What Marion Barry and Campus Neighbors Have in Common
As has been amply noted, D.C.'s a hot apartment market right now: Rents are sky high, and new rental buildings are going up all over the city. In fact, it's one of the only forms of real estate development that really has a crack at financing these days.
But not everybody loves apartment dwellers. Over and over and over again, I've heard homeowners grumble about the prospect of a bunch of renters coming into their neighborhoods; people almost universally prefer condos. Take ANC 2A's objection to rentals at Eastbanc's West End Project. From the anti-internet Northwest Current:
But neighbors worry apartments could attract more undergraduates to a community already saturated with students. Condos, commissioner Asher Corson said, would appeal to a base of residents who are more committed to remaining in the community and engaging in local issues. "The consensus is that condos provide more benefit to the community than rentals," he said.
(Corson, a 2007 alumnus of George Washington University himself, says he owns his condo). Then, of course, there's Burleith's opposition to more students at Georgetown University, mostly on the grounds of real estate devaluation. In response to the Washington Post's editorial on the subject, Burleith Citizens Association president Lenore Rubino wrote:
The most serious consequence of this dramatic expansion is the conversion of single-family, residential row houses into transient student group rental homes. Of the 535 houses in Burleith, for example, 166, or almost one-third, are student group rentals. In the next ten years, if only 30 additional graduate or undergraduate students come to live in Burleith, there could easily be a loss of ten or more houses.
It's telling that she considers rental houses to be "losses." As if the people who inhabit them could not possibly be constructive members of a community.
Opposition to rentals isn't just a wealthy, Northwest phenomenon. Councilmember Marion Barry proposed—and is still pushing—to ban new apartment buildings in Ward 8 entirely. He agrees with the Burleithians and West Enders that people who rent don't have the same stake in their community. But Barry also thinks that renters are the most susceptible to being pushed out as gentrification advances, and that the best way to prepare these neighborhoods for the onslaught is to make them all into homeowners.
It saddens me to see this antipathy towards the 52 percent of D.C. residents who, according to the 2010 census, rent instead of own. It costs a crapload of money to buy real estate in this town, and banks aren't exactly throwing money at people without impeccable credit. What's more, housing demand is trending towards rentals: According to a new study from the Center for Regional Analysis, the District would need about 76,000 new apartments if it were to house all the new people with jobs in the city by 2030, and only 46,000 new for-sale units.
And besides, people who rent are also those who bring a city much of its dynamism: They may not be around forever, but while they are, they'll buy things and go out to eat and patronize art. They are no less capable of participating in their neighborhood associations, forming communities of interest, and maybe buying when it makes sense financially.
Perhaps this is an obvious point. That makes it even more surprising to encounter so much distaste for anything other than single family homes.