Recently in Gentrification Category

First things first, I have not read the book by Dr. Derek Hyra, but I did speak with him while he was doing his research. So this is a review of a talk, not the book, which I'll read sometime later.

Tuesday, May 2nd there was an author's talk at the Potters House in/near Columbia Heights and so I and the Help attended. I was curious, as I am with any book that covers the area of Shaw. We sat in the rear and so we had a good look at the crowd that packed the room. We weren't the oldest people in the room but the average age was about 20 years our junior.
Hyra at Potters House DC
Hyra mentioned two themes describing the demographic changes in Shaw. The first being the "Dark Ghetto", the second "Living the Wire". I picked up a third, and I could be wrong, blame the Millennials, in a room crowded with millennials. The dark ghetto was cashing in on the black history of the neighborhood by developers. Well the developers are damned if they don't acknowledge the black history and in this case damned when they do in Hyra's talk. The second theme seems to come from social gatherings with white residents of the 00s in the U Street area who probably did gleefully tell stories of crime and shootings in the area. Hyra contrasts this to black residents at civic meetings seeking relief from the same crime. He said that those white residents were trying to live the "Wire," referencing the television show on HBO from 2002-2008. And for some reason he mentioned millennials being part of the gentrification process.

Those are interesting theories, where I can see how someone could come to those ideas, and maybe there is a better explanation in the book because I disagreed with most of it.

Let me start with millennials. As much as I like to pick on that generation, those 20whatever year olds wandering around staring at their phones were still in middle or high school when Shaw was on it's second wave of gentrification. There was an earlier attempt in the 80s to revitalize the area, but it really didn't kick off until the Mayor Tony Williams administration and the goal to increase the District's population. Speaking of, I heard little of Williams and more of Mayors Marion Barry and Adrian Fenty in this talk. Millennials are only guilty of maintaining and encouraging the gentrification that began before they arrived.

I'm going to skip over the dark ghetto part because I don't think I really understood what Hyra was communicating. The Washington Post in reviewing his book called it " black branding".

Related to the dark ghetto was living the Wire. Considering that Baltimore is just an hour's MARC train ride away and far cheaper than DC, anyone desiring the Wire experience could have it. No one seeks the Sex in the City experience in Newark or Philly. Maybe here too a better, deeper and richer explanation is found in the book. I do not doubt that white residents living in the U Street area regaled each other and the author with crime stories with a laugh. I had early neighbors (circa 2000-2008) do this and I saw it as a coping mechanism, because these same neighbors were dealing with other neighbors who saw them as an easy mark or easy to intimidate, the petty property crime that damaged their homes and cars, and street harassment because they were gay or a woman and not black.
I'm withholding judgement on his book until I've read it. Until then....
4 bills and changeI was listening to a podcast lecture where one of the panelist mentioned a paper saying something that perked up my ears. He said something along the lines of residents of public housing benefit from gentrifying neighborhoods. Apparently they have greater incomes and less unemployment than public housing residents in poorer neighborhoods.

I had to find this paper.

It is "Linking Residents to Opportunity: Gentrification and Public Housing" and I'm a little less excited having read it. I'm thinking it is a NYC thing. For one, public housing in NYC doesn't change, whereas in DC what was once public housing can change into private or mixed use housing or transform. So DC public housing residents cannot necessarily feel comfortable that their housing will remain as a neighborhood changes. The second thing are improved schools. But in DC a little under half of DC students go to charter schools which do not necessarily reflect home addresses. So once again, it might be more of a NYC thing.

So how is it that the public housing residents in gentrifying NYC neighborhoods have more income and less unemployment? Craziest thing, the income gains come through paid employment. And they are probably not from jobs in the neighborhood. New businesses were not seen by pubic residents as sources for job opportunity. I know a popular question in DC is what do you do, which sometimes leads to where does one work? For the middle class hipsters and oldsters a lot of time whatever it is, it's not in walking distance. Biking distance maybe. So maybe public housing residents decided not to wait around for the jobs to come to them, seeing their gentrifying neighbors leave the neighborhood on a regular enough basis for work.

NW Co-op
I have a 'fee simple' bias. For myself I don't care for condos and sure as heck don't care for co-ops either. While we're at it, not a fan of HOAs either. Personally, I like owning the dirt that comes along with the structure. Ownership of the dirt (fee simple) allows you to do several things not allowed when you're in a condo or co-op. With a fee simple you can have a 100 lb dog, two of them if you'd like and throw in as many cats as it takes to get labeled a 'cat lady'. You can rent out your home out when ever it suits you without having to get approval from a board. And my favorite, no monthly fee.

However, co-ops, limited equity co-operatives in particular, are probably the best way of keeping affordable housing in a particular spot. There are about 3 such creatures in Shaw that I know of, which have managed to be absolutely unchanged by market forces gentrifying the neighborhood. Because they are limited equity, regardless of the changing fortunes of the occupants (see the 2012 HUD Audit for the 2nd NW Co-op, pdf) that pesky monthly fee/rent is fairly low.

The key is denying owners in the co-op equity. Equity is the key. Equity is that thing that gives owners the incentive to fix up their houses or condos so they can sell at a higher price, probably making what was affordable, unaffordable. Or it allows owners to use their property like an ATM and take out a HELOC or refinance and get extra cash.

Twelve years ago I purposefully chose to buy in DC because of the various and generous first time homebuyers programs. There were the classes taught by a non-profit which were invaluable and then there were the deals with the devil which were helpful. I signed a buttload of papers but one of them was something along the lines of if I sold my house within 7 or 10 years I would owe the city some percentage of the equity based on some odd mathematical formula I could never figure out. It was just easier to stay in place. Thankfully I did not take a HPAP or anything like that which may have had any influence over my ability to refinance so I could fix up the house and deal with 80% of the building's structural issues. I could refinance because I could tap into the house's equity.

However limited equity co-op owners can't do the same. For one as with any co-op you don't really own your unit, you rent it. What you own is ownership in the co-op and the financing is a little bit different than buying a fee simple house or a condo. The funny thing is co-op boards can limit who can buy into a co-op, there are known cases in New York City where famous people weren't allowed to buy certain co-ops because the board disallowed them. They can also restrict to whom you can rent (if they let you rent) your unit. With limited equity co-ops there tend to be income restrictions, which keep the co-op affordable to certain income groups but I can see can be a total PITA for both the seller and buyer. 

As a neighbor, a limited equity anything, has no incentive whatsoever to spruce up the exterior of the property. For the most part the property itself is clean and decent, but never beyond that. There is probably no incentive either to add any amenities or make the laundry room nicer. As long as the equity is limited it won't become luxury.

So that's my solution to gentrification. Limited equity, limited possiblities.

Affordable no mo

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I honestly cannot remember who I was talking to about affordable housing, but somewhere in the discussion I wondered aloud about the long term plan for such projects. What happens 30 years after the building or complex built to house the poor is completed and the people for whom the effort was made move in? In my work, I have come across building projects from the past (early 20th Century past) like Greenbelt, the socially conscious Washington Sanitary Improvement Company's 2 flat units along Bates, and St. Mary's Court in Foggy Bottom. The Greenbelt cooperative was never created to serve the poorest. The homes formerly part of the WSIC portfolio of rental housing mostly are now privately owned homes, many renovated into single unit townhomes, while very few are still 2 flats. St. Mary's Court, formerly public housing during the Roosevelt era, now is a different structure (same name and area) and is HUD-financed senior housing. Things happen, things change.

So I wonder what is the future for 1330 formerly the Immaculate Conception Apartments, and the Lincoln-Westmoreland buildings, now according to the banner, "Heritage at Shaw Station". The Kelsey Garden Apartments, owned by some church in SE DC, is long gone and by next year should be luxury-ish apartments. The many, many, many properties in Shaw owned or once owned by the United House of Prayer for All People (UHOP) are varied in the income levels of people they house, but in the past ten years has been going more market rate and above. As much as I dislike all the Suzane Reatig UHOP structures going up in Shaw, it is still better than the Shiloh Baptist properties left to rot. The few things that appear not to be going the way of market rates or senior housing are the two Northwest Co-operatives. Though they say with investments, past performance is no guarantee of future results, what can the past efforts of affordable housing tell us about the future and the present?

Gentrification, demographic change, does play a part in all this. If there wasn't economic and other changes and pressures there would be little need or political or economic will to change. As I go down Seventh Street NW, looking at all the construction, I am a little sad for what was lost, but more excited about what is to come.


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There are various things that make me wince. A wrong note when someone is playing a familiar tune, grammar* and  poor use of a word or concept.

I winced and winced hard when I saw a video on youtube created by a middle schooler who contacted me. She was doing a project for school and had to make a short video on a topic, she chose gentrification. The video is so-so content-wise for the first 20-30 seconds and then went downhill.

About a zillion years ago I first met the Help (now spouse) at the end of judging for National History Day. I judged videos and digital projects. I was blown away by what the kids produced. obviously some were influenced by Ken Burns, except one. A girl from Bethesda, her video was horrid. It has been well over ten years since then, but I can still tell you why the Bethesda video was a horrible waste of VHS tape**. So I was reminded of that after seeing the not-so-great youtube video on gentrification.

I emailed the Youtubber and tried to be a sensitive and helpful adult to a child who lives in a well-to-do homogeneous country where gentrification is truly a foreign topic. Love the internet, it is so international. I made some suggestions for a few tweeks to the first part to make it a little less vague and a bit more accurate.

For the rest I mentioned ways to improve the video from either an anti- or pro- gentrification stance. For an anti-gentrification piece for her grade level, I suggested focusing on housing. An image of evictions could make her point, and for the call to action part I thought she could do something supporting 'affordable housing'. The pro-gentrification suggestions were to keep the first part to show the negative but the rest to show the upside. What would the upside look like? Maybe it could be an image of a vacant house with boarded up windows and trash in the yard, then the next image of a similar house, fixed up with curb appeal. I mentioned new businesses, which an image of a hipster in the doorframe of his shop could show.

Even if she doesn't take those suggestions I do hope she removes the "filler" and the parts that show that she doesn't know the topic. There was a generic call to action in the video that could have better applied to the topic of preventing air pollution or saving baby pandas. The filler was too obvious. Even if the teacher doesn't know a thing about gentrification he/she will certainly pick up on the uninformative parts where the student is filling up screen time. It is the equivalent of playing around with fonts and justifications to make an 8 page paper into a required 10 page paper.

I live in Shaw. Am I wealthy?

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4 bills and change

Considering that most of the Earth's residents live on less than $2 a day, I and almost every American in this country are living the life. We don't have to carry water for cooking and we could eat meat every week, maybe every day.

On the topic of gentrification there seemingly are only two groups of people to talk about, the wealthy and the poor. The focus is on how much the new rents are or how much it would cost to buy a newly renovated granite countertopped, glass tiled house or condo and how families in crisis or on the edge cannot afford those things. Nevermind, families in crisis couldn't afford those things when they were west of the park, or west of 16th St, now west of 9th St.

This Summer, the niece came for a short visit and in some effort to impress her, to prove how great our 1000 sq ft was, I mentioned that houses in the area were selling for about half a million dollars. I'm not sure how her little 13 year old brain processed that information but she exclaimed, "You paid 1/2 million for this house?!" No. I did not pay 1/2 a million for my house, not even a quarter of a million. I stop being able to afford the houses being sold around here about 3-4 years after moving in. I do wonder when people talk about houses (and maybe rents) are they thinking like the niece, thinking that all the current residents bought at the current prices and thus deem us rich?

The problem I find that the label wealthy does not fit, not for the story I tell about myself. By general American standards I am doing pretty well, by DC metro AMI, we're ok, a little under but not terrible. If we lived in my native central Florida, this same income would make us upper middle class, but not wealthy. I have co-workers who live out in MARCtrain, MD or VRE, VA who are higher levels and steps and consider themselves middling middle class or even 'struggling'.

I understand why the middling classes who wander into changing neighborhoods as ours get slapped with the label "wealthy", when they're not. Compared to the person or family in crisis, broken and floundering, the secure stand with feet planted on solid ground luxuriating in the wealth of stability. What wealth is the strong support system of family and friends which creates functional adults who have the audacity to bring their world view to the streets?

The label 'wealthy' seems to get slapped on too quickly, too readily, without much thought. Yes, comparing the new residents with older residents, the income and education differences are greater. Yet comparing the new residents with the income and abilities of older residents in other neighborhoods where the newbies maintain the status quo isn't done. The new comers of both places are the same, but where they resemble the people already there, there is no story, no cries of gentrification.

So am I wealthy? Depends who you're comparing me to. If you compare me to the person in Chevy Chase, no. To my contemporary in PG County, nope. To the neighbor on public assistance, yeah, maybe. To the refugee on the other side of the world scrambling for grains of rice, oh most definitely yes.

What wave of gentrification are we on now?

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Image from

I read a Washington Post Blog post that got some commentary on the Shaw Neighborhood Yahoo list. Commenters on the list said it was another gentrifcation article that touched on race without mentioning black or white. Well it is a gentrification post and the WP has been writing about gentrification in Shaw (and its various parts) since Feburary 1979.*

I am going to guess that Shaw is on its third wave of gentrification. The first, I'll say came in the 1980s. I'm aware of middle class African Americans and earnest whites, who bought homes in Logan Circle, on Bates Street, or other parts of Shaw. They were to be the start of a revival of the neighborhood. Too bad it took thirty years to get all the amenities their future promised.

The next wave was during the turn of the century, late 90s to early aughts. That's my wave. Though I'll have to cringe as I write this, this was the urban pioneer stage. The residents who came in the 80s were the true pioneers, but there was a little something extra going on in the late 90s. I think of the 90s-00s batch as the DIYers. We bought dilapidated houses, we knocked down walls, we put up drywall, we own a lot of power tools. This was the time when young single guys bought town houses and worked on them with their buddies on the weekend. These same guys also didn't have any heat on in winter and their pipes almost froze. Good times. Before Jimbo was complaining about men who were too busy looking at Grindr on their phones, he was complaining about couples who went on and on about their latest renovation project. This was a time when some people were doing creative things with old townhomes, and bringing new life into the neighborhood. We were the first few customers of Thai X-ing when it was a carry out, Big Bear when all they served was coffee and pastries, and  Vegetate when it existed. But ignore me, I'm biased.

The millennials are part of this lastest wave marked by stainless steel granite everything in condos or apartments. If they own it, they spent way too much money to knock down or tear out anything. I am befuddled by their lack of tools. If anyone is knocking down walls and changing layouts it's the contractors who flip the houses.

Thoughout these waves have been poor black people. Poor blacks who survived the '68 riots. Poor blacks who survived the crack years. They have been there to write about and worry about as the waves come in. Each wave washes away their housing, the type of stores they frequent and the services they use. However, some people and places that have managed to survive the last two waves appear to be stronger than others give them credit for and will probably outlast us all.

*Citation = Wolf, Von Eckardt. 1979. Going 'round in (logan) circles. The Washington Post (1974-Current file), Feb 03, 1979.

Slum Housing No Mo', maybe

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Loose roofing material
on red house

Just for fun in ProQuest I looked up three words for the Historical Washington Post, "Shaw" "Rat" and "Baby". I remembered there was an article about our historic neighborhood where a rat bit a baby's face. But that might have been pre-urban renewal and I should have used the terms "2d Precinct" or "second precinct" for the baby biting rat.
From "Shaw: The City's Worst Slum"* Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), March 24, 1968, p A25.:

Ceilings sag ominously. Loose wall plaster is held up only by brittle wallpaper. Where the wallpaper has given way, powdery plaster falls intermittently from holes in walls and ceilings.
Rats climb up through holes in the floors. Water drips from rusted pipes and leaks in the roofs. Some basements are filled with months-old stagnant water.

Later a woman says her daughter had been bitten by rats several times. The rest of the article is paints a dreary landscape of litter and dirt patched yards, poorly maintained buildings regardless if they are occupied or not. I found a toddler eating rat in "No. 2 Leads City in: Washington's Wickedest, The Second Precinct... Vice and Violence Outlined on an Aerial View of the Entire City," by S.L. Fishbein, Washington Post (1923-1954), March 14, 1954, p. M10:

The family tried to combat the rats by wedging pop bottles in the corner rat holes but the rats kept checking new holes around the bottles. Flat irons on the holes in the middle of the floor were more effective. One recent Saturday night, a rat bit one of the 19-month old children on both feet while she was asleep upstairs. Since then the landlord has had the rat holes covered with sheet metal.

These were the bad old days when Shaw was affordable. In "Slum Landlords Buy up Shaw Houses: Slum Landlords Quietly Buying Up Shaw Area Properties" by Leonard Downie, Jr. Washington Post, Times Herald, Mar 24, 1968 p. A1, the reporter noted that 3 of every 4 houses in Shaw were owned by absentee landlords. The article names names, one being a familiar last name of a family who in the present day has contributed to neighborhood. The problem with the landlords is that they didn't maintain their properties. Heat wouldn't work, buildings were bad at keeping out the elements and if the tenants threatened to call the city inspector, the landlord would tell them to move.

Now Shaw is less of a slum. There are still rats, as I saw one near the new Giant the other day, but they no longer bite children in their sleep. Most deteriorating housing has been bought by people who renovate the properties. There is less affordable housing, and there is less slum housing. But then again there are the odd holdouts who let parts of their roof flap in the breeze.

From January 5, 2005:

The citizens of Wards 8 & 7 have sent a message that they want the good that has been happening to the rest of the city to come to them. Well I got a question for them, do they REALLY want what has happened and is happening to Shaw, LeDroit, Eckington, and other north of the river neighborhoods to happen to them? I know they want the good, but what of the bad? What of the growing pains?
The growing pains I'm thinking about is gentrification. I think the citizens of Ward 8 are mistaken to believe the development/gentrification genie that has been working it's magic in NW parts of DC can be controlled. Never, ever, underestimate the power of market forces. If an area is made attractive enough for enough urban pioneers with the financial power to jack up housing prices, private developers will get wind of it, fix up some places and start a snowball effect that will only help homeowners planning to sell. Twenty one percent** of Ward 8's homes are owner occupied. Would the 79% of renters be able to ride the higher rents and deal with owners cashing in on better prices? I think some would, but there are plenty who would not.
The solution I have heard floated around is to have developers build affordable housing, or set aside units for low and moderate income families. Listening to what has been going on with Arlington, VA it seems easier said than done. Then there are the developers who work on a smaller scale, one house at a time or a small number of units, who have little incentive to sell at lower prices.
Maybe if the real estate values weren't so crazy and there wasn't this housing pressure that forces people to live all the way out in BFE not-even Northern Virginia gentrification wouldn't be an issue. But then again, it is the crazy housing pressures and gentrification that is making places like Shaw more attractive.

Congress Heights on the Rise has an excellent post "Poverty Pimping 101: Maintain the mentality at all costs" that touches on one of the above points of the low rate of home ownership in Ward 8. I made a comment, that is awaiting approval along the lines of do you want the wailing and gnashing of teeth that comes along with getting to the land of success? The cries of gentrification? The loss of 'affordable' housing?

Be careful of what you wish for, because you might get it.

**This link is no longer working

Decade in Review-Gentrification or Turnover

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I realized I haven't reviewed a theme of this blog, gentrification. There are a few ways to define 'gentrification'. One fairly benign definition is that of demographic change, and looking at the history of the Truxton Circle area before the word "gentrification" ever appeared, there was change. Neighborhoods change, there are plenty of places in the US that used to be Italian neighborhoods, Jewish neighborhoods and the like that are no longer. And those places before they became a Irish-Catholic or such neighborhood were something else. Change happens. There is another definition of gentrification as displacement. Displacement is a negative word, with images of people being pushed or pressured out to be replaced (in the case of gentrification) by a higher income, usually called wealthy, set of people. Being in this neighborhood, I favor the first definition, as change, it's just now, we're paying attention.

In 2009 I had two posts, Turnover part 1 and Turnover part 2, looking at sales data from the's DC Citizen Atlas. The map I showed looked at sales between 1999 and Nov 16, 2009 on the block represented by red stars, showing a lot of ownership turnover. So I decided to review here.

Atlas Map.jpgThis map shows sales of properties in the north central TC between 2003 and 2013. The red stars are sales between 2.00 and 2 million dollars. The brown dots are non-taxable properties. Blue dots are taxable properties, so under those sold red stars should be a blue dot. The one green dot in this map shows the land is owned by the US Government. On another map, blue dots are DC government properties.

What the stars do not show is resident turnover. If a property is owned by a longtime landlord it does not show the parade of tenants he/she may have had within a ten year period, and renters are more likely to move around. Also it does not show if something was an investment property where the tenants were kept. It does happen. It is a sloppy measure of change, but the best one giving a visual and house by house view.

I decided to also to look at sales from 1999, which I think is the earliest the database goes (I put in 1970 just in case it went back further) to 12/31/2003. This period for me was just when the area, well the Truxton Circle area of Shaw, was begining to see rises, crazy seeming rises in prices. If you told me in 2003 that houses on my side of the block would sell for around 1/2 a million, I would have told you that you were insane. So the higher prices in sales are starting to arrive and with that expections/hopes from owners that rents may follow.

CITIZENMAP12-2003.jpgFor the 1999?-2003 map, here on the right, there are a lot of stars still, but only in certain spots. There are clusters of sales on the 300 block of R St, 1600 block of 4th St and a section of the unit block of P St NW. Yet a problem is this map probably does not show sales during this period that have also been sold in the 2004-2013 period. For example, a house is sold in 2002, and again in 2009 and again in 2012. There is a house on the 1500 block of 3rd Street that had lots of ownership turnover that is not showing up here. So what it is probably showing are those of us who bought between 1999-2003 and not sold.

So with all these properties getting bought and sold over a 10 and 4 year period, does this look like the gentrification ('cause the prices only go up) that is just change or the gentrification that is displacement? I know it is a sloppy tool, but it is what I have.

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