Church spot gone condo: Scripture Cathedral

1957ChurchMap

Looking at the 1957 Northwest Church Survey, Scripture Cathedral did not exist. It would have been at 9th and O Streets Northwest. But the only thing on that block was a storefront church called Christ’s United Baptist Church at 1329 9th St NW, now an outreach center. So historically, in my opinion, this means it can’t claim a rich history with the neighborhood. And I don’t feel like researching it to see if this was  a post riot church. Looking at the website for Scripture Cathedral, currently in PG County, they don’t provide a useful history, or details.

Boarded Up Cathedral    Former Church Spot- Condos

The website for the condo building replacing it has plenty of details about the condos, ranging from $600K to $2 million.

The usual narrative would be Black church replaced by rich (let’s just assume) white condo owners, and then we are supposed to feel bad about losing people who park poorly in the neighborhood. Instead let’s go with ‘yay, new neighbors who may be overpaying for their home.’ Seriously, people still get shot a block or so away on 7th Street, and they can come home from the Mt. Vernon metro assaulted by the smell of K2 in the air.

Looking at the whole volume of the October 1957 Northwest Church Survey, there are plenty of churches that no longer exist. Churches that may have left because they ended their normal church lifecycle. Churches that picked up and moved before and after the riots, and before and after ‘gentrification.’ Neighborhoods change.

Why you can’t compare a pre-gentrification house to today

Vacant house on P
214 P St NW with broken windows in 2008.

When I read studies about housing, housing stock and affordable housing, as it applies to areas like Shaw, I can’t help feeling there is a very wrong assumption flowing through them all. I encountered, that feeling when talking to a renter on my street who would love to buy, but was unaware of what some of us did to make affordable homes livable, and once they became livable, unaffordable to people like him. A house that was affordable in Shaw in the 80s or 90s is probably not the same house that stands today.

In the 1940s-50s Shaw was described as a slum. A slum was defined in some writings as an area where a significant number of houses lacked indoor plumbing or interior toilets, thus slummy Shaw. I want you, dear reader, to think about that. Living somewhere, when you have to go, you’ve got to go….. outside. But now there are laws and regulations so when you rent a place, you get that fancy pants indoor bathroom with hot water.

But there are other housing deficiencies that houses in the 90s and early 00s suffered from because of the history of disinvestment in the neighborhood. Disinvestment meaning, landlords and homeowners had no incentive to maintain properties, beyond necessity, with little to no equity gained. Not updating kitchens, or electrical wiring, or plumbing, resulting in cramped little kitchens, wiring that would fry your electronics, and leaky pipes.

Renovation_0045
House under renovation.

Then came the renovations and the gentrification. Some were crappy and cosmetic, like my house when I bought it, and some actually fixed long neglected problems or updated systems. Even crappy renovations cost money and those costs are pushed onto the end user, the home buyer or the renter. Yes, there are places where there has been no, to little reinvestment, and the prices act as if there were.

So next time you read a report that assumes the equity gained due to gentrification is unearned, question if the house that was affordable in year X is of the same quality, with the same features, when it is unaffordable in year Y.

So after 20+ years Shiloh might do something with its vacant properties

My usual path no longer takes me along 9th Street anymore. Trips to Giant stops right at 8th Street. I might wander over to 9th to see if Buttercream has any ho-hos. And so the search for specialty cake products brought me over to the 1500 block of 9th Street NW and I was surprised to see what looked to be work on Shiloh Baptist Church’s long vacant properties.

Shiloh maybe getting their act togetherThis might be old news to some, as I did notice another Shiloh property on the opposite side of the street appeared no longer vacant. And the poster celebrating Victory Village looks, old. When doing a Google search for Victory Village and Shiloh, I came across a 2010 CityPaper article about the project. That doesn’t provide a lot of confidence. What does provide confidence is the scaffolding up along the sidewalk. And the fact that the block is a little less vacant than 10 years ago.

Shiloh maybe getting their act togetherNext to the National Park Service’s Carter G. Woodson House, formerly owned by Shiloh were some 3 story high scaffolding with the banner of a contractor, Thomas Archer on it. That looks a bit more real, and this thing might actually happen. Maybe. Hopefully. Lord willing.

I pray that in 5 years the 1500 block of 9th Street NW is as healthy as the 1500 block of 7th St NW. I hope that Shiloh will no longer be known as the church with all those run down vacant properties. I don’t expect Shiloh to gain the real estate mojo of UHOP, that would be akin to expecting Keneau Reeves to out act Christian Bale.

 

This has been cross posted with the DC Vacant Properties blog.

The Problem is People- Renters and Airbnb

RooftopsI like Airbnb. We’ve used the service to temporarily relocate when our house was being renovated. My spouse used it to be as close to his mother’s elderly boarding house when visiting her in California. We’ve stayed in people’s second bedrooms in NYC. We’ve also hosted Airbnb guests in the room that now belongs to Destruct-O-baby and I’m allowing a tenant for a one bedroom house in Baltimore to be an Airbnb host. So, I’ve had good experiences because it has allowed us to see how other people live. And when the situation requires it, we stay in a hotel.

I’m still feeling frustrated after last night’s BACA meeting where the staff member from Councilman McDuffie’s office touched upon it. The complaints of noise and trash regarding bad Airbnb guests reminded me of the complaints residents made about Section 8 (or suspected Section 8) renters. The problem isn’t length of stay, it’s the people.

When I first moved into the TC neighborhood, Section 8 was shorthand for bad neighbors. Section 8, which goes by different names depending on location, is subsidized housing. In THEORY, renters would be on their best behavior because they could lose their subsidy if they had drug dealing in the home, or were a nuisance. Yeah, that didn’t work. For one you couldn’t find out if a house was a Section 8 house because of privacy. With noise, everyone who has ever called the cops on their neighbors about a blasting stereo or thumping noise, knows how that plays out. Now there were other houses I suspected of being Section 8 where the occupants were quiet and clean. So the problem wasn’t the Section 8 program so much as it was the people in the Section 8 houses and the poor enforcement.

Later the economics of things made it so there were more owners, so the subsidized renters became limited to the co-ops and other apartment buildings. Then those owners moved and rented out their homes to young adults who were oblivious to certain ways of doing things, like trash day, and how to get bulk pick up. These mishaps are not just for renters, sometimes owners and other people who are hard to categorize will leave trash, make noise, and be irresponsible.

There are other problems with the proposed Airbnb legislation before the city council. The concerns about noise and trash remind me of the complaints about Section 8 renters about 15+ years ago. The good thing about Airbnb renters, at least they go away and you’re not stuck with bad neighbors for years on end.

Redlining, African American Home ownership and the TC

Distribution of Negro Population by Census, 1930If anyone can find or recreate the Washington DC redline map, that would be helpful, because no one seems to have it. There is a project to map restrictive racial covenants, but those seem to be a small amount of DC housing, rather than the majority. The image here is the distribution of African Americans or Negroes, in DC in 1930, so probably close enough to a redline map.

Considering the map, Truxton Circle or as it was known then, Census tract 46, was more than half AfAm. If it wasn’t a redlined area, it may have been yellow, “Definitely Declining.” The area that became Shaw, ranged from 35% to over 75% black, which may have been too many black people for the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) map makers.

Using data from my TruxtonCircle.org project, I just took a look at the 1930 and 1940 census data*. In 1930, of the heads of households, there were 1109 renters in the TC and 310 home owners. Of those who owned 237 were black. In 1940, there were 1442 renters, 269 home owners, and of those owners, 218 were black. So most people in the TC were renters and African American home owners were a majority of a minority of people.

So who were these Negro home owners? A lot were a variety of government workers (federal and DC schools), service workers (chauffeurs, Pullman workers, waiters) and professionals (doctors, ministers, lawyers) . I’d say the black middle class and prudent working class folks. The same people who’d engage in black flight in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

*I’m still cleaning up the data.

The problem with affordable housing on weaker neighborhoods

If you haven’t read Congress Heights on the Rise’s (CHotR) blog, please do. The author, Ms. Peele is telling some serious truths about the problem of affordable housing in her neighborhood. It is not the same problem of affordable housing experienced in NW, the problem is there is a little too much affordable housing and not enough market housing.

One of the post’s “Why investing ONLY in income-capped housing in Ward 8 is setting us up for failure,” can be summed up as affordable housing needs to be spread around more equally across all 8 wards and not concentrated East of the River (EotR). She points out that the majority of the available apartments for rent in her area are income capped, which means a single person making $51,000 cannot rent an apartment there, and forget about a married couple. Without those sort of renters, that middle class contingent, the urban amenities that make DC fun are in short supply in her neighborhood, and she has to drive elsewhere for fitness and food.

Continuing in another post “MORE OF THE SAME: 7 more income-capped housing projects planned for Ward 8,” she is obviously frustrated with the DC government’s (DHCD) housing policy of more income capped housing. This sort of policy keeps out the kind of residents who could support the businesses (and jobs) she wants and provide the kind of role models kids in the neighborhood need. The income limits keeps out nurses, police officers, teachers, and most other professionals. Many of the income limit apartment buildings are at 50% MFI/AMI (Median Family Income/ Area Median Income) so a single person cannot make more than $41,050. The starting salary for a DCPS teacher is supposed to be $55, 209, and the starting salary for a MPD police officer is $55,362. It would have to be at 80% MFI/AMI for a single income teacher or police officer. Logically, if you had a married couple (the cop married to a teacher) they would blow past the $46,900 50% MFI/ $76,000 80% MFI limits for a household of two, and three.

Aren’t we just repeating the mistakes of the past with new packaging? Concentrating poverty is destructive, cruel and wrong. We, as a city, have done it before with public housing and created environments of unemployment, crime, death and dysfunction.

Will Buy Your House For CA$H

It was something from a DCist post about the Hillcrest neighborhood I noticed. It seems the people of Hillcrest have been peppered with offers to sell their homes to developers. If those offers come in the form of post cards and yellow letters like the ones below, they aren’t special. I get these offers almost every week. Sometimes I get phone calls.

I have two rentals, bought for the price of a new car, in addition to our primary home. So every week, I will get some letter or postcard asking if I want to sell. These things are called yellow letters. Note, they are yellow. They come from people looking to buy houses for developer investors. Most are not a scam, but they aren’t going to offer you the amount of money you’d probably get if you were to sell with a Realtor. They are for people who want to sell a house quickly without doing anything (fixing things).

I don’t feel pestered by these mail in inquires. They are like any other service being offered that I don’t want. Don’t want a credit card. Don’t want your cable package. When it is an offer on my primary residence, I do feel slightly insulted, because, yes, the outside could use some sprucing up. I think they figured I’d want to sell because I haven’t gotten to fixing some things. Those things are on the 2019 docket of expensive house crap to do. I replaced the roof this year so the 2018 budget is blown.

So say you’ve gotten several of these yellow letters, what do you do? Are they serious offers? Well if you have no desire to sell, toss them in recycling and give it nary a thought. If you’re thinking about selling, but you want top dollar and you have time and are willing to repair and repaint, toss them in the recycling bin and hire a Realtor. But if you just want to get rid of it (bad tenants, repairs you can’t afford, desperately need to fund your mother in law’s stay in a nursing home) sure give the number on the letter or post card you got a call. Just be aware you’re going to be offered a price below market.  It doesn’t matter that the house next door to you sold for a million dollars, the people offering to buy your house are not going to offer a million dollars.

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.