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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
After 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.
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.
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.
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.
At the last BACA meeting someone from the DC government’s Public Service Commission came by and gave out tote bags. Since we’ve gutted those bags and removed the helpful info contained, I figured it would be right to share this with y’all before we chuck it into the recycling bin.
If someone makes under the RES & RAD Income Guidelines (I’ll get to that later) they can get $3 a month land line, up to 30% off of their PEPCO bills, and 25% off from their gas bill. Water is run by the city so nothing for you there.
RAD is Residential Aid Discount and RES is Residential Essential Service. And like figuring out if you’re middle class or poor, it all depends on household size.
Maximum Annual Income
Now you must wonder, how does one apply to this great program? Well apparently you call DDOE via 311, or the Public Service Commission at 202-626-5120. For the cheaper phone line you have to participate in certain federal programs, what federal programs I do not know, but call 1-800-253-0846 and ask about Economy II. What barriers there may be to actually get these discounts I have no idea. But know they exist.
So the Help and I have been spending a lot of time in Baltimore, dealing with a rental property. So that’s why we found ourselves in the Washington Village (aka Pigtown) neighborhood on a Friday night. Taking a break from grouting a shower, we wandered out to get some dinner.
There is a mix of commercial and residential buildings on the main strip of Washington Blvd, and I had passed by this shop (pictured) several times. It looked like it was an art gallery that might want to be a low key skate shop. That night the lights were bright and the art on the wall called out to me. At the time the shop’s operator was hanging out with some skinny art student, sketching a drawing, in the door and invited us to come in.
We came in to take a closer look at the canvases on the wall and the t-shirts in the cubes. My dear spouse, the Help, is a super chatty fellow and began chatting up the operator, who explained that they feature different artists’ work and the owner’s tattoo art.
Holy crap we’ve walked into a tattoo parlor.
Very clever. People tend to object to tattoo parlors in their neighborhoods because, face it many tattoo storefronts have the charm of a low rent pawn shop. However, art galleries are cool and people like art galleries. Tattoo artists are artists and it totally makes sense to have them in an art gallery! And it makes sense to have their art alongside other artists.
I think this, having a gallery/parlor, would make sense in other areas where a tattoo parlor wants to come in and pretty up the neighborhood.
The median income for the DC Metro area is way higher. Twice as high, at $110,300 for 2017 according to HUD. You might be thinking, I don’t make that much, who the hell is making that money? Well remember this is for households, those incomes are typically for a four person household. This may be two working adults and two kids, or one extremely well paid working adult and 3 dependents.
If you’re a singleton, the AMI is $77,300, pat yourself on the back you are definitely middle class in DC. If you’re single in DC making $52,550 or less you are low income (80% AMI). An annual income of $38,650 or less, you are very low income (50% AMI) and $23,200, you’re poor (extremely low income). I will leave it to you to decide if at 80% AMI (Area Median Income) you are middle class or not.
Using the Federal government’s salary table the good news is for the DC-Baltimore area there are no full time poor workers. Same thing for MPD police who are in the union, the base salary for a Class 1 officer (2015) is $53,750. That puts them in the 80% AMI region if they have 1 dependent. A starting teacher for DCPS with just a BA should get $51,359 annually. So when someone promoting workforce housing proposes having income limits at the very low income level (50% AMI) and says it’s for teachers and police officers, they are full of $hit. Even a family of four would make too much at the 50% level after the lowliest teacher’s 5th year or for a teacher with a MA 2nd year of service and a cop’s second year, assuming their spouse (if any) wasn’t working.
Being in the 80% AMI range can be a pretty sweet spot. Just before I bought my house I was below the 80% AMI and was able to qualify for a bunch of housing programs. There was a property tax abatement I qualified for that lasted about 5 years until I made just a smidge too much and the low interest rate mortgage from DCHFA. Neighbors at the 80% AMI are the kind of people you want. If they are young it is only a few years before they are at or above the AMI.
I’m just going to pass along ANC Bradley Thomas’ email, just in case you’re not on his list.
From: Thomas, Bradley Ashton (SMD 5E05) Sent: Friday, September 1, 2017 11:10:24 AM To: Thomas, Bradley Ashton (SMD 5E05) Subject: Ticketed for Parking on the South Side of P Street near to Friendship-Armstrong School?
Good Morning All:
It has come to my attention that many cars have recently been ticketed for parking on the south side of the 100 block of P Street, NW. I’m told that as many as ten cars were ticketed on Thursday morning for violating the new “No Parking School Days” restriction in the block.
Last Tuesday, I had a conference call with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), which is the agency that installed the new no-parking signs on Sunday, August 13th. On the call were administrators from Friendship-Armstrong Public Charter School and a representative from the Mayor’s office. It came out in that discussion that the No Parking signs should not have been put in place as no one, not the school, not the Mayor’s office, not me speaking on behalf of the community, asked for them and that there was in fact no legitimate reason for them to be erected. DDOT then agreed to remove the signs based on letters from the school administrators and me. That removal should take place within two weeks or less.
Since the signs were unnecessarily placed and, as I indicated on the conference call, place an unreasonable burden on residents, I believe we have good cause to have any tickets issued for this violation vacated. If you received such a ticket, please scan the ticket and e-mail it to me. I can’t promise anything but I will put all of the tickets together and petition the Board of Traffic Adjudication or Mayor Bowser to waive or vacate them.
If you don’t have the capacity to scan, you can make a copy of the ticket and get that to me. Let me know if you need to do it that way and we can connect. Also, I only have e-mail addresses for about 10 percent of the residents in our SMD so if you have neighbors who received tickets for this alleged violation and who might not receive this e-mail message, please have them get their tickets to me too.
Thanks, and remember, we are having a short (one hour) Single Member District meeting next Saturday, 9:30 am, at Dunbar, so please come if you can.