
      • Developers are expected to provide benefits to the community in return
    • PUD process provides community an opportunity for feedback
      • ANC suppose to have a lot of weight on decision
      • All meetings are publc
    • If community disagrees with PUD decision they can sue in federal coursts
      • If displacement and impact studies are not taken seriously (Barry Farms Development)

SW Conscious Rising: Building Social Capital to Secure Our Future

  • Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan)
    • 20-year framework that guides future growth and development
      • Currently being updated
      • Mayor Bowser pushing to remove ability for communities to sue over PUDs
    • Will guide land use decisions and polices around many issues including affordable housing
      • For next 20 years
    • To get updates on
      • dc.gov/page/comprehensive-plan
      • Grassroots Planning Coalition

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Empower DC Community Organizing Techniques

The mission of Empower DC is to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life. We accomplish our mission through grassroots organizing and trainings, leadership development, and community education.

Empower DC believes that community organizing is the most effective way to uplift low-income communities in the District of Columbia. Community organizing builds the power of people directly impacted by an issue – such as the demolition of public housing or the closure of a school – to create positive, long-lasting change for their communities, their families, and themselves.

Empower DC Organizing Principles

  1. Work with groups of people who share a common problem
  2. Develop leadership through training and providing leadership opportunities
  3. Develop the self-confidence of leaders and potential leaders
  4. Support groups to develop action plans and implement them
  5. Use the media to inform the larger community about issues and to gain support
  6. Use confrontation when necessary to force a recalcitrant target to negotiate or resolve an issue
  7. Leaders, rather than staff, set the agenda for the organization and carry it out

Empower DC Community Organizing 101

Ella Baker’s Principles for Organizing

Authored by Je’Kendria Trahan and Monae White, on behalf of BYP100 DC

  1. Emphasizing the ability and knowledge of local people to solve their own issues
  2. Self Determination – People need a sense of their own value and their own strengths.
  3. An inclusive environment – identifying who is in the room, who is not in the room and why
  4. Organic intellectuals – non-traditionally educated, working class, or otherwise intellectually marginalized folks having the power and ability to form complex understandings of oppression and act on injustices.
  5. Group-centered leadership – leaders form in groups and are committed to building shared power and struggling for collective goals.  This is different than leader-centered groups, in which the group id dedicated to the goals and power of that leader.
  6. Minimization of hierarchy and the associated emphasis on expertise and professionalism as basis for leadership
  7. Direct action as an answer to fear, alienation, and intellectual detachment
  8. Individuals confront oppression in their own heads to begin process of self-transformation & self-actualization
  9. Willingness to learn from mistakes and successes and become stronger people in the process: people who believe in themselves and feel as sense of their own power to affect the world around them.
  10. Being a leader – as facilitator, creating processes and methods for others to express themselves and make decisions; as coordinator, creating events, situations and dynamics that build and strengthen collective efforts; and as teacher/education, working with others to develop their own sense of power, capacity to organize and analyze, vision of liberation and ability to act in the world for justice
  11. Center people’s humanity while doing the work together

Community Organizing Resources

Seeds of Change Guides

Campaign Skills

Seeds of Change: Organising Successful Meetings

Seeds of Change: Facilitating Meetings

Seeds of Change: Consensus Decision Making

www.seedsforchange.org.uk/resources

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