A condo is the most affordable thing to buy in the TC

There are a handful million dolla properties for sale in Truxton Circle, so we’re not affordable no more. And this place gentrified some time ago, so stick a fork in that. Yes, the Northwest Cooperative is still an affordable place and there are a few (a few) ‘affordable’ units in the pipeline for the vacant lots. I suspect it’s not easy to just get a rental at the Co-op, and there will probably be some competition for the new units.
310 P St NW As far as something “affordable” to buy, you’re stuck with either condo units or handyman specials. Chapman Stables has two units under $400K, one being a studio the other a 1 bedroom. There’s a 1 bedroom in a smaller condo on Q St for $375K.  Townhouses in that general price range are handyman specials already under contract. There is a house on my block that is on the market that requires some work to make livable and would be an okay purchase if there are no plans for an expansion.

Personally, I’m not a fan of condos, as they come with condo boards, which sometimes contain crazy people. However, a condo is like a starter home. It’s not the best place to build equity, but it’s something. A person can move up from a condo to a house.

But some say it is impossible to come up with the 20% down payment to buy a place. I’m going to tell you a little secret. You don’t need 20%. Twenty percent is very nice, it makes your mortgage payments cheaper, but it isn’t required. I know this because I did not have 20% or even 10% when I bought my house. I think I put down 3%. There are down payment assistance programs in DC to help. Well, what about people who can’t even save 3%? Houses and condos have problems, even new ones, and those problems cost money. If one cannot keep money in savings, as soon as one of these problems crop up, homeownership will sink the owner.

Not just a matter of keeping a black middle class, it’s attracting them

I’ve been giving a lot of thought since my last post about the Black middle class in the District. I mentioned one of the great things the not so great former Marion “Mayor For Life” Berry did was help create a

Page from 1930 Census

sizable black middle class by getting African Americans in the city hired in city government and city contracts. BUT… that sizable Black middle class moved to Ward 9, aka Prince George’s County, Maryland. There is a large black middle class in the DC Metro Area, but the concentration is over in Maryland, not in the District.

The Georgetown report, the US Census, various authors and commentators have noticed that DC will no longer be majority minority (Chocolate) city if current trends continue. The Georgetown report suggests halting the trend by trying to keep DC’s predominately native Black population with various programs targeted at low income households. And maybe that won’t help at all because maybe DC never produced enough natives to make a difference and the key is attracting African Americans to the city.

DC’s Afro-American population had two big growth spurts I can think of, the Civil War and the Great Migration. There was slavery in DC but not a lot compared to the surrounding areas of MD and VA. During and after the war, a number of black people flooded into the city and Union held areas for safety and opportunity. These Freedmen, were not DC natives, and their country rural ways were not necessarily welcomed by black DC natives. The Great Migration, where Southern African Americans moved North, and DC is a North/South hybrid brought more rural Blacks into the city.

Looking at my own research for Truxton Circle, specifically the data for the 1930 census, when the neighborhood became overwhelmingly African American, a majority were not DC natives. There were 4866 people living in the neighborhood, a little under half of those (all races) were DC natives. With 3798, the TC was majority black, yet only 1443 were DC natives. Of black household heads and wives (1,476), to exclude children most likely born in DC, 349 were born in DC.

To me it looks like the problem of loss of DC’s Black population and particularly the near disappearance of the Black middle class is not attracting enough Black people into the city to live. DC has not grown it’s large Black population booms through childbirth. DC has become very attractive to young white people, the city has just got to figure out how to make it attractive to young hip up and coming black people.

Is DC interested in keeping the Black middle class? IDK

1900 blk houseSo I’ve read the report out of Georgetown University’s report State of African Americans in DC: Employment,  and as a member of the black middle class there is nothing, zero, in the report about keeping the middle class Afro-American families in DC. The purpose of the report (PDF), as stated on page 2, is to analyze trends and “offer ideas about how to halt the flow of African Americans out of Washington, D.C.” However, the report I read was about attempting to support low and no income people in DC, who in our city are primarily people of color.

There is an error everyone makes, even I make this mistake from time to time, and that is the equation: Afro-American=Low Income. Yes, the median household income of African American households is less than White American households, but the median income is not necessarily low income.  But to be fair this related to the Mayor’s Commission of African American Affairs, and its mission is primarily focused on low-income African Americans.

The report doesn’t completely ignore the Black middle class, it mentions the flight of the AfAm middle class from the city and a decline in the Black middle class. It also mention’s the former Marion Barry’s contribution. Before he was known for crack and sex, Barry did grow the Black middle class in DC with contracts requiring minority businesses and hiring a lot of people for DC government jobs. Unfortunately, many of those middle class DC government workers wandered across the border to PG County. The problem with making DC government offices a Black employment program are a lot of people who didn’t answer the damned phone when you needed city services, but I digress.

This report, because its focus is not creating and keeping a Black middle class, doesn’t even suggest doing what Barry did (at least with the creation part).

I should also mention that DC lacks a white low class community, so like the error of equating black with poor, there is the habit of equating white= middle class/ rich. Therefore, most programs for low income populations will be for people of color, and more often African Americans.

Yes, I am faulting the report for being something other than what I would like it to be. I want it to show how DC can grow and keep a Black middle class. DC seems like a place with racially diverse workplaces so I’m not sure what more DC DOES, can do for equal opportunities for the kind of jobs being created in the city. The Project Empowerment doesn’t seem to work with the kind of careers that lead people to the middle class. SYEP is hit or miss on the path to the middle class.

The report does say: “The city must create a pipeline from its high schools to careers such as nursing, radiology, EMT, and physician’s assistants, which typically pay a living wage or better. D.C. can start by reconfiguring the Career Academies and CTE programs administered by DCPS to be geared toward these careers.” Yes, something beyond a living wage to a thriving wage should be a goal.

Regarding housing there is nothing mentioned for the Black middle class. There is a program, actually a whole DC agency that could help the Black middle class become homeowners. The DC Housing Finance Agency has HPAP, which helps with the downpayment, with strings…… DCHFA has various homebuying assistance programs which can help people buy their first home in DC and homeowners are more likely to stay, or stay longer than renters.

I think it is a good thing to try to keep a sizable African American population in the District, for the sake of keeping the city a comfortable place for people like me and bi-racial families like mine. I think DC does itself a disservice not to try to make sure that a chunk of the AfAm community is middle class and figure out how to keep them/us.

 

Amazon Headquarters in Shaw? Oh Hell No!

So going though my email digests I read, a press release titled “Washington, DC Proposes Four Sites for Amazon HQ2”. Instead of deleting it after skimming the first 2 suggestions pushed forward by Mayor Bowser of the Anacostia waterfront and NoMa, I spotted “Shaw- Howard University” and actually screamed.

Commercial Building Map
Map of Shaw for 1970 Commercial Buildings

This was not a scream of delight. More of dread, followed by a suspicious feeling that the Mayor’s office is sucking up to some Shaw community or group because, seriously, where the hell would you put it? Would Amazon have to buy a chunk of the financially distressed Howard University and put it around there?

It would be nice if Amazon decided to put its second headquarters here and the Mayor’s alexawhydc.com campaign is cute. However, we’ve got one major industry in town that employs a range of people (meaning you don’t always need a college degree or post secondary anything) and a lot of them, Uncle Sam. Yes, the federal government is slowly reducing its workforce in the city (if I want to rise up I’d have to go to our suburban office) and the city should seek other major employers. Preferably employers who need people other than college and grad school graduates like myself. Anyway, I have a feeling that we should not set ourselves up for heartbreak. And on the off chance Amazon does choose DC, stay out of Shaw, traffic is a pain in the butt around here already.

Why your townhouse or condo rent costs so much

Row of Townhomes in TruxtonThis is not about rent in a large or even small apartment building, there are different things at play. Nope, this is about the English basement, or the whole townhouse, or house or condo that you or someone you know might be renting here in the city. It might seem that the rent is too darned high, and maybe it is, but there are things that contribute to the price of your rent that you may want to be aware of.

How much did it cost for your landlord to get the place where you live?

Some people are investors who purposely choose landlording, and some people are regular people who accidentally wandered into it. How do you accidentally become a landlord? You buy a house/condo and then 2+ years later get a job on the other side of the country or in the case of many, many people I know, you get married/partnered/pregnant and the place that worked for you as a singleton doesn’t work now. When faced with these life changes they sell or decide to rent. Some people rent at a loss, where the mortgage, insurance, fees, and whatever exceeds market rents, even if the market rents seem extra high. Some people just break even and others make a range of profit from a little to a lot.

Renovation
So you want to make sure construction workers are paid a living wage? You gotta pay them more and that increases the cost of construction, which gets passed on to the occupant of the workers’ labor. That and Home Depot don’t give away quality stuff for free.

This is not just purchase price that you can find in city records, this is also the price to make it a place habitable. A lot of people buy houses that are move in ready, maybe with a legal rental unit included. Yet there are others who bought cheap, or cheaper than now, renovated, and maybe bothered going through the hassle of permits and contractors so you could have a place that doesn’t get enough light. Or did something similar only to later rent out their whole house or condo. Good contractors cost money, so do bad contractors in their own special way.  These costs get passed on to the renter if the market supports it.

Taxes

Because we live in our home our property taxes are a little above $2k. If we were renting our house out, it probably would be somewhere around $3K without the homestead exemption.  Three thousand a year is $250 a month in taxes. The larger the house and nicer the neighborhood the higher the taxes.

Insurance

There was a time I was thinking of dropping the insurance on a house in Florida I own. I didn’t have a mortgage on the house, so there was no bank telling me I had to have insurance, and the darned thing was so cheap, with insurance it was worth more to me on fire.

Insurance protects the landlord, not the renter. If the property were to catch on fire the landlord would get a check, not the renter, unless the renter had renter’s insurance.

The cost of this varies. I used to pay (back when it was worth more on fire) about $900 a year. Found a cheaper insurer, which I might regret should something happen, and pay around $600 a year, $50 a month that the rent covers.

Fees

If someone were to rent out their house, there is a fee to be paid to the DC government. If they choose to leave the management to a company, the company takes their cut. If it is a condo, that fee needs to be paid, and some condo fees are in the $500-$600 a month range. Unless the landlord has to rent at a loss, those fees get passed on to the renter in the form of a higher rent.

Other stuff

There are other things a landlord is supposed to consider like vacancy ( when no one is renting and the mortgage and condo fees still need to be paid) repairs, and maintenance/ maintenance plan. If the landlord is not renting at a loss, the renter is going to cover those costs in the form of a higher rent.

Most people don’t become landlords to rent at a loss. In time those who rent at a loss don’t last long, maybe they wind up in foreclosure or maybe they rip off the band-aid and sell at a loss. Low rents, affordable rents, outside of some larger apartment buildings and beyond the wizards of the Section 8 and like subsidized programs, are not sustainable if all the costs don’t make the prospect of affordable housing profitable.

There was a time in Shaw when it seemed there were nothing but Section 8 (current name is Housing Choice Voucher Program, but hardly any really calls it by that name) houses. Landlords were making money off of those houses by making them just habitable enough to pass inspection then skimping on the maintenance. The Section 8 program also housed a lot of people who made lousy neighbors, so much so that “Section 8” was synonymous with crazy, loud, trashy, drug addicted, anti-social people. Ah the early 00s, but that’s another post for another day.

Commerce was part of our history

In the past couple of weeks I have been in contact with people in the commercial sphere about history, and this had me thinking. If you were raised in a place, maybe a suburb, where commercial buildings and activities are segregated from residences, you might be under the impression that this is the way things are supposed to be. It might even cloud your view of history.

The wonderful things about cities, older East Coast cities, is that there was mixed use before things like zoning. People lived in close proximity to their jobs and the businesses they used. A building could house a family and a store, or a one time be a store and then maybe later a residence.

The map above is just of stores. It does not point out the warehouses around Hanover Street and the working dairy where Mt. Sinai and the Northwest Co-op sit, but you can see their outlines. The other thing to take into account is this is 2 years after the 1968 riots, many businesses did not rebuild or return, depressing the neighborhood even further.

When I moved into the neighborhood in the early aughts, there was annoyance at the types of businesses that were filling the commercial corridors of Florida Avenue and North Capitol and spaces in between. Those businesses were liquor stores (brown on the map) and beauty parlors (red on the map). Those were pretty much the only things taking up spaces left empty 30 years prior.

Reading post-riot reports where business owners had an opportunity to say something, the area had problems before the riots. The riots just made a bad situation worse, and businesses, along with residents began to leave. Now contrast that with today, where businesses want to come to Shaw. The number of  sponsors for the Shaw Main Street’s Art All Night was an embarrassment of riches, a testimony of how far the 7th, 9th and U Sts commercial corridors have come.

Shaw’s rising from the ashes of the riots was not just from people moving in and fixing up houses, it was also businesses coming in and taking a chance on the neighborhood.

A Tale of Two Art All Nights: Shaw v North Capitol

The Help and I hit two of the Art All Night events this weekend, Shaw and North Capitol Main Streets. Two days later and I am still tired.
Art all night dc 2017
Shaw Main Streets had more businesses sponsoring and hosting events and was bigger. There were a dizzying amount of events and things to do, fifty-seven things according to the event map. I picked 3-4 things to go to and the streets were packed. But then again, it’s the U Street/ 7th Street corridor on a Saturday night, of course it is packed. Rooftop bars were busy. Most bars were busy, rooftop or not. There were artists making art on the street, there were performances by musicians , there was way too much to choose from, which is why I chose three things on my way back to my house so I could hit the North Capitol Main Street’s Art All Night.

North Capitol was smaller with only eight venues and less crowded, more my speed. North Capitol is where I spent most of my energy and time. We met up with a friend and his three kids at the silent disco sponsored by Quiet Events. Unlike last time we did the North Capitol Art All Night where there was a silent disco, the headphones were free (leave an adult’s ID or credit card) this time and I think that made a world of difference.  Three DJs helped too. So with that set up my friend was able to bring his three kids and other parents also brought their kids and danced like silly people in a vacant lot that will have a building on in the coming years. The music wasn’t exactly kid friendly, but remembering as a kid I didn’t think too deeply about the lyrics of most pop songs, it probably was okay.

Art all night dcAfter feeling our age we went to two venues in the Truxton at North Cap and Florida, then trekked over to the Shaw venues at Lot 42 and the Shaw Library. Which by the time we got there with 3 kids in tow (way past their bedtime) Lot 42 was even more crowded. I had gone to the Shaw library because I needed to find a bathroom….. and as a side note, I did not notice any porta potties. While in line at the library for a bathroom with only two stalls, some poor woman was struggling, visually struggling to hold it in. For large events, this can be a problem. Okay, back to the Shaw event. Because I had gone to the library I saw what was going on in the basement and ran into a librarian who mentioned the library was open and you could check out books. Awesome. Our gaggle went to the library where the kids engaged in making art.

After 11PM we all headed home. I was dead tired. My phone said I made over 18,000 steps. Those are the most steps I think I’ve ever made.

 

 

 

A bit of DC 60s anti-Freeway expression

The thing I like about primary sources in history is that it occasionally reminds us of the things forgotten. We know of Emmet Till, the Birmingham Sunday school children, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X, however those other people require Googling. Yet, the people who this flyer/poster was aimed at knew who was Col. Lemuel Penn.

I don’t want to add too much to this, except to say that neighborhoods like Shaw were in real danger of being destroyed by freeways/ highways. Read the poster and tell me what you think in the comments.

Oh what could have been- a plan to destroy the TC

I watched the most recent Jane Jacobs documentary ‘Citizen Jane’, which then led to listening to podcasts about Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. If you are not familiar with the story, Robert Moses was a very powerful man in the early 20th century who was very good at tearing down structures (slum clearance it was called) to build parks and parkways. However, another word for parkway could be highway. Jane Jacobs was the journalist/ author/ activist who stopped him from building a road or highway through her Greenwich Village neighborhood in the 1960s.

Highways, were the big thing after World War II. Prior to the war cities were big on slum clearance. Slums, according to one definition, were places where there wasn’t a lot of indoor plumbing. But most seem to define it as where poor people live in poor conditions. You mix the slum clearance with the highway funds and you have lots of plans to destroy neighborhoods.

Proposed Highway Plan

There was a plan to extend I-395 past New York Avenue NW, where it currently terminates. The above map from 1957 shows this. There are a few landmarks to help you figure out where Truxton Circle is in all this, such as the Capitol, Union Station, Logan Circle and Mt. Vernon Square. Where you see the #10 is a white mass of something, that is a proposed expressway that was to connect I-395 to an inner loop. To create this roadway tons of housing in what is now Truxton Circle would have to be destroyed. Actually, if this were to have gone through there would not have been a Truxton Circle neighborhood.

So what happened to keep this from happening? The sixties. There was a change in the 1960s where people pushed back against the government, and this was a government plan. The culture of the Civil Rights movement played a major part in this, and that is another post for another time.