Be a troublesome smart voter

So the Primary election is June 19th, and since the District is basically a one party town it’s sort of the main election. With that you may have noticed traffic islands and lamp posts littered with campaign signs. One day riding out to the Costco, I noticed this sign.

My thought was, so this guy is going after the stupid vote. Before you get on my case hear me out.

The first thing to grab my attention was “Cut property tax for 65 and older.” There is already a program in place for that. Go to the tax office’s website and see about three programs for old people. The first is the Senior Citizen Homestead Deduction, here is the application for that (PDF). The second is Senior Citizen/ Disabled Owner Property Tax Relief. For that the whole household income must be less than $130,550, I guess you have to OTR call about that one. The third one is the Tax Deferral For Low-Income Senior Property Owners And Low-Income Property Owners. This one has strings, and I don’t trust it, but here’s where you’d find the application. So vote for Mari Inshaw, city wide, she’ll point out stuff you already have. It’s like he’s depending on voters not to know about these programs.

The other things are beyond a newbie (heck even at times an experienced) legislator’s ability. It seems that it depends on the voter believing that the council person can perform magic, such as pulling affordable housing out of a hat.

I say be a troublesome smart voter. Your vote is worth more than empty promises and stuff you already have regifted back to you.

Can DC be sued for gentrification?

So the District of Columbia is getting sued for gentrification.

Because of Kelo v City of New London, this probably won’t go very far.

For those who don’t remember or know, Kelo v New London was an eminent domain case where the City of New London, CT took the private property, the homes, of residents of an area of town

This is an image from Little Pink House, a movie.

so a developer could build a headquarters for the Pfizer Corporation. Ms. Susette Kelo and others sued the city, sued to protect the homes they owned, from the city taking them away and displacing them. Long story short, Ms. Kelo lost and her home was torn down. There is a movie about it out now and it will be at the E Street Theater June 1-7, and tickets go on sale on May 30.

So just as a man can legally divorce his wife and remarry a younger model, a city can take away your home and give/sell the land to a richer, more economically attractive entity. If that is so, then the District of Columbia can take properties it owns or has an interest in, or doesn’t own at all through eminent domain and give/sell them to more economically attractive entities. Unless there is something on DC’s books actually saying it can’t, but the city can undo its own rules. So I don’t think this lawsuit has a chance.

I’ve noticed there is this mindset that the city has an obligation to care for its poor over that of other interests. In my book club, our next book How to Kill a City, has this same mindset. The author seems annoyed that Detroit or any other city would choose economic development over its poorest citizens.

City governments, like DC, have their own interests. Cities, do not like being broke.  They don’t like even looking broke. They like being gleaming shining examples of whatever is in fashion with local governments these days. However classics like low crime, lots of ‘good’ jobs, and great schools never go out of style and governments will aim for those goals over others.

OSSE please continue to investigate, but do it right

When I’m feeling particularly lazy and the Help is willing, he will drive me to work. On the way there we pass by a charter school where I play a game, reading license plates. In previous years there were more Maryland license plated cars dropping off kids at KIPP. But as there is more attention paid to suburban parents using DC taxpayer funded schools, there are slightly fewer MD cars dropping off kids at KIPP in the morning. But there are still enough to warrant a closer look.

I was happy when I saw that the city was looking into one premier DC public school. Good start, I thought, thinking it was only a matter of time before the city worked their way over to KIPP. The waitlist for KIPP on P Street is way too long for MD kids to be taking spots from DC kids.

Recently, some Duke Ellington School of the Arts parents and guardians who received letters from OSSE about residency requirements sued, as is their right. Apparently the city violated its own policy. I also sympathize with having to deal with bureaucratic stupidity. However, I have witnessed too many morning drop offs of kids from Maryland and Virginia cars in front of DC charter schools, so there are parents committing fraud.

Above me on my bookshelf are the ashes of a woman who committed a similar fraud 30 odd years ago with the Help. My late mother and father in laws used a friend’s address to get the Help in better school because the high school for their address was supposedly drug infested. And recently on a message board I read about a Maryland school system calling area landlords to confirm addresses. It seems people are using fake leases. I understand the reason why. But no kid who actually lives in the District of Columbia should lose out to kids who have representation in Congress.

Baby adoption

Spouse and newly adopted son
The Help and Babyman

As some of our friends and neighbors know, my spouse (the Help) we are in the adoption process. Babyman (formerly the Helpless) has been in our home for 6 months and just recently got released from ‘legal risk’. I suspect Mayor Muriel Bowser’s newly adopted child may be under legal risk, so besides her usual privacy, she’s probably not at liberty to say much.

I was pleasantly surprised to read that our mayor has adopted an infant. So congrats to Mayor Bowser on joining the process and good luck. She’ll need it. She’ll also need a strong support network and some live in help. The Help and I act like a tag team in the care of Babyman. In those early days before Babyman was sleeping through the night, even that had me working at half power running on a few hours of sleep. She might be able to deal with a few nights of no sleep but after about a week of almost no sleep because the screaming bottle feeding poop machine, something horrid happens to your brain. When that happens, you really need your support team. For us that was our relatives, neighbors, church members, co-workers, and any person who offered to babysit.

Mayor Bowser get used to being an old mommy. Forgive people who mistake you for your child’s grandma. I do and it’s not worth my time getting upset.  I’m in my late 40s and my spouse will be 50 before Babyman turns 1. I’d like to think patience comes with age and we’re calmer than younger parents. We’ve been told Babyman is a very calm easygoing baby. I’m not sure that is him or us, but for now, I’ll take the credit.

We’re not done with the process. We’ve got to go to court and appear before a judge in some random area of Maryland. I guess Mayor Bowser will have to deal with legal risk, then once both the birthparent’s parental rights are severed, and the adoption agency/lawyer gets the paperwork in order she too will go before a judge who make her a full fledged mommy.

Welcome to the club Mayor Bowser, as a parent you will see the city in a whole new light.

Things to do before your basement floods again

Water in the basement

So there was that storm several days ago and we’re fine. After many years of getting a little to a lot of water in our basement, for a variety of reasons, we’ve learned some lessons and we’ve shared them with friends and I’ll share them with y’all.

A retired former co-worker of mine thanked me for recommending having a hand pump (go to Amazon and search “hand bilge pump”) on hand. She used it to deal with her flooded basement because the water overwhelmed her sump pump. I’ve used mine when we got a storm that took out the electricity. No electricity, no working sump pump. This didn’t do the same job as the sump pump, but helped a bad situation not be worse.

Another thing that helps are sandbags. I once loaned some sandbags to a neighbor… who never returned them and when we got a big rainstorm, water that filled our basement well came through the door. I had loaned the neighbor bags that had hung out in front of the rarely used basement door. So after that little basement flood, we got some more sandbags and sand. So there is a decent number of sandbags at the door and sandbags near the rain gutter outlet diverting water away from the house.

As I mentioned, we’re fine. We also have a basement flood alarm, and in never went off. We got lucky. If we weren’t lucky, we would have dealt with the flood with things that we have on hand, below is a list of things to have when water gets into the basement.

  • hand pump
  • box fan
  • newspapers (and stuff to hold down the newspapers as the box fan goes)
  • dehumidifier
  • wet dry vac
  • towels
  • sandbags

If water has a bad habit of getting in your basement these are a few things to have before the water comes, because neighbors may not be able to loan you these things. It is wonderful when they can and they are not dealing with water problems in their own house.

Let’s Play Airbnb Bingo on My Block

R and 4th Townhomes
Random townhouses in Truxton

Full disclosure: I love Airbnb. I have used it when traveling and I have hosted. I have a property (not in DC) that is being used as an Airbnb.

So I was aware one of my neighbors was an Airbnb host. The neighbor is a good neighbor and the guests in this person’s home have been fairly quiet. Then later I noticed some new people in the house of the the evil landlady and introduced myself to find out who her new victims were. They said they were only going to be there for 3 months, and I quickly figured out it was an Airbnb. So I went online to try to find the listing of she who used to constantly rent to crackheads. In looking for her, I came across a couple of other Airbnb’s on my block.

In total I located 4 Airbnb’s on my street block; the one I already knew of, the one from the evil landlady, a neighbor renting out a not exactly separate basement, and a real estate investor.

I basically figured out whose house is whose by looking at every available whole house and private rooms in a 5 block and carefully looking at the photos. The easy ones showed the front of the house, I think that was 3 of the four, so not that hard. Then I looked at what could be seen from the window and tested my knowledge of my neighborhood. Sometimes a style of door helped. That’s when it became a game, a game of guess that house. Found several houses on 3rd Street, Bates, Florida and New Jersey.

I don’t believe most Airbnb guests are bad. There is a small irony that a long time renter who has an annoying habit of having insanely loud cell phone conversations outside (sometimes at 2 in the frickin morning) is sandwiched between two Airbnbs. I pity the guests.

I don’t fear Airbnb because I lived here when there were tons of Section 8s. Various jurisdictions want to limit the number of short term rentals, but they never did the same for Section 8s. There were good Section 8 renters on our block and there were horrendously bad anti-social fk-ups whose chaos spilled out and made life difficult for neighbors. I’m thinking of Drama Mamma, who was a horrible neighbor with a violent son. Comparatively, I like the Airbnb guests a bit better, so far.

Spacepak good and bad

Vent tubes for Space Pak system
Vent tubes for Space Pak system

So our central air died about 2 years ago.

We had it for almost 10 years when it died. The image to the right are the tubes our system, the Spacepak system, used to deliver cool air to the house. Prior to that I used big honking window units. The joy of central air is not having to lug heavy as sin units up the freaking stairs AND down the frigging stairs once a year.

But then we noticed the system wasn’t working that well. Called a well known plumbing/HVAC company to come out and they said the system was leaking coolant and whatever it was the whole system needed replacing because the kind of coolant the system used is being phased out. They brought out a second person to look at the system and got the sales pitch to replace the system, at $12K. To be fair about $3k of that was to hire a crane to replace the unit on the roof.

With that quote, and knowing that most AC systems have a life span of 10 years, that’s $1,200 a year (not including power, filters, and maintenance) for the privilege of central air. For that price I could get someone from Taskrabbit or something like it to come to my house and bring the various ac window units up and down for way less. Hell for that price, I could buy new ac units every friggin year and pay someone to lug them up and down. Also our house is small, and the bedrooms, kitchen and living/dining space is less than 800 sq feet (not counting baths and hall). We don’t need a super system. So not going to replace the system this year, not at that price. Besides, we replaced the roof last month, so that was our big capital project of 2018.

The Spacepak system, when it was running, I really loved it. There were no bulky vent structures and the vents in the ceiling kinda blended in. When the system was on, everywhere, except our bedroom was fairly quiet. Above our bedroom there was a lot of the mechanicals.  We never never had the system below 75F, I hate the cold. I continued to love the system until it died.

It did have it’s faults. The kitchen vent was above a cabinet and I don’t think any air really got in there. As a consequence, I avoided using the oven in the summer. I have my doubts we could have gotten the house ice cold with the system. It, like our heating system, took its sweet time getting to the temperature we set.

I don’t believe the people who quoted us were familiar with small duct high velocity systems, and the price tag was probably for a whole new bulky duct system. We did contact another company that did have some familiarity and after the technician came by they never got back in touch with us, and I didn’t follow up. So alas we are doing window units.

I am playing with the idea of scrapping the system for mini-splits. I have a tiny house (not on wheels, just a tiny townhome) that I put mini-splits in, one unit for each floor. It does heating and cooling. Since the house was ridiculously tiny, I used images of Honk Kong apartments as inspiration and noticed these mini-split systems all over the place. The major downside is appearance, but I’d want one in the kitchen just to deal with the fact that it is the hottest room in the house in summer.

Babies, babies and more babies

Baby in portable bassinet
Baby in portable bassinet

So we found out two more couples in our general area (two block radius) are pregnant. This is in addition to a colleague of the Help who lives nearby, who recently had a boy. So add those pre-people to the little people who currently occupy our street and we’ll have ourselves an awesome Halloween in a year or so. At one point we had a nice number of toddlers and little kids (5) on our street and it made for fun Halloweens, because they would bring some of their pre-K school friends and have a mass of cuteness go from house to house and it is so fun when you know the kids.

Many years ago, the same thing was breaking out in our two block radius where I was hearing so many wives were getting pregnant, I joked that there must have been something in the water. I might (my memory is fuzzy) have told this to a fellow who was living with his girlfriend, and he laughed nervously. They later married and had a couple kids. So once again, there may be something in the water.

That batch of kids, and their parents, eventually moved away. At the time charter schools were not as valued by the city government and citizens as they are today. The voices saying how charters were so bad were the loudest. Now charters are a part of the system and there are more of them. When my neighbors moved, some of them moved because they did not get into the school of their choice, and at the time, there were not a lot of choices. Some of them moved to be in the boundary of the schools of their choice. And some moved because one of the parents got a job that moved them.

But this time, it’s different. There is the BloomingdaleKids Yahoo group(est. 2009), which has been a wonderful resource for free and cheaper than new stuff, and a way to get rid of stuff. There are more daycares. There are now two daycares above the Shaw metro station (one on S the other on 7th& R-ish) and I see newer child care centers popping up in other locations around town. This time the school lottery is for DCPS and DC Charter Schools, all in one and you can put your child’s name in for 12 schools. There are more charters to choose from and the DCPS schools are improved. There are more reasons to stay and not move as kids get closer to kindergarten. Middle school… that’s a different story.

In the meantime, yay, babies.

No need for developer hate- who built your house?

So I was reading, okay skimming, through a lot of web posts and articles about housing and there was a fair amount of hate on developers, real estate developers. Apparently all developers care about is money. Okay, but didn’t a developer build your house? Your apartment?

So the newly historic landmarked Wardman Flats were built by a real estate developer Harry Wardman, which is why it is landmarked… Okay it was landmarked because a present day developer threatened the turret at 319 R Street and landmarking is a hammer people can use. Wardman did not build the houses on Square 519 (btwn 3rd, 4th, Florida, and R Streets NW) for charity. He was a builder, that’s how he made money. He built a lot in DC, mainly, for the money.

Bates St Turn of the century A few years  before Wardman built in Truxton Circle and a few blocks over the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) built flats between North Cap, Q, P, and 3rd Streets NW.  Paul Williams has a wonderful blog post about WSIC, so there is no need for me to rehash that history. WSIC wasn’t completely all about the money, more about ‘business philanthropy’. I’m not completely sure, but my reading is that this type of project was to provide dividends to stockholders. So doing good and making money?

My own house is over 140 years old and as far as I can tell, was built by a guy who rented to poor black labors. Can’t find anything that shows he built my house for anything other than the money.

There is no public housing in Truxton Circle. There is HUD subsidized housing, but no public housing. But even city supported or federally subsidized housing involve developers as well. I don’t have any good history about that so, this is where I’ll end this post.

Well I’m glad the Shaw-Howard Station is where it is

Proposed subway line through 1968 Shaw

Sorry this is not a prettier map.

The Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) it appears suggested the path through Shaw the WMATA subway sorta- kinda takes. As we know the Shaw metro station isn’t at 7th and Florida, but rather a block down at 7th and S and 7th and R. The Mt. Vernon Square station, isn’t at 7th and O, but also a couple of blocks off at 7th and M. WMATA at that time, proposed the line (did it even have a color in 1968?) going up 13th Street, with a station just off Logan Circle, and the U St station sort of where the U Street station is now.

Anyway. I tried posting some Shaw history about building and growth in the post-riot, pre-non-stop gentrification period. This was based on countering a poor gentrification think piece that claimed that you could count the building projects in DC between 1968-1998 on one hand. Actually, you can count at least a dozen building projects in Shaw during that period, the Green/Yellow line, just one of many projects in Shaw. According to the wikis U Street, Shaw, and Mount Vernon Square all opened up in 1991, twenty three years after the riots. However, it wasn’t all that great in the 1990s because the Green line stopped at U Street. It would be almost 10 years before the line was as lovely and functional as it is today. I will spare you the stories of having to switch at Gallery Place & Ft. Totten to get to Greenbelt.

I’m sure the 14th Street crowd would have wished for the WMATA plan. However I’m very glad the decision to place the stations a little bit more to the east was chosen. Considering there was a significant amount of damage along 7th Street, I do wonder if the riots helped make 7th Street more attractive (cheaper land, fewer historical buildings to damage) to WMATA?