You Say Stop And I Say Go Go Go


I didn’t think I would be back in Washington, DC so soon. I just spent a couple days here for a conference after saying a big goodbye only a few weeks ago.

It took that goodbye to realize how much this place means to me. I spent most of the last six years here, and for much of that time I was regularly bashing the city and threatening to leave. Friends and family would probably recognize the basic narrative: I like this city, I love my friends, and there are cool things to do, but I don’t BELONG here. It’s not home to me like other places are.

For the friends who abided my years of griping, this is me eating crow. Yes, I was often unhappy in DC. But now I recognize why I stayed despite all the threats to move; Washington, DC made me the person I am in so many ways.

Since arriving fresh out of high school, I have met my closest friends, entered college, vowed to leave college, graduated college, made mistakes, hurt feelings, worried about lots of things I shouldn’t have, slept on boxes under streetlights, played an uneasy role as case manager for low-income residents, climbed onto a lot of forbidden rooftops, filled a dorm room with cardboard boxes, feared for the life of friends, mourned the death of friends, mourned the death of near-strangers, co-founded a magazine, put on a suit and tie just to steal knick-knacks from a hotel, gone to two presidential inaugurations, fractured my spine, fallen in love.

I stand by my decision to leave. DC isn’t the right place for me, not right now. But as I rode the train back into town on Tuesday, it felt a little bit like coming home.

PHOTO: Faye Golden and daughter

I was a bit surprised to see how much of inauguration coverage focused on the bigwigs. I decided to flip the camera around and focus on attendees. Not like I think that this is some huge injustice that Obama got all the attention; I was just curious to learn more about who was there and why. Click the photo to see all the images and profiles from Campus Progress.

DCHA To Close Its Waiting List for Public Housing

Attention, DC residents in need of public housing: 2012 might be your last chance to get on the DC Housing Authority’s waiting list. By the end of this year, DCHA will indefinitely close its waiting list for public housing, Executive Director Adrianne Todman has told BFTC staff.

The list is a fact of life for many District residents. Thousands sign up every year, joining the 64,000 people already in a holding pattern, waiting for a chance at subsidized housing in their ever more expensive home city. Based on current trends, about 10,000 residents would likely sign up in 2013. The 64,000 folks already on the list (that’s one in ten Washingtonians) are vying for one of about 8,000 public housing units or 12,000 government-subsidized vouchers.

So, it’s a long wait. DCHA is currently pulling names that have been on the list since 2003, and those added to the list today can expect to wait a whopping 46 years for a studio or efficiency apartment.

Despite the bleak prospects for actually obtaining housing, we at BFTC have long pushed for the list to stay open. “Keeping the list open demonstrates the crushing need for low-income housing in this city,” said Vytas Vergeer, director of our legal clinic.

Continued at Bread for the City.

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2012

From the Annals of Gentrification

This was on a neighborhood listserv earlier today:

Several neighbors in my block encountered a scam situation yesterday. Two girls approach the house and ask to walk a dog for $10 to donate to an animal shelter. Or they try to sell a basil plant for $15 to benefit a homeless shelter.
This is obviously a scam… The true sad part? An adult woman that walks
with them points out the houses that they should go to.
This happened last night in the 1900 block of 1st St NE around 7pm.
They knocked on my door too but I didn’t see the adult woman. I simply said “no thank you” and didn’t think much of it. Should I call the police when i see this? Child protective services?

Thankfully, there was a thoughtful reply: “There are other ways to view this.  It’s incorrect to assume that criminality is involved.  Perhaps this is adaptive, industrious behavior meant to support children in the absence of jobs, [TANF] and other sources of income.”

Still, I’m amazed at how someone can move into a gentrifying neighborhood and misunderstand so badly what goes on there. Kids trying to make money? Call the police!

A Tale of Two Cities


The thriving DC economy, in this Sunday’s New York Times:

For the city itself, the good times are a bit more complicated, given Washington’s place in the national psyche. But they’re no less striking. Washington may have the healthiest economy of any major metropolitan area in the country.

The unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in June, compared with 9.3 percent in Chicago, 9.6 percent in New York and 10.3 percent in Los Angeles. The average house price in the region is more than 10 percent above the 2009 nadir, while nationwide prices remain near a decade-long low.

And you can actually see the prosperity. Although much of the city itself remains poor, several neighborhoods are noticeably brighter, and the city’s population has been rising for more than a decade. Downtown Washington is full of cranes building City Center DC — a mix of apartments, stores, offices and a park scheduled to open next summer. In McLean, Va., and Potomac, Md., mansions continue to rise from the ground.

I wish the Times would make the distinction between “Washington” and “residents of Washington.” Even better would be the distinction between “residents of Washington” and “some residents of Washington.”

Yes, the city’s economy is doing well in aggregate; unemployment is low, and the median income is high. But aggregation can easily obscure what’s actually going on in different sectors of the economy. Construction is booming downtown, but unemployment in Ward 8 is still at 22 percent. The DC metro area is the nation’s richest, but east of the Anacostia River 30 percent of families live in poverty.  

This is about more than just inequality. Much of the prosperity described in the Times isn’t trickling down to the city’s poorer neighborhoods—and when it does spill over, it creates as many problems as it does solutions. Neighborhoods see economic resurgence, but the people who live there frequently don’t. The result? The rising cost of living pushes them out, often over the Maryland border.

So: Washington as a geographic unit is doing well, but why is that relevant? A region’s prosperity should only matter to the extent that it translates into success for actual people.

Photo: Northeast Washington, DC. 2010.

Malcolm X Park, Washington DC. May 2012

Georgia and Columbia NW, Washington DC. 2012

Debate on Development and Displacement in Alexandria

Interview by Pete Tucker, written report by Chris Lewis (@Chris_Lewis_)

Hold on to your houses.

In northern Virginia, some residents are trying to do just that. On May 12th, Alexandria’s City Council will vote on a plan put forth by five area real estate companies to redevelop the city’s Beauregard area in the West End, a pocket of Alexandria with a reputation for diversity and affordability. Some residents fear losing their homes—the plan, led by Maryland-based developer JBG , calls for demolishing 2,475 units of housing and replacing them with denser and pricier apartments.

As the Council prepares to vote debate has flared over the merits of the proposal. In a Sunday feature, the Washington Post reported: “The stakes are high not only because the plan would make over the neighborhood but also, some argue, because it would more broadly influence who can afford to live in this increasingly affluent inside-the-Beltway city.”

Continued at thefightback.org.

Cromwell St NE, Washington DC, November 2011