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.

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.

319 R Street NW- a sign

319 R St NW, 20001So what’s new? A sign.

I attended the Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) meeting on Monday and a neighbor from that block said she spoke with the owner/developer. That person informed her that they would be keeping the place a single family home. Even though they purchased the property back in June 2015 for $750K, they could break even, or profit, by giving it a super interior renovation and exterior restoration.

For those of you just joining us in this story, here’s the quick summary. Back in the 00s a Korean church bought the property to do inner city mission work. Then they sold it to a developer, who then proposed to knock off the turret and build a 3rd story in order to make a 2 unit condo. They hinted that if they were not allowed to do so they would demolish the whole building, as a matter of right. They played chicken, and lost. A hundred years prior, developer Harry Wardman built almost all the buildings on the block 319 R sat on, and this was the reasoning that was used to make the whole square a National Historic Landmark. The landmark status prevented the developers from making any exterior changes. This probably could have been prevented if the turret was respected or if the architects who drew the second proposed drawing incorporated the turret, instead of plopping on a dunce hat on the proposed 3rd floor. It had been done before around the corner on 4th St where a 3rd floor was added and the problem didn’t go past BZA.

Considering Harry Wardman built all those townhouses as 2 story flats, I don’t see why it cannot become a 2 unit building. The building has a tad over 2,000 square feet, so dividing it into half wouldn’t create two too tiny units. But there are costs to dividing up a single unit structure (character preservation vs affordable housing, ‘nother topic for another day) and it appears a nicely (not impressive but nice) renovated corner house like 319 R St NW would sell for 1.something million dollars. One point four if I were a betting woman. The house across the street for $1.25 mil is under contract, and 319 conceivably has 1 parking pad and those are worth gold!

So we’ll see what happens and keep an eye on it.

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.

Is DC interested in keeping the Black middle class? IDK

1900 blk houseSo I’ve read the report out of Georgetown University’s report State of African Americans in DC: Employment,  and as a member of the black middle class there is nothing, zero, in the report about keeping the middle class Afro-American families in DC. The purpose of the report (PDF), as stated on page 2, is to analyze trends and “offer ideas about how to halt the flow of African Americans out of Washington, D.C.” However, the report I read was about attempting to support low and no income people in DC, who in our city are primarily people of color.

There is an error everyone makes, even I make this mistake from time to time, and that is the equation: Afro-American=Low Income. Yes, the median household income of African American households is less than White American households, but the median income is not necessarily low income.  But to be fair this related to the Mayor’s Commission of African American Affairs, and its mission is primarily focused on low-income African Americans.

The report doesn’t completely ignore the Black middle class, it mentions the flight of the AfAm middle class from the city and a decline in the Black middle class. It also mention’s the former Marion Barry’s contribution. Before he was known for crack and sex, Barry did grow the Black middle class in DC with contracts requiring minority businesses and hiring a lot of people for DC government jobs. Unfortunately, many of those middle class DC government workers wandered across the border to PG County. The problem with making DC government offices a Black employment program are a lot of people who didn’t answer the damned phone when you needed city services, but I digress.

This report, because its focus is not creating and keeping a Black middle class, doesn’t even suggest doing what Barry did (at least with the creation part).

I should also mention that DC lacks a white low class community, so like the error of equating black with poor, there is the habit of equating white= middle class/ rich. Therefore, most programs for low income populations will be for people of color, and more often African Americans.

Yes, I am faulting the report for being something other than what I would like it to be. I want it to show how DC can grow and keep a Black middle class. DC seems like a place with racially diverse workplaces so I’m not sure what more DC DOES, can do for equal opportunities for the kind of jobs being created in the city. The Project Empowerment doesn’t seem to work with the kind of careers that lead people to the middle class. SYEP is hit or miss on the path to the middle class.

The report does say: “The city must create a pipeline from its high schools to careers such as nursing, radiology, EMT, and physician’s assistants, which typically pay a living wage or better. D.C. can start by reconfiguring the Career Academies and CTE programs administered by DCPS to be geared toward these careers.” Yes, something beyond a living wage to a thriving wage should be a goal.

Regarding housing there is nothing mentioned for the Black middle class. There is a program, actually a whole DC agency that could help the Black middle class become homeowners. The DC Housing Finance Agency has HPAP, which helps with the downpayment, with strings…… DCHFA has various homebuying assistance programs which can help people buy their first home in DC and homeowners are more likely to stay, or stay longer than renters.

I think it is a good thing to try to keep a sizable African American population in the District, for the sake of keeping the city a comfortable place for people like me and bi-racial families like mine. I think DC does itself a disservice not to try to make sure that a chunk of the AfAm community is middle class and figure out how to keep them/us.

 

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.