Green Fest this weekend

Over at the convention center is where I will be, for the Washington DC Green Festival. A day pass is $15 but I swear there was a discount for people who arrive by bike, but I can’t seem to find the catalog I got in the mail for the event where I saw such a mention. I’ll probably only do one day as I’m just curious to see what’s out there as far as energy conservation and organic food goes.
Also speaking of green check out the Treehugger‘s Urban Homestead vidcast/episode. The subject is the Path to Freedom homestead, where the front yard is 95% edible. A lot of stuff I was aware of but I was really surprised and slightly excited by their use of bio-fuels for the home. I usually associate bio-fuel with cars, of which I don’t have, but now I see a possibility of other uses.

Also happening this weekend is the Howard University homecoming. Think crowded streets. Think traffic as there are related events on/near U Street and New York Avenue. Note to rap stars attending the homecoming, this year don’t drive away from your bodyguards in your six figure sports-car only to have some guys try to rob you in traffic. Be smart about protecting the bling.


The weather has gotten a little colder and hitting the 30s. So I’m looking at the tomato plants and wondering if it may be time to cut them down. Also because I knew this dip in temps was coming sooner or later I gave in and paid a guy $160 to fix my pipe so I could use my radiators.

DC Preservation Legue Tour to hit Bates St.

From Jim:


On October 14, 2006, the D.C. Preservation League [DCPL] is holding its annual Wardman Row-House Tour. The bus leaves the National Building Museum at 10:00 a.m. and will drive through several neighborhoods in our area, including the Unit Block of Bates Street, N.W., to view our famous Wardman homes.

Since “company” will be coming to our neighborhood, Mary Ann Wilmer organized a recent effort to amend the tree-boxes in the Unit Block of Bates Street, N.W. Indeed, both she and her neighbors deserve major kudos for working together to pull off this major beautification initiative. I’m sure you have already noticed the beautiful chrysanthemums that adorn the tree boxes on this block. They are absolutely beautiful. It is really something how the introduction of these colorful plants to the environment has positively impacted the appearance of the block.

For those who are interested in participating in the tour, I commend the below information to you.


Jim Berry

Saturday, October 14, 2006
10:00am – 3:00 pm
Tour begins at the National Building Museum
401 F Street, NW
Judiciary Square Metro Station
Members $35; Non-Members $45
AIA CEC: 5 Credits

Tour Schedule

10:00 (Site #1) Depart National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW
10:15 (Site #2) N. Capitol & Bates St, NW – Philanthropic row house flats

10:25 (Site #3) 3rd St & Florida Ave, NW – Wardman row house flats

10:35 (Site #4) North Capitol St between Florida & Rhode Island avenues, Bloomingdale – traditional turn-of-the-century row houses.

2006 tour – Stops at 2200 block of 1st Street / Corner of 1st and NW for Wardman home tour

Deals with the Devil or the District

Comparatively the District of Columbia is far more willing to help put people in a home more than Maryland or the commonwealth of Virginie. That was my experience, and if you know (not think, know, as in you can point to a program) of a program or a set of programs in those states that out do DC then tell me.
I call the District’s programs ‘deals with the devil’ because there are strings. Strings that you are willing to tie yourself with to get into a home but 5-6 years down the road you find are annoying. Regardless of my annoyance with them, I’m happy that they are around.
When I first came to the District with my sights on buying something I joined a program run by the North Capitol Somethingoranother (I don’t remember their name but they were on North Capitol) and they held classes everyso often in the basement of the Waltha T. Daniels library. There are several programs in the city, run by non-profits including Manna, to teach people about buying, and most important, keeping a house. Through the program I got a councilor who found me my real estate agent, put me in touch with a mortgage guy (who was used to 1st time homebuyers) and was there for me when the whole process got frightening. Though the program never promised me any money or a matching savings (like some other programs) they did teach me about the different government, non-profit, and private programs out there to help people like me.
The DC Department of Housing and Community Development has the HPAP, Home Purchase Assistance Program. This program provides low or no interest loans for low and moderate first-time homebuyers for a downpayment and/or closing costs. You can read more about the program and the conditions here (PDF). My housing councilor discouraged me from pursuing this program. The reasoning I remember was that it was too much of a headache and I had enough in my savings to cover closing costs and make a minimum-ish down payment.
My councilor found me a below market rate loan offered by the DC Housing Finance Agency. I think it was a part of the Single Family Revenue Bond program, which according to the website is currently at 5.50% at the low rate and 6.15% with the Assisted Rate program. Clicking around I see that the program is something moderate (make less than 91K for a one or two person household) income folks could get into. HOWEVER, I think this is where I picked up a string and a deal with the devil. Because either the tax program or the loan program (I have to look closer at that stack of papers I signed) made it so that I if I sold the house within 10 years at a profit, I would owe the District a huge chunk of change, taking away any incentive to sell. And there was another program out there (I don’t remember which one) that required permission to take out a 2nd loan. I understand the logic behind the strings. Not allowing me to sell, makes sure that I don’t come out like a bandit at the District’s expense, and it stabilizes the neighborhood. I’m sorta maybe okay with that. The restriction with the 2nd loan, which I’m not sure with, keeps people from profiting another way.
Then there are the tax programs to help poor and low-moderate income people. I barely remember something about some fees that the city charges with real estate transactions being waived. There might have been another insignificant string in that. But the big one was the $5000 house credit, which you take off from your income taxes. I got mine over the period of 2 years probably because I paid so little in income taxes (due to small income). Also because I had such a small income, I qualified for the Lower Income Home Ownership Tax Abatement.
Something I noticed by attending community meetings, and I’m sure there are a few of these deals in MD & VA (but I don’t hear about them), are affordable/ below market rate units set aside in new construction. The city seems to encourage this. Occasionally the odd-non-profit, like Manna and Mi Casa, builds or rehabs a place to sell at below market rates.
Working with the different programs, desperate enough to accept the strings attached to them and willing to live in a neighborhood with few amenities, lots of headaches but lots of potential, I was able to buy my first home in the District.

Still having pipe problems

Okay I got the propane thing from Logan Hardware and some soldering stuff and I tried, and tried, and tried again and I swore I just made it worse. I watched a soldering video on youtube. Tried again, and failed again. I’m running out of soldering stuff. I believe I’m doing what I’m supposed to do but unfortunately the reality I’m experiencing does not reflect all the instruction books and video and whatever on sweating a copper pipe. This is something I want to know how to do, so it is very frustrating when you try and try and keep trying and you still fail. If I can’t figure out by this weekend I’m just going to call it quits and hire a plumber. Right now I’m just pissed at my house.

More on Real Estate Tax Relief

On the Eckington listserv there was a brief discussion on one of my posts about the Senior Citizen Real Estate Tax Relief. Before I go further I guess I should disclose that I benefit from another tax program because I am still considered low income (mainly because I’ve been stuffing pre-tax money into my retirement plan like a madwoman).

On the Eckington listserv someone mentioned abuse of the Real Estate tax relief. Younger relatives could still have an older deceased relatives’ name on the real estate tax rolls. Of course, that could be a result of people not having wills (because no one wants to admit that they too will die) and the ownership being decided by various bickering relatives. That’s a mess, and I don’t know if the city has the authority to force a decision of which non-senior citizen relative gets the house, so the city can get its tax money.
The other kind of abuse is the homestead exemption. There is one fellow down my street who I think moved and is renting out his house….. but I’m not sure, ’cause every so often I see him around. Also the house is not a problem, he’s a nice guy and I don’t have an incentive right now (because I’m unsure) to pursue reporting him. With another house that was a problem, I did report the owner to the tax fraud office when I discovered he was receiving the exemption and the house was vacant. Yeah, I’m picking and choosing.
There are low income tax programs. I have no idea how they work. I know part of it is based on your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income), which is your salary and other income minus the money you should be stuffing into your retirement fund because Social Security is going to fail, alimony paid, penalties on early withdrawal of savings, self-employed health insurance payments, moving expenses, and some other stuff. I’m not a tax professional so consult someone else besides me. For people buying, if the house was $264K or less, and they meet certain income requirements they qualify for the abatement program. Another program, which is very useful for people who bought under a variety of assistance programs who made deals with the devil (like I did), is Resale Restricted Properties program. Long story short, I can’t sell my house till 2011, all those great programs to get people of certain incomes into houses, have strings to keep them in those houses.

Gimme Shelter

I’m posting this for the webmistress, who is unable to post now…

I have a theory of why our friendly neighborhood drug dealers have cut back staff and operating hours from their man on the street operations. Well several theories. Lack of places to duck and weakening local networks.
When I arrived 5-6 years ago there was a vacant house on almost every street on every block. Vacant houses make for excellent office space for certain underground activies. Also if you hung out in front of them or sat on the steps, who was to shoo you off or call the cops? In addition to vacant houses filling up with residents, the residents in those houses, not so tolerant of the drug dealing. They tend to call the cops and get angry and frustrated when the police are a no show. Despite that, they keep calling. Maybe a little tolerance is given by a bleeding heart, but I’m guessing the constant hanging out, the violence and the senseless littering can turn a heart cold.
There are also a lack of lookouts, fewer neighborhood kids to apprentice and fewer poor lonely moms to recruit. There aren’t as many local people to draw upon as customers or subcontractors. More noise than signal. Sure you have the homeless and those wandering in for the methadone clinic, but there is the competition for them from other neighboring enterprises and the many of them tend to head out after a certain time.

Senior Citizen Real Estate Tax relief

I am posting this for two reasons. One, I need to remind myself of it. Two, I need to inform some souls out there, unaware of systems put in place before they moved here and that no, we don’t need to do something dramatic.
Everyso often in discussions of gentrification someone mentions the poor old lady who lived through the good times and bad times and now is getting moved out because of rising real estate taxes. Well folks if the poor little old lady is 65 and older, she needs to apply for Senior Citizen or Disabled Property Owner Tax Relief.
I was poking around on the Tax office’s Real Estate Assessment database trying to see if certain families and residences I noticed in the 1900 census were still in the community. The database, besides telling you how much the house was assessed for (something that is heavily researched by many neighbors when the assessment comes around so it can be challenged… or not) is how many rooms in the house, square footage, kind of house, and material make up of house. Let’s just say poking around looking at house info I noticed some folks’ tax info. ‘Cause I’m nosey. A few seniors who are “Currently receiving the Senior Citizen Homestead Deduction” as the database says, are paying a few hundred or even less than a hundred every half year in real estate taxes. I saw one house charged $140 in taxes for the whole year. The guy down the street who bought 2 years ago, pays nearly $3K a year in taxes.
Seniors deserve the tax break. Regardless of income. If someone is retired, they don’t need the burden. They are the citizens who lived through the good and the bad and they will hopefully benefit greatly from the positives of gentrification. If you know of a senior citizen struggling with their real estate taxes who isn’t listed as receiving the relief, get them to apply. There are programs to make their golden years golden, this is just one.

1900 Census: Diversity, housing, and nativity

This sort of relates to the other post but not really.
I’m no where near done with 1900 but here is something I am noticing and there might be an explanation for it that I haven’t researched. There are a good number of renters with boarders. For example I might have the Smiths, and along with Mr. & Mrs. Smith and their 2 kids they have Miss. Brown and Miss. Jones with them. However, the Smiths rent. I just can’t get it out of my head that a renter would have a renter. Of course, I am assuming the boarder is paying the head and not the landlord. Home ownership is the exception, not the norm, for blacks and whites.
It is rare to find a one or two person household in one house. People have their minor and adult children living with them. There are sometimes two or more households in one house (and I wonder what the housing situation was like when I think of houses I’ve been in). There are plenty of boarders living with families or widows. There are cousins, in-laws, grandchildren, and adult siblings in the house as well.
The other thing is the continued racial diversity of the 1900 neighborhood. In 1880 the neighborhood was something like 57% white and 43% black. I’m still seeing a diverse group but I haven’t done the whole thing so I don’t know what the numbers are going to look like until I’m done.
Lastly, DC natives. A lot of people are from somewhere else. There are DC natives as heads of households and as spouses, but I’m more likely to see people from Virginia and Maryland. This goes for both blacks and whites. I wonder if I will see the trend continue, where DC natives just don’t settle in the TC in large numbers. Off the top of my head, in the 1930 census where the neighborhood looks (not complete so I don’t know) majority black, I remember seeing a lot of people from North Carolina and South Carolina settling in. So am I seeing people choosing not to stay in their place of birth and moving to where the jobs take them?

Freedom to live where ever

This weekend I heard that neighbors J and L (and brand new S) are leaving for the wilds of Virginia for a new academic job. I wish them the best, but I’m kinda bummed. I’ll miss them.
The more I thought about J&L moving the more I thought about the nature of professional jobs and the sometimes need to up and move somewhere when an offer presents itself. J pointed out that if the University of Florida (go gators!) offered me a job, I would be gone in a heartbeat. True. Part of being able to move away is the freedom to move to somewhere. Sometimes the somewhere is here.
Some of the gentrification tension is with us newcomers who have moved here because of professional opportunities, and there is this small group of people who act like the neighborhood should be set aside for those like them like some nature preserve. Since the late fifties there have been laws to fight segregation and red-lining and to promote diversity in American neighborhoods. I would like to think that wherever my career takes me I will have the freedom to live close to where I work, and if that means living in Shaw, so be it.