Chocolate City- Book Review

Chocolates- GodivaSo my neighbor has a book group regarding DC history. Because I choose not to read as fast as I did in my grad school days, I participate when I’ve already read (or listened on audiobook) the book. Because this book, Chocolate City by Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove, was recommended by a co-worker who knew of my interest in DC history and more importantly, because it was in Kindle form I figured I’d read it.

Reading it, and having the text to voice function on the Kindle Fire, I thought I would never get out of the 19th Century. That period may or may not have been the longest (maybe tedious) part of the book but I felt like I was slogging through. The 20th Century zoomed by in comparison. Brett, the organizer of this book group, mentioned he found it too depressing and skipped chapters. I was very tempted to skip chapters.

I didn’t skip chapters and I actually got to the end notes and skimmed that. Why? Because I looked at the end notes constantly while reading the book because I questioned the conclusion or interpretation of an event or idea. Then I got annoyed when the citation (when I finally got past 1900) was the Washington Post, for things where a better primary exists. If historians are doomed to repeat other historians, this book is doomed to regurgitate the Post.

My other problem with the book is language. This book may not age well. The authors are fast and loose with the word ‘conservative’. It is used when ‘segregationist’ or ‘Republican’ would have been more precise. The definition of the word changes depending on the time period and place. There are other words that are trending right now, not used as much but I’m sure will date the book when new phrases or words are created and come into fashion.

So what did I like about the book? Well, it starts with Native Americans and actually goes into the the early settlement history. In the 20th Century, the area of the authors’ strengths, takes on a different narrative a bit. When writing about Marion Barry, he’s less of a personality, as he is in other histories. They don’t exactly ignore his womanizing and substance abuse, but it is not the focus and barely the reason for DC’s woes. The main narrative is racism and the struggle for Black autonomy. Barry’s famous line has less to do with being a horny crackhead and more to do with the Federal government going after Black mayors and elected officials.

I’ve got a lot of notes and highlights, and hopefully before the Wednesday, I can have it synthesized into something where I can add to the small group discussion.

That is one pretty salad

Fishscale Romaine SaladSo for lunch I ventured out and was hankering for a Halfsmoke dog but they were closed on Tuesday for lunch, so I walked back in the direction of Truxton Circle to fix myself lunch when I was drawn into Fishscale at 637 Florida Ave NW.

See that salad. That sure is one pretty salad. I did not order that salad. I ordered a fish burger with the sunflower slaw. It was good. Was it $15 worth of good (incl tax)? Unsure, but it was good. I liked it. I may come back to check out the salad to see if it tastes as good as it looks.

And Ye Will Be Judged By Your Sidewalks

So yes it is still friggin cold, which means some of the ice and snow is still on the sidewalk. Some good citizens shoveled their (and maybe their neighbors’) sidewalks. And there were others, who did not shovel, or deice their sidewalks. For the safety of pedestrians and neighbors please remove the ice. Sidewalks after Snow
There used to be a thing on my DC 311 app for shoveling enforcement, however right now the only thing I can find is the exemption for snow shoveling for senior citizens. It’s the old ClickFix app and I have yet to sign up with the one created by the city. But I see the city one does have something to complain about unshoveled sidewalks. The web version, under all city services, does have “Snow Removal Complaints for Sidewalks”.

2017 wasn’t as bad as it could have been

View down Florida AvenueSo we’re coming to an end to 2017.

It could have been worse.

I’ve been in Truxton Circle since 2001, sixteen years. Not a new comer, nor native. There have been worse years. There have been worse years with more gun deaths than this years’. There have been worse years with more drug dealers intimidating residents (and bringing those ‘pop’ ‘pop’s in the night). Have there been worse years with ugly a$$ buildings? Maybe.

The bright shining bright spot in 2017, was the ‘Triangle Known As Truxton Circle’ exhibit, I and my neighbors put on at 410 GooDBuddY.

Illustrating the neighborhood changes from 1880-2010
Neighborhood change 1880-2010

I think I was able to show something that logically makes sense, the neighborhood is always changing. There are always threats. Be it middle class flight (white and later black), urban renewal, drugs, the War on Drugs, and so forth. Does the neighborhood overcome those threats? Sure, lets go with that narrative, as it is true in the case of urban renewal.

I see the change occurring because of the many minor and major decisions of the thousands of residents, property owners, business operators, visitors and others. So I hope 2018 brings more civically minded residents, enlightened visitors, positive businesses, developers with a sense of exterior beauty (seriously some of y’all hit your buildings with an ugly hammer), great landlords and even better tenants, pro-active parents, responsible pet owners, and courteous drivers. I can wish for fewer drug dealers and the gun violence they bring. I can hope for cross cultural exchange across different age, ethnic, racial, religious and non groups, because what is the point of a diverse neighborhood if we’re just going stay in our little silos, you have to interact to really get the depth of what is this neighborhood.

So make peace with neighborhood change and be part of the change for good.

Have a good 2018!

If you itemize think about paying your property taxes before Dec 30th

So I was planning to write about how great and walkable Shaw/Truxton Circle is, but I got an email from my ANC that is very time sensitive.

Long story short, in 2018 the tax rules change. There is a limit on local taxes, including local property and income. If you are paying more than $10K in property, income, and whatever passes as a local tax* (look at your 2016 DC tax return for the income part), you may want to pay your property tax early, so it can count with your 2017 taxes.

See the announcement below from The Office of Tax and Revenue https://otr.cfo.dc.gov/release/statement-prepayment-real-property-taxes

Statement on Prepayment of Real Property Taxes
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The new Federal tax law limits the amount of state and local income and real property taxes that individuals may deduct from their Federal income tax, beginning in calendar year 2018.

Under the new law, the amount that may be deducted is limited to $10,000 of the combined local income and real property taxes.This applies ONLY to taxpayers who itemize their income tax filings.

District property owners may pay their 2018 real property taxes in 2017 to get the full benefit of that deduction in 2017.These payments MUST be received and recorded in calendar year 2017.The payments made will be credited to the calendar year 2018 real property tax obligation.

About 40 percent of District taxpayers itemize their income tax filings.Taxpayers who do not itemize will not receive a tax benefit by paying early.

The Property Tax payment can be made two ways:

  • The District of Columbia Office of Tax and Revenue’s (OTR) website www.taxpayerservicecenter.com provides the opportunity to pay by electronic check (e-check). Click on “Prepay your 2018 Real Property Tax Here” to get to the correct form. The payment MUST be made before midnight December 31, 2017. The information required to make the payment is the property address (or lot and square numbers), your bank routing number and bank account number.
  • Wells Fargo will accept payment by check or credit card at any DISTRICT branch office. Payment MUST be received by close of business on Saturday, December 30. You MUST bring a 2017 real property tax bill to the bank so that they can process the payment. Some Wells Fargo branches are not open on Saturdays.

Do not mail payments as they may not be recorded in 2017.

*So had a fun conversation with a relative who said they deducted some building fee assessed by their version of DCRA as a tax, that and permits. So…. anything the local government charges you that relates to your house….That was a bit more creative thinking than I was willing to do for myself.

Good Liquor Stores/ Bad Liquor Stores

Let beer be for those who are perishing,
     wine for those who are in anguish!
 Let them drink and forget their poverty
     and remember their misery no more.--- Proverbs 31:6-7
 

So I was allowed to escape my darling baby son to run some errands and noticed a new liquor store where an old liquor store sat at S and 7th St NW. It is a different liquor store in that the corner doesn’t reek of fake pot and there isn’t a crowd of purposeless Black men hanging out in front. The inside probably is different too. I wouldn’t know as the old store “Log Cabin Liquors” was impossible to see into.  The new store. Looks very nice from the outside.

Unfortunately in the history of the neighborhood, liquor stores were bad news. For those who didn’t know, for about 2/3rds of the 20th Century chunks of Shaw was a slum or downtrodden neighborhood. In the map above liquor stores were in the brown and they dotted the neighborhood. You will find a lot of liquor stores in downtrodden neighborhoods, with unsavory characters hanging about. When I moved into my neck of Shaw, it was natural to fight the renewal license of liquor stores because they were problems. They didn’t reflect where some neighbors hoped to progress. Those places sold wino liquors (Mad Dog, 40 ozs, etc) and sometimes other things adding to the drug trade. They catered to the poor who were trying to drown their sorrows in cheap booze.

Alcoholism isn’t helpful, and doesn’t raise anyone up. I would go all Carrie Nation, if I didn’t enjoy the stuff, as I’ve experienced the destruction of alcoholism in my family. When residents and church representatives challenged the ABRA license, the destructive nature of alcoholism was brought forth because we saw the evidence of it littered in our treeboxes and passed out in our parks.
Angel Share Liquors
Yes, the new ‘good’ shiny liquor stores are a reflection of gentrification, but they aren’t making money off of panhandlers and seniors cashing in their social security checks to self-medicate themselves into a stupor. The bars and liquor stores are not like some college town places helping patrons to get drunk fast and cheap. Drinks are stupid expensive, and at some places carefully crafted so you don’t gulp them down, but rather savor the notes and whatever.  As a resident I like these bars and liquor stores that cater to a more responsible (and yes moneyed) crowd. Parks are more fun when there aren’t smashed liquor bottle glass sticking out every few feet.

Somewhere in this town is a drink that uses spruce, like in the tree, where can I find that?

Scripture Cathedral is no more

Nighttime view from 8th St NW
View from 8th St NW. Scripture Cathedral is no more.

Walking to mass Saturday I noticed that a building was missing from the corner of 9th and O Street NW. The Scripture Cathedral that shared a parking lot with Immaculate Conception Catholic Church is now gone. It emptied some time ago, but now it is no more. Probably, luxury condos will go there.

I figure Roadside Development will get around to putting a building on the parking lot space whenever the other developer finishes putting a building on the Scripture Cathedral space.

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.