Gentrification isn’t simple

I gotta clean out my favorites file of old gentrification links. I’m starting with this one.
Everyso often wandering around parts of Shaw I may see a faded or not so faded spray painted graffiti saying “Stop Gentrification.” Oh, yeah, I’m inspired to….. what? Leave? Heck no. I bought my house, fixed it, and redid the lawn, I ain’t leaving.
Simple message with no answer. I could spend a good 2 paragraphs belittling the type of person I think puts this sort of thing up, but I won’t.
As I wrote, simple message, no simple answer. In Gentrification and the Paradox of Affordable Housing by Andres Duany (unpublished as of 2000) you can read about the problem of the answer to stopping (or trying to) gentrification. For one, gentrification is not a controllable artificial thing of the city’s doing. The city might put something in that may spark gentrification, but that spark may not catch fire and if there is fire, it may not be up to the city how hot, how long, and how much it burns. Right now I’m thinking the proposed Nats stadium. It my be a catalyst but I don’t think it will produce the wild results the city and everyone else wants, bringing gentrification to that part of SE.
Second, affordable housing is hard to retain. Affordable housing is needed but its hard to maintain and protect a section of the city where the poor live. The “old neighborhood” of Chinatown or what have you (Duany uses NYC as an example) cannot be protected from gentrification. He says:

These inner city neighborhoods however, are not permanent as they were usually built originally for the middle-class and it is their quality that eventually attracts subsequent gentrification. They are, in fact, only recovering their intrinsic value; they are reverting to their origins, not just being “taken away” from the poor.

Another part of the affordable housing equation is free will. You can’t tell white people they can’t move into a black neighborhood. You can’t tell a lower middle class/ blue collar black family they can’t sell their house for top dollar. Duany nor I am talking about apartment buildings, we are talking individual houses and properties where it is wrong to impose restrictions on homeowners to keep affordable housing stock.
Duany’s answer to stopping gentrification is bad design. Bad design will keep the gentrifiers out. Well, from my own house and some of the open houses I’ve been to around Shaw, that won’t work either. Theoretically, Duany says that mediocre design will make the gentry seek other housing. In practice, crackhead design in Shaw has done little to hold back gentrification except keep an overpriced house on the market longer. Duany blames modernist designs. I don’t know about modernism, but I know crackhead when I see it.
Another suggestion Duany makes to stop gentrification is to allow the poor to build their own houses in “code free” zones. Yeah, it’s called building without a permit. You can do it in places where the neighbors won’t report you to the city.
No simple answer.

7 thoughts on “Gentrification isn’t simple”

  1. About those ‘stop gentrification’ signs, I have always wanted to put something like ‘this message brought to you by your local drug dealer’ underneath.

    But you are right, it ain’t easy. There are lots of benefits to redevelopment, but when you create a situation where moderate to low-income folks cannot afford to buy (which is an important part of wealth creation) you tend to make it harder to move up to the middle class.

    We know that concentrating affordable housing, e.g. housing projects, does not work. Too much attention seems to be getting placed on adding affordable housing to the gentrificating areas, but there needs to be more of a balance of affordable housing all throughout the City. But of course executing that is always the hard part.

    Anyway, below is an article from today’s Post about development near the new baseball site.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/02/AR2005080201900.html

  2. not too long ago there was some mumbling about inclusionary zoning. that each residential development would be required to have affordable housing.
    know anything about it? or how do you feel about that as a solution/aid?

  3. The problem – especially in DC – is that you are fighting against the intrinsic economic value of the housing in question, and the truth is, economic reality nearly always trumps everything else.

    DC is a place with a housing shortage. As it gets harder to get into the city from far-flung suburbs, the price of the housing goes up, because it’s in limited supply.

    There are local variances – for example, people are hesitate to buy houses in, say, Trinidad because they perceive it as unsafe. So the value of housing in that neighborhood stays artifically low, compared what anything in that location should be. But eventually someone with money does buy something, and then some more, and then the flood starts.

    What’s the solution? I have no idea. If not for the shortage of housing in good locations, you could conceivable make sure that a variety of types of housing were built in each part of the city – from small condos to townhouses to larger and more expensive homes – thus attracting a range of people seeking each type of housing. But given the shortage, people will start to choose a lesser type of house in a better location, and so you have people with six-figure salaries living in tiny places.

    So, while you can build affordable housing, it’s a drop in the bucket. And eventually, you’ll see the city looking at that housing and thinking, “just imagine the property taxes we could collect on a bunch of high end condos there,” and a developer eager to make it happen.

    My bet is economics wins and you see a San Francisco like situation, where the city becomes increasingly impossible for the non-affluent to live in.

  4. A lot of it depends on the nature of a city’s housing market. And most city’s aren’t DC, NYC or SF. In other areas decay drives far more folks away from the inner city than gentrification, particularly the folks the inner city most needs: working and middle income families. And affordable housing policies – particularly polices that insist on piling more affordable housing in areas where the housing market is already depressed – often exacerbate the problem.

    A few thoughts on the issue I wrote for my hometown’s alternative rag.

  5. Thank you anon (who didn’t initialize posting) for the head’s up as well as a big thanks to MaryAnn who alerted me via telephone to it as well.

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