Destroying the Village to Save It; Same Old Logic, New Locale

by Abigail DeRoberts
Special to iVoryTowerz

In certain parts of the District of Columbia — Columbia Heights, for instance — the only impetus necessary for a massive wave of gentrification is to put in mainstream chain stores like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond; if you build it, they will come. However, young urban professionals need a bit more coaxing to move into other parts of the city. As a result, the city has taken on initiatives created by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create what it calls “mixed-income communities.” Typically, these initiatives target low-income communities and public housing projects, and claim to be able to eradicate crime in the area by creating these mixed-income communities.

One of these was HOPE VI, a HUD program implemented in many cities and states throughout the country. In 2002, the Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg public housing project in D.C. was one of its targets. In line with the plans for HOPE VI, residents were immediately moved out of the area, and new developments were built. While HOPE VI’s contract included requirements for the inclusion of “low-income housing,” low-income was defined as 60% of the median income of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. The median income of the D.C. metropolitan area is one of the highest in the country at more than $78,000 annually; most former households in Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg made less than $10,000 a year. As a result, no families could afford to move back to their former neighborhood, and were permanently pushed out by an official HUD program. (For more information, see the film Chocolate City, a locally made documentary about the effects of HOPE VI on D.C. residents.)

D.C.'s government is at it again with Mayor Adrian Fenty’s so-called “New Communities” initiative. Almost identical to HOPE VI, “New Communities” targets low-income D.C. neighborhoods such as Northwest One, Lincoln Heights, and Barry Farm. These neighborhoods are to be demolished and then rebuilt by developers whose profit margin depends directly on the percentage of the development that will be sold at market-rate. As a result, and as funding gaps grow, developers are quick to abandon former plans of providing housing for low-income residents. Despite this, Fenty’s government remains set on following through with plans of demolition and redevelopment, unabashedly embracing these plans which will ultimately push low-income residents and people of color out of the District.

Such close alliances between local government and large housing development corporations continue to frighten residents and threaten D.C.’s culture and history. Low-income communities are becoming fewer and fewer and public housing projects are under attack from all sides. Government-sponsored displacement is irresponsible and directly ignores the needs of District residents. While there is resistance to all of these projects throughout the city, such resistance work is daunting, because those who oppose such redevelopment are so consistently ignored. It is imperative that the government pay attention to the needs of District residents and make their well-being a priority. If we don’t all begin to demand this soon, the “New Communities” initiative will live up to its name, and Washington, D.C. will be a new community entirely.

To read more on the problems of gentrification, please see "Privatization & Gentrification: Milton Friedman's Shock Troops."

(Graphic from radicalgraphics.org, which offers its material for free.)

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The DC Feed Editor said...

Interesting post! I have linked to this at The DC Feed.

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