Trinity Senior Patrice Sykes ’18 took top honors for the 2017 Council of Governments Essay Contest for students in the Consortium of Universities! She won for her essay, reproduced below, on gentrification in D.C. The essay contest asked students in Consortium colleges and universities to forecast what the city would be like two or three decades from now. Patrice writes eloquently and with a sharp edge about how gentrification, while economically beneficial, is also diminishing the racial and cultural qualities that have made DC great in the past. Congratulations, Patrice! Here is her essay:
Gentrified D.C in 20 to 30 Years.: Chocolate City Disappears
Written by Patrice Sykes
Imagine a D.C. resident named Fernell. Fernell has been living in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years. When Fernell first came to Washington, in the 1980’s, the streets glittered with brown skin. Chuck Brown’s go-go music was seeping through the cracks in the sidewalks. Black culture was everywhere. There were black owned clubs and black students flourishing throughout the town. D.C. was the land of opportunities for blacks. That was then, but the city Fernell has loved for over 30 years is now escaping him.
Fernell feels hopeless because his chocolate city is vanishing right before his eyes. The buildings and the streets he knew are dying. Fernell feels there is no remorse of how these rapid changes will affect the black community. The revamping of the District is beginning to affect his personal life. Due to him not being able to keep up with the rent increases, he has a 30-day notice to vacate the premises. Fernell has no hope of tomorrow and can barely be strong enough for his children. After the 30 days, he will be forced out of his subsidized housing. He will have no other choice but to live in a homeless shelter for a while.
Although Fernell is a fictional character, Fernell’s story is the harsh reality for many people. The reshaping of D.C. has benefited white residents but pushed many low-income blacks out of the city. Gentrification has increased revenue for the city and made it attractive to young white professionals. The black population that once was the majority demographic, formerly knows as, Chocolate City, is shrinking because the cost of living has increased. If you can imagine feeling betrayed by your city like Fernell, you too may have some mixed feelings about gentrification in D.C.
Census data shows that blacks comprised 72 percent of the District’s population three decades ago, but by 2010, the black population had fallen below 59 percent (Ross). Gentrification, meaning renovation of housing that conforms to the standards of the middle class, reached its peak in D.C. during the early 2000’s (Google Search). Reconstructing D.C. to appeal to affluent professionals provided a new opportunity to make the nation’s capital richer and ‘polished.’ The ideas of reshaping D.C. to be more modern is not such a bad idea. Yet, if this upgrade comes at the expense of targeting vulnerable ‘underprivileged’ areas of the city, does that make the decision a laudable one? The residents in these areas often are not able to fight back due to both their lack of resources and not having an influential voice in the District’s decisions about development policies.
Brookland Manor, in Northeast D.C., is one of the vulnerable areas that has been targeted due to gentrification. Brookland Manor is a housing development that houses over 1,200 residents. Recently, many of its low-income residents have been evicted because of late rent payments. According to The Washington Post, as the owners prepare to redevelop the property, there are several pending lawsuits due to late rent payments totaling less than $100 (Gringlas). Brookland Manor typifies vulnerable areas that have been targeted for gentrification. Most residents obtain subsidized housing and can only afford what is within their budget. It can be harder for low-income residents in the Brookland Manor to resist gentrification once real estate development begins in their neighborhood. There are already ‘MidCity’ construction banners on the corner of Saratoga Avenue and several buildings that make up the apartment complex are now emptied of residents.
Some would argue that demolishing the Brookland Manor neighborhood will reduce crime. It is no secret that Saratoga Ave and other neighboring streets that make up Brookland Manor have experienced gun violence, injures, and murders. This past August, a 19-year-old college bound teen, Jamahri Syndor, was killed by a stray bullet on Saratoga Avenue (“College-Bound 17-Year-old). The reconstruction that comes with property gentrification can possibly crime but it can create other tensions within the neighborhood.
For example, there are issues with blending the mixed and controlled incomes in the same neighborhoods. As a result of gentrification, there are some affluent and low income residents within the same areas of the District, paying for the same housing. The affluent have the advantage of paying a lower rate for housing while low-income residents have the rent that is income-based. Gentrification can create tension between the low income residents and non-low -income residents that do not need income-based housing. The tensions create a living environment of “us against them.” The non-low-income residents can feel like they are paying too much in rent, because low income residents have to pay only a fraction of the rent cost that other residents have to pay (U.S. Department of Housing).
Also, gentrification increases property taxes. New developments have affected native Washingtonians’ property taxes. Carlos Pyatt, a resident from Anacostia, brought his home for $42,000 in 1981 (Gringlas). That same home in 2017 has a property tax valuation of $888,000 (Gringlas). Mr. Pyatt is constantly being asked if he wants to sell his home so that developers can profit. While some natives of D.C. like Pyatt can make ends meet and still afford to live in their original homes they purchased years ago, this is not the same reality for many other natives of D.C. Rising property taxes force some residents to sell their homes and live in other areas outside of D.C. that are more affordable.
Overall, D.C. has changed tremendously since the Chocolate City era. For example, the black population in the Shaw neighborhood (D.C.) has dropped from 70 percent in the 1980’s to only 30 percent in 2017 (McCartney). Gentrification has become a racial, cultural, and economic issue. In 20 to 30 years from now I predict that D.C. will be less welcoming to blacks settling in D.C. as their primary residence.
In 20 to 30 years from now there will be fewer jobs available for the working class. Job opportunities right now in the District include a range of minimum wage jobs such as food service and delivery drivers. There are also jobs on the higher spectrum of income like federal government jobs. D.C. still offers many of the same opportunities as it did when D.C. was Chocolate City but the demographic that these opportunities are aimed at has shifted. Now, many employers focus on attracting affluent young professionals. In the future, I expect the job pools will shrink even further and there will be even more qualifications required for jobs, such as college degrees (Rampell). There will be even more affluent young professionals coming into the metropolitan area hungry for job opportunities. The white professionals have the ability to dominate the work force because they have influences in the work force through networking connections. The competitive nature of white professionals going after jobs will cause the job pool to narrow and there will be added pressure to hire more people. This is threatening for the one-in-ten percent of D.C.’s population being college students (Kingkade). As a result, the job force will respond to this pressure by adding more qualifications for even minimum wage/entry-level jobs because there will be limited resources on giving jobs to everyone.
In the future D.C. will be even more crowed and expensive than it is already. D.C. is now a highly desirable place and very expensive place to live (McCartney). The District has been ranked fourth most expensive area in the nation for rent. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in D.C. is $2,485, putting most rental properties out of reach of the working and middle class (Goldchain).
In 20 to 30 years, the apartment rents will likely increase. In just one short decade (2000 to 2010) the rent in D.C. almost tripled because of gentrification (Ross). Gentrification has caused the cost of living to be out of reach for some low-income residents. The median for rent of a one-bedroom rose from $735 to $1,100 during that decade (Ross). The National Low Income Housing Commission, has reported that only Hawaii has a higher rent for two bedroom apartments then D.C. I imagine that in the next two decades, the rent in this city will continue to increase because the city will have more people. D.C. is estimated at 68.34 square miles2 (Google.com); not only will DC be more expensive in terms of housing, but it also will seem more crowded because of the demand for new apartment and business buildings.
As the population of D.C. continues to grow, so will the cost of public transportation.
The future of D.C. may involve more expensive versions of public transportation. As of June 2017, the rush hour fares and parking fees rose 10 cents (Smith). The metro bus fares increased by 25 cents (Smith). These fares increases added an extra $125 per year for metro service users. This change is significant for those commuters that rely on the train and the bus for transportation because the fares have risen for both modes of transportation. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit (WMATA) fares will likely continue to increase over the next 20 to 30 years, given that costs are already increasing even though the number of purchasers has declined (Lazo). Last year, Metro bus ridership decreased about 5.5 percent, to 7.1 million rides (Lazo). The District’s cost of transportation in the next years will continue to rise. If the cost of transportation does increase in the future, it is likely to affect the low-wage works, immigrants, and elderly residents that have a fixed income (Lazo). These small increases in transportation fares add up and affect those low income commuters that rely on metro trains or the bus to get around the city.
Gentrification has been occurring systematically for years in the District. Any reconstruction of any metropolitan area does not happen on its own, there has to be governmental support. The District has a large income divide between the rich and poor. Now that the highest fraction income is $200,000, the divide of the affluent and low-income is more apparent than ever (Ross). The huge divide between the affluent and those of lower income in D.C. is creating this tension. The nation’s capital has found more ways to block low-income residents. There is a proposed bill that will change the affordable housing act. The current bill states that a homeowner has to wait 15 years before selling their property. The newer bill states that the homeowner only has to wait five years before selling this property (Rodgers). If this new bill is passed, areas such as Mt. Pleasant, Colombia Heights, and Bloomingdale level of affordability will not be achievable for low-income residents (Rodgers).
The idea of allowing homes to be sold sooner will primarily benefit those that can afford to buy some of D.C.’s million dollar homes. Low income residents cannot afford that price range. Because aggressive gentrification typically reduces housing for low-income residents, I imagine in the next 20 to 30 years this problem will only increase. The asking prices of homes will continue to increase in the next decades and low-income resident population may become obsolete. Low income residents are being driven out by rent increases and skyrocketing real estate prices. Another issue with targeting the vulnerable audience of low income residents is the lack of places for low-income residents to live. The average waitlist time for a subsidized studio in D.C. is 39 years (Dvorak). These lengthy waiting lists are another factor that lessens the chance of low-income residents being able to financially survive in the District.
“Redlining” has also been also a factor in the gentrification of D.C. Redlining is described as credit blacklisting. The Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) created the red lines drawn that were drawn on the different wards in D.C. These areas were determined as high-risk areas for loan lending (Lloyd). Redlining was a strategical tactic that excluded minorities, mainly African-Americans, from receiving home loans. Mortgage loans in the District during the 1980’s were a gold mine because of the high number of African Americans wanting to buy property. African-Americans wanted to settle in D.C. partially because the population of blacks was high at the time. Although the Fair Housing Act banned redlining in 1968, it was not until an amendment in 1988 that redlining official ended discriminatory acts (Lloyd). This amendment gave residents the ability to file a complaint with a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administrative law judge.
Minorities were targeted for redlining because at the time, there were no laws to protect people of color. Even though redlining is now illegal, there are still ways to block low income residents from finding affordable housing. Gentrification is subtle way of blocking low-income residents from living in the city. In the next decades, the District will continue to push low-income residents out the city by making applications for affordable housing more difficult to be file. The application for affordable housings for example, may become so extensive that it may become nearly impossible to obtain all the information needed to complete an application.
To sum up, in 20 to 30 year D.C. will be overpopulated, expensive, and focused on a highly educated and skilled workforce. There are advantages and disadvantages of having a city like D.C. becoming the ‘hot’ city to live in. D.C. is a popular place in part because different cultures (food and language) flourish and promote diversity here. However, negatives include D.C. becoming primarily targeted to affluent young professionals. Does D.C. still have room for those that rely on subsided housing and other aid? All people should be able to enjoy the great opportunities and the experience of being in D.C. The demographics of living should not just be targeted to what McCartney calls ‘young affluent white professionals.’
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