Damned if it does, damned if it doesn't- Gentrification


I was asked to take a look at the American Observer's article touching on gentrification "Rising Values for D.C. housing, but who can afford it?" It doesn't do the usual race baiting, and sticks to numbers, but it does talk about racial differences. Yet reading it, it seems to not address (for me at least) the damned if it does, damned if it doesn't situation. It being, development, growth, and a rise in property values.

The article covers the usual ground of NW DC is experiencing this growth and investment and in PG County, also known as Ward 9, there is the highest foreclosure rate in the area. So shortcut, white areas are getting the investment, black areas the disinvestment and failed investments. But when investment comes to areas that need it, it apparently is a horrible thing because that pushes out poor people, which means poor black people and some Latinos. If investment stays away, that means poorer areas don't get the benefit, but if it comes in, it means displacement. Damned, no matter what happens.

Solutions presented in the story are something called value capture, which I think means setting aside units and extra taxes or fees, and helping tenants buy their apartment buildings. Several developments do already have set asides, or at least start out talking about having a few units for low income households. The tax/fee thing, I don't like. This is DC, that money will find its way to a Lincoln Navigator or buying fur coats for family members or to crappy non-profits no one has ever heard of that don't do anything. The apartment building buyout works more when you've got a building over 2 stories with more than a handful of units. In Shaw, single townhomes outnumber the apartment buildings. So for every Immaculate Conception/1330 you have a hundred small time landlords with a house here or a house there.

There is also a interview of Derek Hyra included. It will be interesting to read his book when it comes out as it is about Shaw and urban renewal. In the interview (Youtube) at the 3:30 mark, I have to disagree with him about the influence of the Reeves Center. The Reeves Center was at best a neutral factor. Seriously, when was the last time you headed inside there for anything? Outside, for the farmer's market, yes. Inside? Maybe once. The finished metro, which I've been in the U St Station a million times, and the various eateries and bars should get more credit.

Oh, Renew Shaw has a post stating there has been a buyer for the Kelsey Gardens (was to be Addision Square). Yes, low income people used to live in Kelsey Gardens. But the church that owned it wanted it developed, and they emptied the buildings and then, nothing. And more nothing. And now a little something, but until I see my favorite sight of guys in hard hats doing stuff, it ain't nothing.


Thanks for the comment on my story, Mari. I would agree with the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" argument if there were only two paths for urban development.

The choice between no investment for low-income (often communities of color) and investment serving primarily the interests and desires of upwardly mobile or rich new residents, is a false one.

This moment of global and local economic transformation is a perfect time to start thinking of different, more equitable models of development in our cities.

I'm inspired by the community-based efforts of residents in Mt. Pleasant and Georgia Ave. to re-envision development on their terms, in ways that serve, to use the parlance of our times, the 99 percent, who can't afford luxury lofts.

My hometown of Detroit is facing a similar struggle right now as a Whole Foods moves into the city's gentrifying core. Great, finally a grocery chain (there are few in the city), but what population does it serve?

Yes, I would hazard a guess that more than a few residents in chronically under served neighborhoods would love some investment--public and/or private. But will it be an investment in their future or their demise? To me, it's a very clear a question of who will set the terms of urban investment and redevelopment, and whether that vision will secure a livelihood or an eviction.

Good to find your blog as another resource for conversations about how development has or hasn't worked in Shaw.

I think we can resolve the apparent contradiction ("damned if it gentrifies; damned if it doesn't") by looking at the post 70's history of DC, and black economic mobility. For about three decades, the focus was on "jobs creation". This took the form of DC government creating as many government make-work jobs as it could (at the cost of fiscal collapse), and putting poor residents into those jobs. This lifted tens of thousands of DC residents--and their families--out of poverty and into the middle-class. They largely moved to the suburbs once they had the means.

With gentrification, you've seen a switch in focus away from maximizing public employment to optimizing government services. (Number of public employees went from 30k to 12k between its height during the Barry years and nadir under Fenty). It's this massive refocusing that drives most "newcomer/old-timer" tension in DC, and is expressed in terms like "selling out to developers", "bike lanes for who?", and the like.

So in some ways, what most middle-class folks see as the "success" of the city is viewed as a betrayal by its poorest citizens: they were waiting for their turn to be lifted out of poverty, and now the rules have changed. They're savvy enough to realize it's a zero-sum game, and that a functional DMV puts their dreams of a middle-class further out of reach. Someone changed the rules of the game in mid-stream, and I'd be pissed too.

Ward 9 really, that’s how you refer Prince Georges County to your readers? This is actually the first time I’ve heard that term. I took some time to review your post on gentrification. I’m unsure on how to respond to your observations and opinions. I feel to each their own, however it seems that there is an undercurrent of not so good feelings about the conditions of your neighbors. The fact is no one likes change and it’s seriously changing in the District. I like the new DC, as a suburban guy it’s nice walking down 14th or U Streets, or getting a coffee from Big Bear. I have seen the changes made, I have had conversations with the originals and have heard the complaints, statements of mistrust, and feelings of belittlement by their new neighbors. The fact is I deal with all types of people, I have myself heard comments by new comers to DC making unsavory references to the hopes of a speedy gentrification of their block. I find that a bit disturbing to be honest. With all the new condominiums and beautiful Victorian renovations, what is happening with the neighbors? Why is it that the hip, cool, “racially open minded” people from the city see that as an afterthought? I’m not a fan of Mr. Berry nor Mr. Johnson (that is surly a deferent blog article) however something needs to be done about this particular situation. I love that education is a social and economic barrier destroyer but for many of these folks that’s not an option. Getting student loans can be difficult and God help the young men with felonies. Lastly I’m a little perplexed at some new comers to DC. I can’t for the life of me understand that when you move to the hood you would expect it not to be the hood. When one makes that transition from Wisconsin or wherever a lot of these new residents are from it’s not home. You know live in the city if you don’t care for the initial residents that have most likely been there for years, move to VA. It’s their culture you have entered, why would I move to Beijing and expect NY? Race, race, race yes I see now after reading your posts (on gentrification at least) that DC is still a hot bed of black and white with a little Latino in the mix. Concerned resident of Prince Georges County not Ward 9…

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