What you need is a time machine

4 Tardis PlateRegarding housing, I recently heard someone remark, or sigh, that one of those mansion-sized townhomes in Logan Circle was only $200,000 back in the 1980s or 90s, and today those type houses sell for around a million -2 million plus. Then there are the remarks others make about affordable housing, because now, unlike the 70s, 80s, and 90s hardly anyone is building affordable housing. My thoughts? If you want a cheap mansion or affordable apartment houses, you will need a time machine.

A one way time machine would be better.

The thing newer residents don’t seem to appreciate, is although we bought our houses in the neighborhoods you now can barely afford, they were affordable when some of us showed up. They were affordable because of the crackheads, the crack dealers, the prostitutes, the nightly gunfire, the break ins, the homeless guys peeing and pooping on your steps, and the odd dead body. Let’s not forget the schools that were so crappy DCPS made retired Army General Julius Becton, a man without a background in secondary education, school superintendent. He stepped down after 16 months. Not only was the housing affordable, the city was barely bearable.

Now if new residents would be fine with stepping into a time machine and restart their 20s and 30s in the Shaw or Columbia Heights of say 1995, maybe they will see that the price of our housing is more than dollars. Not only do I have some sweat equity, my youth, lack of peace, anxiety for my visitors & their property, and years of lost romantic opportunities* are also tied into the price of this house. Time and progress has healed those wounds.

Houses are affordable in parts of the District that are unfashionable. Gentrification is slowly making its way across the river. And here is the opportunity to jump in the time machine.

 

Side story= The Help, the man who is now my husband, was a very platonic friend when I bought my (now our) house. He had helped me move somethings into my new house and as he drove away he said to himself, “Is she that desperate for homeownership she’d live here?” He has told me this story several times and we do enjoy the irony?/humor of it. The Help could not have imagined living here, and enjoying it, anytime before, say 2008. Between breaking up with a boyfriend and dating my now spouse, I had been on 1 date in a ten year span. Daters would discriminate based on location.

Homelessness close to home and 3000 miles away

Homeless stuffSo this is personal.

We knew my sister-in-law was one kind of homeless. That kind of homeless where the person is couch surfing. Recently we discovered she’s a different kind of homeless (living in a truck) and close to the classic kind of homeless of being on the street.

At this point someone, maybe you, are saying well I and the Help (she’s his sister) should do something. And I respond, it is so friggin complicated and we are doing something, but that something won’t stop her trajectory to the streets.

We’ve concluded that my sister in law has some serious mental health problems (she self medicates), along with the anger management issues (yes, that can fall under mental health), add to that she’s on the other side of the country, we cannot provide or impose the kind of help she needs. Those anger, drug, and mental health problems have irreparably damaged the bridges other family members made available. The ‘something’ we’re doing is trying to salvage the damage left from the last time family helped. She managed to drain her mother’s retirement, leaving my diabetic mother in law destitute with no life savings or assets, so we’re trying to keep the old woman alive from 3000 miles away.

Instead of going on and on, I’ll say eldercare is expensive, unbelievably complicated and oh so emotionally draining. There is not enough left to do anything for the person who caused the eldercare abuse (and there was serious financial and emotional abuse*), except to pray for her.

From where we stand homelessness is complicated and there is no simple long term answers.

 

*We don’t know if there was physical abuse, mother in law is tight lipped about the whole thing. We do know sister in law has physically abused others.

When you find someone on the sidewalk call 911

Guy sleeping in front of Liquor StoreI call 911 a lot.

Not everyday a lot but more than other citizens it seems. I call when the guys selling heroin on the corner contain too many guys or the odd child (bring your children to work day!). I call when I witness an accident. I call when I see domestic abuse playing itself out in public spaces. And in recent days I call when I find someone in my residential neighborhood passed out, semi-passed out or exhibiting irrational behavior on the sidewalk.

Now, I tend not to do this for people in commercial areas or in front of stores, like the gentleman in the photo. I did once for an old guy who wanted to lay down in the street at 7th & P St NW. If he stayed in the street a cabbie or someone not paying attention might have run over his feet when making a quick right on to P. People passed out or experiencing problems in less traveled areas are more unusual and deserve attention. People passed out in the usual areas, I ignore.

So you find someone passed out or not particularly lucid on the sidewalk near your townhome, nowhere near a store, church or park, what do you do? Call 911. They are going to ask a lot of questions. Figure out what address you’re closest to. Decide if the situation needs police or EMS or both. I tend to go with just EMS unless the person seems violent. Figure out if the person is breathing. If you can, stay with the person until the EMS show up.

I can’t say if I’m seeing more passed out or about to pass out people because of the opioid epidemic. They aren’t crack heads, crack heads were a little different. They aren’t drunks, that, I can smell that difference. Something is going on, but I don’t know what.

Death, Taxes and the 60% Senior Citizen Property Tax Discount

I’ve complained about my dead aunt paying property tax before. I’ve even reported it to the DC Office of Tax and Revenue in 2016 and nothing, so I’m going to treat it like a very open secret, and assume DC government doesn’t give a rat’s rear end.

My great Aunt Geraldine died in February of 2012, she was over 100 years old. Prior to her death she was in a nursing home somewhere in Maryland. Her estate, which is a side of family I’m not familiar with, has been paying the property taxes. That’s fine except, they’ve been paying at the hugely reduced Senior Homestead Deduction.

Forgive me, math is not my strength, but without any deduction she’d be paying $2368.09 annually. Her estate and not my dead aunt, because being dead she’s not doing much these days, has been paying $685.82 annually. Roughly that’s a 60% discount.

The Senior Citizen Homestead Deduction is one hell of a discount. So when you encounter someone who 65 years old or older and or disabled who is a homeowner complaining about property taxes being too high, ask if they are receiving the deduction. Of course they could be receiving the deduction and still complain, as old people are wont to do. You could also look their house up on the DC Property Tax Database to check if they are receiving the deduction.

It is such a great deduction that estates, like my Aunt Geraldine’s estate, has no incentive to transfer the property into the names of younger hands. It is also a problem for vacant properties where the owner is dead.

Remembering the Flood of 2001

Pics of flooding from 2001Yes these aren’t the best, but I didn’t have time to scan them. They are photos my aunt took back in 2001 a few months after I had just bought my house. I had moved from an apartment and didn’t have a whole lot of stuff so there wasn’t much to be destroyed in the basement but a few things, and the crappy carpet that came with the house.

It was worse for my neighbors who had full basements. The sewer and runoff were one and so the rain overwhelmed the system and water (with other icky stuff) came through basement toilets and tubs. At the time I had no plumbing in the basement, but I did have a drain outside the cellar door that backflowed sending water into the basement. And I got a little water near the interior water shut off valve on the other side of the house.

Fast forward to this year in 2017, DC Water ( @DCwater) had made some infrastructure investments to deal with runoff and around the neighborhood our drains are not as clogged with trash and greenery as it was when we were more ghetto than gentrified. So a little less damage, but damage still. Our sump pump was only 1/2 full when a mighty river decided to breech our cellar door. The drain outside the cellar door wasn’t draining the water that came down. The Help (my lovely husband) had to jump into action to clear the drain during the thunderstorm.

Another difference, it looks like Truxton got Bloomingdale’s flooding. What do you think?

1717 Should Be Exempt from the Historic Landmark Application

From what I can see for 4th St NW it includes 1709-1721 4th St NW. Thing is 1717 4th Street was infill, built sometime after 2009.
17174thStNW2009-2016
As you can see from the screen capture of Google’s Streetview time machine, there was an empty lot in 2009, surrounded by a wood fence. Up in the left hand corner is an image from 2016. showing the building that currently sits there. Whatever Wardman that used to be there is long gone

I provided the gun but I didn’t shoot him: Historic Landmarking of Sq. 519

319 R St NWSo I got a comment accusing me of wanting historic designations for other’s properties but not my own.

Yay a comment that isn’t spam. I’d prefer a critical comment over 10 comments selling snake oil and condos in Mumbai.

What is it all about? Well there is an application with the Historic Preservation Office for the whole (with a few exceptions) block of Square 519, which is bounded by Florida Ave, 4th, R, & 3rd Streets. It is Case 17-18 Wardman Flats.  The DC Preservation League, not I, nominated the block for Historic Landmark status. What does this mean? It means that the developer for 319 R Street can’t go forward yet and the turret on the corner is protected from demo by DC historic preservation law.

I’ve been busy with a property in Baltimore, MD the past month, so I haven’t had much involvement with 319 R Street NW beyond a few blog posts, tweets and showing up at BACA meetings. I’ve been consumed by that (because of a bad contractor experience) and have neglected a lot of things here in DC. So what has happened with 319 R St NW and the rest of the block, was not of my doing.

I will admit, proudly, that I did provide the tools for the application. There is a badly outdated website I created called TruxtonCircle.org . There you can find the census information for every man, woman and child who lived in the area known as Truxton Circle from 1880 to 1940. It has been up since 2012. A paper I wrote sometime ago, “Ethnic Divides in an 1880 DC Neighborhood” was referenced in the application. I’ve been researching the history of the neighborhood for well over a decade and sharing it, so if someone wanted to use it for other purposes, they can.  But if someone tries to make Truxton Circle a historic district, I will fight them.

I can totally understand if the residents of Square 519 are mad. They’ve been swept up in something stirred up by the developers of 319 R St NW. If they hadn’t threatened to raze the building, or if they had their architects create a second drawing incorporating the existing turret (as opposed to throwing a new one on top like an ill fitting dunce hat), it probably would not have come to this. The owner of 1721 4th St NW added a 3rd floor without getting the National Register of Historic Places involved and triggering something like this.

But why drag everyone else on the block into this? Whelp… it appears to be a stronger case when taking the block as a whole because, with a few exceptions, it is a Harry Wardman block. So everyone else on the block has this hanging over them because the developers of 319 R Street NW threatened the corner turret.

In this I’m like the person who provided the gun, but I didn’t shoot the guy. And if you’re wondering if I’ve left any other historic weaponry around for anyone to gather and use in an landmarking application, then yes, there is more. People of Bates Street, be aware.

Twenty Years of Vacancy- The Langston School

100_0402.JPGThe John Mercer Langston School at 43 P Street NW has been sitting empty and vacant since 1997*. That’s 20 years of rotting away with nothing being done to bring it back to life.

When the problem of the school was mentioned at on Bates Area Civic Association to the representative from Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie‘s office didn’t seem to be familiar with the hulking corpse of a building and might have confused it with another building. There is so much development going on, some involving city owned land, I understand it can be confusing.

Part of the problem is whomever is the Ward Councilperson for Ward 5 is not particularly interested in being proactive regarding this property. They and or their staff seem to believe the “process” will take care of it. The process is broken.

As a school, charters have first dibs. Langston is a gut job, so no serious charter school is going through the long process getting the school to dump millions of dollars in the building’s renovation. There was a fight for the John F. Cook across the street that Mundo Verde eventually won and added to, but Cook was empty for less than 5 years and was still functional as a building.

Yes, there is an educational center next door in Slater that has always expressed interest in Langston. However the occupants of Slater are poor tenants. Poor as in too poor to do the work needed to have the Langston building gutted, brought up to code, while respecting the building’s Historic Landmark status. However, councilperson staff will almost always drag up that unrealistic possibility when asked about what’s is if anything going on with Langston. The occupants of Slater have been interested in Langston for at least 15 years. If given 15 more years they will express the same level of interest without much action to show for it.

What’s the solution? Well I have an answer no one will like and possibly won’t happen due to the shared lot with Slater, luxury condos. Turning schools into high priced condos or apartments add fuel to the fire of the gentrification unaffordable housing debate. But let me remind you of the problem… Historic Landmark; 21st century building codes; rotting corpse of a building. To work with and deal with those things require the kind of money DINK households making 100-200% of the AMI bring. This cannot be and should not be done on the cheap. And unless the city wants to throw the Slater occupants under the bus, so they can offer a well heeled charter both buildings to make it worth the while, no school with the ability to rehab both buildings (Slater is bad off too) is seriously going to touch it.

*According to the Wikipedia page about the school.

Probably Extinct DC Housing- The Rooming House

Today we have Airbnb, back in the day there was taking in lodgers. The day being 1940, 1930, 1920… you get the idea. There also use to be things called boarding houses, where you could rent a bed, in a room that you shared with other people. You can do that too on Airbnb, but I haven’t tried it and haven’t been desperate enough to take that option.

People were more communal back then.

Men and women in boarding house room
1943 DC Boarding House

Anyway, you’d be hard pressed to find a rooming house in DC or anywhere these days. But they were an affordable form of housing for singles, when all a person needed was a warm clean place to sleep. It was common enough in the past that such living arrangements would pop up in fiction and radio plays of the early 20th century.

I remember back when I was little, in Florida, hanging out with a kid from (elementary) school and her family lived in a boarding house. A family of 3-4 in one dark room in the back of a two story structure. I gather they could not afford to rent a house, and apartments were not a thing where I lived. That house was torn down some time ago.

I’m not calling for the return of the rooming house. As a resident, I’d resist one coming into my neighborhood. No, I am just reminding readers of a type of housing that existed and is no longer an option. I think as a society we are slowly removing affordable options, even as we complain about the lack of affordable housing.

 

Gentrification seems to bring less High Fructose Corn Syrup

So I spent last week in Baltimore in a neighborhood that isn’t one of the super cool neighborhoods. Washington Village/Pigtown might be gentrifying, and if it is, it is going at a snails pace. So there are corner markets (7-11, Family Dollar, the odd convenience store) and most of them stocked with various drinks, most containing high fructose corn syrup.

Yeah, I read labels. I’m at the age where I’m reading them over my glasses (I need bifocals) and I’m avoiding HFCS and sometimes sugar (cane sugar/ cane juice). Here in Shaw, there is a whole section of fruit and veggie juices at the Giant. I can get some grapefruit juice concoction at Glen’s Market. And then there is is the Whole Foods.

Sometimes, I just need cold, fresh juice.

So in Baltimore, I had a hankering for juice, that wasn’t orange. I went to the Royal Farms, where you can get a box of fried chicken, but no non-orange juice. Monster drinks and Red Bull a plenty, but no Naked. Family Dollar, no dice. Lots of colorful drinks in glass or plastic that mention a fruit that juice may come forth from but alas it is HFCS water with a smattering of juice. 7-11 did come through, but I’m so accustomed to a lot of healthy choices from living in Shaw.