Housing Complex

How the G-Word Advances Statehood

In the (mercifully short) audience question section of last night's at-large Council debate, someone launched into a sermon on social justice, and ended with this awkward double query: How would you 'stop gentrification,' and what's your plan to push for statehood for Washington D.C.?

Given only 30 seconds, the candidates either took one of the questions and ignored the other, or weighed in briefly on each. And granted, it was a pretty random pairing that needn't have been taken together. But the thing is, gentrification and statehood are correlated–positively. Here's how I wish a candidate had answered:

"Thanks for your question. First of all, 'gentrification' is a really complicated term that people throw around like it's an entirely negative phenomenon. But that's too simplistic: How can you tell a neighborhood that it shouldn't have higher quality retail, better parks, and nicer houses? That may attract higher-income residents, but there are tools to keep housing affordable for those who might otherwise be pushed out, like inclusionary zoning, low-income housing tax credits, tenant purchase, and simply increasing the supply of new units.

I'm not sure if you meant to imply that demographic change and the fight for statehood are related. But they are: As people return to the city, invest in neighborhoods, and see D.C. as a place they might stay for a long time and maybe raise a family–rather than doing their five years on the Hill and then high-tailing it to Montgomery County–they start to understand and care about the ways in which disenfranchisement has a real effect on their quality of life. When you've put money down on a house and gotten your kid into a public school she likes, you're much more willing to fight for the future of the place where you live. Often, these new residents are less willing to let things stay the way they've always been–and are connected to the powerbrokers who will ultimately have to be convinced. If they can make common cause with the people who've lived here forever, then D.C. has a chance."

You can movement-build all you want, but it helps if economic and social trends are on your side.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    One of the most compelling arguments for Statehood or representation or whatever change from the status quo would be to grow DC.

    DC (601k) is bigger than Wyoming (563k) right now. Vermont (625k) is within striking distance. North Dakota (675k) and Alaska (710k) are below DC's high water mark of population (802k), and South Dakota (814k) is within shouting distance of that.

    I feel it's a lot stronger argument for DC to say they've got more people than 4 or 5 states, representing 8-10% of the US Senate and 4-5 voting seats of the House.

  • …done

    I don't have a problem with this in general, and have come to hate the G-word.

    But this:

    Often, these new residents are less willing to let things stay the way they've always been–and are connected to the powerbrokers who will ultimately have to be convinced. If they can make common cause with the people who've lived here forever, then D.C. has a chance

    ...could be teased out a bit (I know, 30 sec ;) You did make a point that they are connected to the powerbrokers. That connection is a powerful thing (which explains why a certain gentleman from Ward 8 amassed such power).

    There are a lot of natives who have always fought the good fight against Congressional assholes, ineffective City leaders and neighborhood miscreants. Many of the natives are willing to let things stay is because they have become accustomed to being beaten down through systemic racism and accepting less than an abundant life. Typically, efforts at providing an abundant life for citizens do not include, or actively target good folks (not miscreants). Until recently in this country's history, political institutions did not respond to the concerns of certain classes of constituents. While I abhor the shabby treatment we get from the rest of the country, I abhor that only certain people are considered worthy of the franchise and capable of "taking care of themselves." You don't have to look far to understand where that sentiment comes from.

    The newbies here (& I'm one of them) are from demographics that have not been ignored by the powers that be. The system works FOR them, thus they rely on it -and more importantly - know how to use it.

  • Ace in DC

    I am an Army Veteran. I saved up my money during 20 hard months deployed to Iraq and then moved to DC where I have always loved the city. I purchased my home and made it better than it once was. I didn't displace anyone, but bought a home for twice as much as the previous owner. He went away from the deal richer and happier than when he bought it. I like Starbucks. I like Crate and Barrel furniture. I like riding my bike. I volunteer at Harriet Tubman Elementary School to read to students. I volunteer every DCPS school beautification day to paint and pick up trash. I pay my taxes. I abide by the law. To sum up myself, I am a veteran, a volunteer, a taxpayer, a good citizen and a gentrifier. Why am I hated because of the gentrifier part and not respected and welcomed for all the other parts?

  • Nick

    You can own a house but you can't own a neighborhood or a city. Demographics change over time. 50 years ago DC was a white city. They mostly left and we saw what the new residents did to the city. Whites and educated blacks are coming back and they shouldn't be vilified for cleaning the place up. If you can't afford it then tough shit.

  • SEis4ME

    Ace, you are hated because the media narrative is that you should be. Look at this article, Lydia makes it clear that the "good" and "connected" new residents should be embraced and not scorned for wanting a better way of life. Here, you find the us vs. them argument. And it is here the idea that, these "other" people hate you is born.

  • Hillman

    Ace in DC:

    Your post is one of the best I've seen on the issue. Succinctly put.

  • meanteeth

    All gentrifiers aren't hated, particularly when it's someone like Ace, who is clearly participating in the fabric of the neighborhood. In the same way that all gentrifiers should not be brushed with a broad stroke of indifference, the long term residents shouldn't be brushed with a broad stroke of intolerance or idiocy. As someone who is a Washingtonian who has worked hard for change and development in her neighborhood, I've met the people who exemplify the stereotypes (my new neighbors who called the police on my cousins because they were quietly sitting on the stoop, waiting to be let into my house and the lady across the street who pretty much cusses out any white person that crosses her path) and the people who defy them (my neighbor who brought over "extra" zucchini bread and people like Ace who volunteer at Tubman, even though they don't have kids who go there). I think the big objection to gentrification really lies in the quality of life issues that we all run into-- ones that are frequently based on miscommunication and negative assumption. Please don't assume that I've given up and accept the status quo just because I've lived here a long time. I will try to be enthusiastic about your new ideas and energy if you agree to say hi to me when I walk past you on the street.