Housing Complex

Bull in Chinatown: Developer Tells Section 8 Tenants to Pay Up or Get Out


Last month, word spread among the residents of the Museum Square Apartments about a notice posted in the building informing them that they’d have to come up with $250 million or lose their homes. It wasn’t a ransom note or a mob warning, but to the tenants in the Mount Vernon Triangle residence, it might as well have been.

Everyone who lives at Museum Square, located at 401 K St. NW, receives a Section 8 housing subsidy from the federal government. Most of the residents are Chinese, and many are elderly, speak little English, and live on fixed incomes, often as low as a few hundred dollars a month.

“When we first realized that this was happening, we were panicking,” says Jianhong Wang, 76, who’s lived in the building for eight years. (Wang and the other Chinese residents spoke through an interpreter provided by the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, which is representing the Museum Square tenants.) “We couldn’t sleep at night.”

Museum Square tenants receive a project-based Section 8 subsidy. The residents all pay 30 percent of their income; the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development covers the rest of the rent. The building’s Section 8 contract is set to expire on Oct. 1, and last fall, the property owner, the Bush Companies of Williamsburg, Va., informed HUD of its intent not to renew the contract. Bush, listed on some documents as W. H. H. Trice & Company, which appears to share the same address, followed up with the notice to the tenants in June naming the price they’d have to pay to stay.

Under D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, when a property owner sells a building, the tenants have the right of first refusal to buy it, either themselves or through an agent like a developer. Typically, this means they’re able to match whatever price is offered by a prospective buyer—a price determined by the market. But the Museum Square case is unusual because the building owner isn’t planning to sell the property, but demolish it.

The law governing tenants’ right to purchase a building heading for demolition is murky. Before forcing a tenant to vacate a residence to tear it down, the D.C. Code states, “the owner shall give the tenant an opportunity to purchase the accommodation at a price and terms which represent a bona fide offer of sale.” The law doesn’t elaborate on what makes an offer “bona fide,” or what the owner has to do to justify the price.

By any reasonable measure, $250 million appears excessive, particularly since the city assessed the property’s value at just $36 million this year. With 302 apartments in the building, mostly one-bedrooms, Bush’s price amounts to $828,000 per unit. Even for the luxury buildings that have popped up elsewhere in Mount Vernon Triangle, that’d be a steep price. For rundown Museum Square, it strikes some residents as impossibly high, aimed not at attracting an offer from the tenants but at making them leave.

That was the reaction Vera Watson, a 59-year-old Museum Square resident who’s lived there for 32 years, had when she saw the notice posted in the building. “I thought they were calling our bluff,” she says.

Even to native English speakers with a legal background, the notice would have been difficult to decipher; to most Chinese Museum Square residents, it was inscrutable. “THIS OFFER OF SALE IS ISSUED WITH THE INTENTION OF ISSUING A 180 DAY NOTICE TO VACATE THE HOUSING ACCOMOTATION [sic] FOR DEMOLITION PERSUAND [sic] TO D.C. CODE SECTION 42-3503.01(G)(1),” read the key portion, in all caps. There is no paragraph (g)(1) in that section of the code—and besides, section 42-3503.01 concerns a defunct tenant assistance program from 1987 that has nothing to do with the issues facing Museum Square. (The errors, unfortunately for the tenants, probably aren’t enough to invalidate the notice.)

Calls to Bush and Trice were not returned. Department of Housing and Community Development spokesman Marcus Williams writes in an email, “DHCD has questions about the offer of sale terms and other matters relating to the owner’s opting out of its affordability contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is currently an open investigation which prohibits us from disclose any further information on this matter.”

Mount Vernon Triangle is one of several D.C. neighborhoods where rapid development and rising rents have given developers an incentive to replace longtime tenants, either on Section 8 or protected by rent control, with new ones who will pay much more. Sometimes it’s done through buyouts, where tenants are offered a lump sum to relocate, allowing the landlord to jack up the rent. Other times, property owners file for a so-called hardship petition that permits them to increase the rent beyond the usual rent-control limits in order to ensure a certain profit margin.

But if the Bush Companies are successful in clearing out and demolishing Museum Square, it could represent a new way for landlords in changing neighborhoods to increase their incomes—using exorbitant offers of sale with few legal safeguards. And in this case, there would be another adverse, and likely irreversible, impact: the dissolution of a sizable portion of what used to be a thriving Chinatown.


Wang’s one-bedroom apartment is com-pact and spare, but she’s lent it a hospitable feel, with family photos displayed in every available space. It was family that brought her to D.C.: Her daughter lived here, so she and her husband, Xiannong Yi, 82, followed in 1998.

“There’s no one in China anymore,” she says of her family. “Everyone’s in America. We really value sticking together as a family.”

Wang and Yi initially lived with their daughter and son-in-law but realized it wasn’t customary in America, as it was in China, for parents to live with their adult children. So they moved, first to a market-rent apartment with help from their son-in-law, who paid the rent, and then to Museum Square in 2007 so they’d no longer be a financial burden.

But they don’t know what they’ll do if Museum Square is demolished and they have to move.

“I don’t even know where to start looking,” says Wang, who’s daunted by even the physical prospect of relocating, given that she suffers from high blood pressure and Yi has thyroid cancer. “How am I supposed to know which buildings are low-income?”

The residents are left feeling helpless and frustrated with their second-class status in D.C. “We may not seem cultured, but in China we were very cultured,” says Chuan Xiu Ye, 74, who lives downstairs and joins us in Wang and Yi’s apartment over Taiwanese pineapple pastries. Wang, she notes, is a former teacher and the author of several published books. “Here in America, that’s all irrelevant.”

As Museum Square, whose residents were once predominantly black, has grown increasingly Chinese in recent years, the surrounding neighborhood has moved in the opposite direction. Displaced by development and rising costs and attracted by the immigrant population in the suburbs, the Chinese-born population of Chinatown has dropped to just a few hundred. There’s no longer a full-service Chinese grocery store, so residents regularly pile into a bus bound for the Great Wall Supermarket in Falls Church. The most visible sign of the neighborhood’s Chinese heritage, apart from the iconic arch at 7th and H streets NW, is the Chinese characters that adorn all the businesses there—stores like Urban Outfitters and Walgreens.

Around half of the remaining Chinese population in the neighborhood lives in Museum Square. Most of the remainder live at the nearby Wah Luck House at 6th and H streets NW. Wah Luck is also a project-based Section 8 building; its Section 8 contract is up for renewal next year. The rising property values and rents in the neighborhood could entice that building’s owner, Denver-based apartment giant Aimco, to follow the Bush Companies’ lead and convert Wah Luck into pricey market-rate units rather than renewing the contract with HUD.

If the Museum Square residents manage to purchase the building and prevent it from being demolished, it won’t be on their own. Instead, they’d have to find a developer willing to shell out $250 million and come to an agreement with the tenants to allow some or all of them to stay while upgrading the building. That’s likely to be very difficult, even in a neighborhood undergoing such rapid changes.

“While developers would be interested in theory, the price is making it prohibitive,” says Julie Becker of the Legal Aid Society, which, along with the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, is working with the Museum Square tenants. “I think it might otherwise be an extremely valuable project. But the price is just a huge obstacle.”

Even if a developer signs on, much of the Chinese population could be scattered. That’s because the developer would probably offer to undertake major renovations that could displace tenants temporarily, or offer buyouts to tenants in an effort to increase the rents in some apartments and turn a profit. Still, that’s better than sending every Museum Square tenant packing.

If the tenants can’t find a way to purchase the building, the D.C. Housing Authority would give them so-called enhanced vouchers, which allow them to remain in their building even if rents increase beyond the usual threshold for Section 8 subsidies. The trouble is that the building itself probably wouldn’t remain, so the enhanced vouchers wouldn’t do them much good. Instead, their vouchers would act like normal ones, enabling them to find housing elsewhere in the city, provided it falls under the rent limits allowed by the Section 8 program. Not only would the city permanently lose 302 units of affordable housing, but the Museum Square tenants would be thrust into a competitive market of voucher-holders and other low-income residents for the dwindling number of inexpensive apartments in the District.

That’s bad enough for the American-born residents of Museum Square, who’d likely have to vacate the central, safe, transit-accessible neighborhood for a more affordable one farther from downtown, after having endured much harder, scarier times in the once-impoverished area. “I’ve been here all my life,” says Khea Chambers, who’s lived at Museum Square for all of her 33 years. “I’ve been here when it was just dust. Who are you to tell me that it’s time to leave?”

But for the neighborhood’s Chinese community, the consequences could be more lasting. If Museum Square falls, potentially joined by Wah Luck, the Chinese population of Chinatown would all but vanish.

“I don’t want to dissolve this community,” says Yi. “If we leave, it will all fall apart.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • http://www.spacewel.com Bryan

    Real estate things are always have progressive rates in property dealing of property renting. But it should be ethical and accepted by all not to be forced for it.

  • http://www.kbdgroup.co.in/ Dasy

    This is right thing that 'Owner should give first chance to the tenant for purchase accommodation' But provided they have that much money to pay..

  • Colin

    So they were getting the majority of their rent paid by the rest of us, and now they won't anymore. Yeah, sorry, I'm not too sympathetic about that. Maybe they should move somewhere they can afford to pay the rent without a handout from the taxpayers.

  • drez

    Unless I misremember, this building, along with the Wah Luck House, houses the remaining majority of the Chinese who were displaced by the creation of the first convention center (now City Center DC) and the subsequent development of what is now been reduced to kitschy Chinablock.

  • lovessoldier

    Colin, how about you don't grow old.

  • Northwesterneer

    Love Soldier... we could discuss this at length... it's a dog eat dog world out there and I'm working like hell to make sure I don't end up living in an apartment when I'm 90. It meant putting aside $15k per year every year- money I could have spent on vacations and other fun things, because I need to save $2 million for retirement (which by the time I'm 90 ain't going to be worth what $2 million is today).

    And yes, there was a brief period of time where I had three jobs and many years where I had two.

    So, where does that leave people who didn't know that you had to have two jobs or have to save up $1-2 million for retirement? What happens to the dumb people?

    Love Soldier, I just don't know what the solution could possibly be to save dumb people.

  • lovessoldier

    Northwesterner, what happens to the people who come to this country seeking the American dream and work 20 hour days to provide for their families? What happens to those people that have been stricken by illness early on in life? I am one of those people who have worked 2 & 3 jobs to ensure that I too can retire, that didn't stop me from taking care of my elders who where not as fortunate as me to have education and migrated from the south when they were 14 to have a better life. It didn't stop Alzheimers from wiping out their savings. So DUMB really doesn't apply. Check your self righteousness at the door, you don't know their story....

  • RT

    Since when did renters (subsidized no less) become owners in this country? I typically like Aaron's article, but this one is just overly sympathetic in tone and cherry-picking of sob stories.

    I've been a renter all my life. I don't think I can and should be able to influence the property OWNER'S rights to do what they want with their property. It's a pretty perverse world we live in that an owner can be held captive by folks who are using government money (ie our taxpayer money) to pay their rent and have a tacit ownership interest in. Should I stop saving for a down payments? I'm no republican or conservative either, but sometimes we tend towards excess and really benefit a small group of folks at the expense of all others INCLUDING lower middle class and middle class, who have to pay their own freight for everything (healthcare, housing, food, etc).

  • Colin

    What does growing old have to do with anything? Is it a secret that if we live long enough that we will all grow old? Did these people not know? Are you entitled to live wherever you want if you are old enough?

    Like Northwesterneer, I'm saving as much as possible so if and when I grow old I will be prepared and not have to live off the rest of you. But tell you what, if you feel this strongly, feel free to mail all of these people a check so they don't have to move. I promise I won't try to stop you.

  • MikenotIke

    I wish the city could require the replacement building to have 302 affordable housing units in whatever replacement goes up.

  • Sob story

    I see Aaron's bleeding heart has driven him to cherry pick information, and flgrantly ignore the rest.

    Yes, the property is assessed at 36 million. Why? Couple reasons. It's registered as a section 8 building which keeps its assesible tax value low, and the building is a POS, which further lowers its value, so your per unit calculation is highly flawed as the buildings underlying zoning and FAR allows far more units if redeveloped.

    Half that value, 17 million is the land. The complex is on a two acre parcel, meaning the land is currently valued at about 8.5 million an acre.

    The new apartment building literally across the street are on a 17,000 sf parcel whose land value is assesed at 13 million, or 33 million an acre which is the true market value.

    Point being, the land alone under this section 8 complex is worth about 65 million all by its self, but hey, lets not let facts, logic or reason get in the way of a manufactured sob story.

  • Kes

    $15K/year in retirement savings must add a real nice sense of security. Too bad for those poor bastards who only make $30K or less a year, huh? They shouldn't have had the temerity to be born or move into a city that twenty or thirty years later went thru not one but two real estate booms that outstrip all rational expectations of inflation or development. Suckers, just move to VA or something! You're of no more use here in the new DC.

    The callousness of these comments is disgusting. I'm more than happy for my tax-dollars to subsidize the retirements of Ms Wang, Mr Yi, and all their co-tenants. I don't want to live in a society that tosses people out on the street when their earning years are behind them. HUD should step in and work with the landlord and tenants to re-locate these people, if no agreement about keeping them at Museum Square can be reached.

  • sbc

    ok, sob story, let's say the land is worth $65 million. How do you get to the tenants needing to come up with $250m to stay? How do you balance that with the fact that there aren't any developers willing to offer even close to that?

    The article didn't say the tenants want a discount on the property. They just don't want to pay way more than it's worth, simply because the owners decided to demolish the building and sell the lot instead of selling the lot with the building still on it.

  • Sob story


    Reading comprehension is key. There was no developer willing to pay 250 million AND keep the current tenants.

    On the open market, or under a redevelopment scenario the parcel is worth substantially more depending on its FAR allowances. The two buildings (City Vista literally adjacent), and the apartments across the street, both recently redeveloped are proof of that.

    Why keep a run down building of 302 units that likely costs a fortune to maintain where you can't make any money, when you can redevelop, have 350-400 units and ~20,000 sf of ground floor retail which pays ~$40/sf in rents?

    And I am all for a "safety net", but the folks that live here have long exhausted that. There are folks who live in the building who have been in the US for decades and still can't speak english. Are they even citizens? Why is HUD paying their rent at all?

  • jorge

    @Kes, I think those commenters must be the building owners. They sound like conservative jerks, not like typical City Paper commenters.

  • Typical DC BS

    jorge - no, the commenters like Northwesterneer and Sob story are REALISTS who understand that depending on the GOVERNMENT to pay your way is UN-AMERICAN. If you have medical or mental issues, everybody understands and is willing to see the government help out (and use our tax money to do so).
    Part of being an ADULT is to realize you need to save money for your retirement AND in case hard times befall you. Being an adult means you need to educate yourself so you are capable of finding employment that will allow you to SURVIVE.
    The only "jerks" are the ones commenting here and whining about the owners of the building, not the tenants who have spent DECADES on the public dole.

  • Kes

    I'd much rather have them on the dole than have to walk over their huddled bodies on the sidewalk. I Do Not Understand how it could be more virtuous to up and die when your money runs out than turn to your society for help when times are bad. I love me my mortgage interest deduction, and I'm grateful that society has decided to subsidize my home-ownership. That's taking funds from the public. Does that make me a jerk? Do all the development contract deals and tax subsidies these developers get from the city and the federal government make them jerks? Why just these poor bastards who can't afford to keep pace with the preposterous rate of rents in downtown DC in the last five years, when they've lived here all their lives? All of us are subsidized in one way or another. I guess some subsidies are just More Equal Than Others, huh?

  • Northwesterneer

    Kes, Let's be clear, everyone in the world knew that DC's real estate was criminally under-priced between the riots of 1968 and the arrival of Sharon Pratt Kelly. Every single friend of mine in the late 1980s and early 1990s would talk about scraping together money to buy property because of the inevitable and projected, gold rush.

    These were the Liberals. The conservatives in the 1980s were saying "Move to Manassas, they're fewer minorities."

    The only reason people would not know they had to buy property to be able to stay in the city (and not be forced to move) would be if they were either unwilling to listen or incapable of understanding.

    In the last century, every old person we knew warned us about the Great Depression and how we had to hold two jobs if necessary, save 25% of our incomes, buy real estate so we wouldn't be homeless, save for your kids' colleges.

    Then all of the sudden 20 years ago parents were like- I'm not saving for my kids' college because she's a genius and will get a scholarship. Um, no, no they won't. So, the baby boomers don't save for their kids college tuition and suddenly instead of parents paying for their own kids tuitions, the kids are taking out loans!!! What sense does it make for a kid to take out their OWN school loan that their parents should be paying??? Well all of the sudden in 20 years we have a college loan problem that didn't exist when adults paid for their children's education.

    None of these things are surprises. The residents of these apartment buildings should have been prepared to move to cheaper Southern or Desert cities 20 years ago- that's why New Yorkers retire to Florida, they would sell their condo for $200k in the 80s and buy a house for $60k.

    What part of, you can't retire in the most expensive city in the country don't people understand?

  • Nick

    Ummm Colin/Sob Story, developers get a hell of a lot more handouts from taxpayers then low-income residents ever do (and i might add don't need it) and many find ways to get out of paying property taxes. Many of these developers/owners because of their Section 8 tenants received substantial subsidies and tax breaks (we're talking tens to hundreds of millions)in the process of buying and/or developing the property and the infrastructure around it so it's only fair that they honor these social contracts or at least provide reasonable accommodations to help these vulnerable people get situated. A random notice on your window saying pay up or get lost is not the way to do it.

  • Really?

    I can’t anymore with ya’ll.

    We pay for bike lanes, doggie parks, the street car to nowhere, gave grants to H street business for shuttle service for drunks during construction, home owners get tax deductions for owning a home and for going green. But ya’ll poor folks need to get to steppin.

    No, what we like is a bunch of winey people who throw snowballs and arrange bike protest and blog about links where they are sooooo outrage b/c some columnist called us twits and bike terrorist.

    “Around half of the remaining Chinese population in the neighborhood lives in Museum Square.”

    Did that line not sink in? A piece of the community will be dismantlement. I guess the Museum Square residents are behind the eight ball when it comes to blogging.

    This community has withstood so much. From the transgender prostitutes to the drugs and drunks, and even the seedy patrons of Louis lounge. Many of you wouldn’t have walked 5 inches down K street 10 maybe 15 years ago. But of course the poor who live next door don’t count. No sir it’s only those poor unfortunate souls that you worked with in South American during Peace Corps that that get your empathy.

    All cities should include diversity economically and culturally. I like walking around Mt. Vernon Square and 7th street and seeing Asian, African Americans and Caucasians living together. I love seeing the Asian and African-American moms cross 9th street to walk their children to school each morning.

    But, noooooooo. Ya’ll want to sit and judge a group of mostly elderly individuals who more than likely are first generation immigrants for not becoming consultants, lawyers, judges or doctors. Sorry Mr. Yi that you had to work two and three jobs, but you didn’t make the right choices, so go on now and run along and find you a new place far-far away. Sorry you won’t know anybody but you will make it.

    Sorry Mr. Yi, we want to give tax credits to developers so Sarah, Kate and David who are piling up to live on top of the Safeway can drink and party and that is what is important. Yeah that’s who we want. They won’t stay and build a community. In fact when they have adult responsibilities like marriage and children they have the option to move back to Iowa. Live with mom and dad, where it’s cheaper and they have a safety net.

    Beating up on the poor is so easy. It really is. And what many of these comments show is that ya’ll parents did a S tity ass job raising some of you. And they can't fly south if they don't have no dough.

  • getoyt

    After reading comments: I thought this was the City Paper not Gentrifiers Journal--take your bikes and leave DC.

  • getoyt

    Sobstory--reading comprehension; the DC code requires that the tenants match the price which happens to be $250 million. DAH! You really aren't going to make it in the world...take your bike and go home to live with your parents. And RT "renters become owners" by DC law "tenant purchase rights"--actually that's how you got your apartment--life long DC residents were pushed out by developers because they didn't have $888k to pay for a one bedroom apt.

  • Colin

    "We pay for bike lanes, doggie parks, the street car to nowhere, gave grants to H street business for shuttle service for drunks during construction, home owners get tax deductions for owning a home and for going green."

    If it makes you feel better, I also oppose the street car (buses are far more cost effective), government grants to businesses and home tax credits (and I'm a homeowner). Bike lanes and dog parks seem like public goods that only government can provide, so I am for them (even though I don't have a dog).

    "Beating up on the poor is so easy. It really is."

    No, saying that we should give them money is what's easy. It really is. You come off like a caring good person at zero personal cost. It's cheap compassion, since you're really not putting any of your own money on the line, but rather just arguing how other people's money should be spent. Again, for all of you who find this unjust, mail these people checks.

  • Kes

    I really don't see what 90s parents failing to adequately plan for college expenses that outstrip inflation by a factor of 10 has to do with Section 8 tenants being forced out to make way for yuppie-tailored redevelopment with ludicrously inflated purchase prices (granting the land of Museum Square is worth $65 mil fair market value, where's the other $185 mil come from?)

    But I digress: You have to be willfully blind to what's been going on in this city to think that there isn't a city-wide housing crisis for people who make less than $30K or $40K a year (yeah, they still exist!). Why do you think the shelter system is vastly overpopulated right now? The DC city wait list for affordable housing was so long, they gave up any pretense and just closed it. You don't have to undergo a thorough analysis of census data, housing stock, rising rents, and poverty levels city-wide to see that affordable housing is evaporating beneath people and being flipped into micro-units for single young professionals. Minimum wage workers, poor families with children, retirees and unemployed people won't (and can't) just all move to Florida or Detroit because you think they should. The city is rapidly becoming a place where people who can't afford $1500+/month rents have literally no options, and eliminating 302 affordable units with no plan to replace them anywhere is just one more speck of sand on that mountain.

    A city is made up of people, not buildings. Commenters love to disparage "Chinablock" and the "Times-Squarification" of Chinatown & DC generally, but when one of the last bastions of the old neighborhood population is literally slated to be demolished, all you can do is whine that they ought to have planned their retirements better.

  • Daddy Grace Fish Sandwich

    Gentrification at its best. DC is a hot real estate market and only the rich can afford to live here. Lower class people must move out or move down South maybe to Mississippi or Alabama.

  • http://dcha lorriaine

    the worse thing you can do is put seniors out in the street!!! god dont like ugly you better pray you dont never loose those millions you have and hope you never need a helping hand because you rip what you so people are struggling trying to make ends meet as it is and you putting people out in the street thats not write you better hope that dont none of those tenants snap on you

  • WhiteinCongressHeights

    Well, that's the issue with Renting. It's not your home or your place, so things like this CAN happen. If the owner wants to sell or tear it down, he can.

    If you wanted a place you can live forever without fear of being pushed out - then BUY a place.

    There are HUNDREDS of really affordable condos and apartments less than 100k in the city. EAST OF THE RIVER. I moved EOTR so i could afford something that I could call my own and stop renting. They can do.

    Or they can take their section 8 voucher and go somewhere else.

  • Mike

    Colin, I'm not sure if I agree with you or not but I can sure tell you're a smug, self-righteous a-hole.

  • Kes

    I call BS WhiteinCongressHeights. Maybe it was like that a few years ago, but the market has moved on. The only houses I see for less than $100K EOTR are shells in need of serious rehab. There are a handful of condos and apartments in the $60-$80K range, but half of those are short sales, and vanishingly few look to be in walkable neighborhoods with accessible transit or nearby stores. Plus they all have HOA dues of $200-$300 & property taxes, which will only keep going up, hard for someone on a fixed income to keep up with year after year. So say 25 Museum Square tenants get it together and buy up all those condos. What happens to the other 225?

    (And that's leaving aside the challenges someone using a Section 8 voucher would face getting even an FHA loan approved. A 3% downpayment of $2,000 on a 60K apartment is likely completely out of reach for them. And we're talking about people who don't speak English as a first language and probably aren't savvy to programs that would assist with downpayments and other expenses associated with moving and closing on a home. All of these "move to Mississippi! Buy a cheap condo!" suggestions assume a healthy cushion of a few thousand bucks to cover those costs. These people don't *have* that cushion, or they wouldn't qualify public housing assistance to begin with.)

  • Really?

    @Colin…Really? So Sparky having a place to piss, poop, and play is public good, but Mr. Lee having an affordable apartment isn’t? Child please!

    I’m a homeowner, my mother and grandparents are homeowners (who by the way live in Mt. Vernon Sq) so, our checks are mailed twice to D.C. gov’t per year for real estate taxes and on April 1st. And that’s just for starters on what I pay into my community.

    I bet you were running around last Friday waving your flag and drinking your beer hollering how wonderful American is and how great it is to be a melting pot. But, it all changes the next day when those in that melting pot don’t got the same dough.

    A piece of the community is slated to be gutted for good and I think it’s worth fighting to find a way to have them stay. The District gives millions to build a baseball stadium and it looks like a soccer stadium (that will mostly like be vacant 9 months of the year). Why not help those who have participated in the community? Why turn our backs because they don’t make enough to pay $2k for 1 bedroom. Why don’t they deserve to enjoy seeing the good times too?

    This whole story is starting to remind of how the Indians were forced to move onto reservations.

    @whiteincongressheights... true statements but the bigger issue is that the folks living in this apt building more than likely can't afford a condo, even in S.E.

  • Northwesterneer

    Look, It's easy, it's really easy to step back and say that I've become a troll on this site. I get it.

    The number one issue I have with much of these discussions is that right wing people do not move to DC. Right wingers stay deep in Fairfax County or maybe never move to the DC region at all. This is always a disagreement among Democrats.

    But here's what I can't handle.

    In 1981 I met and became fascinated with Mitch Snyder. There was a strong voice for the inner-city and the homeless. I got on board because homelessness in the numbers we had in the early 80s, was new. Reagan had screwed up all the safety nets. I had to do something, and I volunteered and marched. I pressured politicians to set up shelters. All of my friends did the same.

    Only, instead of solving the homeless issue, I have since found out there are people who spent time in shelters as kids that I helped promote AND then they went back to these shelters when they lost apartments they had.

    In other words, by helping to create the shelters, I completely failed to help the poor.

    I saw the poverty and said- that will never happen to me- I once worked a full time day job, a frequent night job, and had a weekend contracting job, working 7 days a week to save up to buy a car, and then to qualify for the best mortgage I could put together.

    Other people saw that poverty and returned to the shelters... as if it was NORMAL to do so.

    Does it feel like we're speaking two different languages? Does it feel like there's a war on the poor?

    What about a friend of mine with a trust fund? His grandparents set him up with a trust fund and instead of pushing himself to create great things, he spent ten years in a band and working in a record store. His trust fund was supposed to be a safety net, but it became his crutch. What if I have the same complaints about him not fending for himself that I have about Section 8 housing? What if the rich snot who doesn't work for himself, and the poor person who doesn't work for himself really match the same personality trait I dislike?

    Think about it from my perspective. I gave and gave and gave for 20 years and realized that it didn't do anyone any good. So for the last 10 years I've searched for an alternative to the handouts and not found any.

  • Northwesterneer

    A city is made up of people, not buildings. Commenters love to disparage "Chinablock" and the "Times-Squarification" of Chinatown & DC generally, but when one of the last bastions of the old neighborhood population is literally slated to be demolished, all you can do is whine that they ought to have planned their retirements better.

    Chinatown is NOT an "old neighborhood!" Chinatown was created in the 1980s because of some of these apartment buildings, but the REAL Chinatown in DC moved to Rockville, MD in the 1950s.

    Washington, DC never had a real Chinatown and never had a Little Italy, never had a Polish Section, no Russian neighborhood, and only areas like Mt Pleasant were DP neighborhoods- DP meaning Displaced Persons- which was the grouping of Eastern Europeans who moved into, you know, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other cities starting in 1938 when they were displaced by war and the Holocaust.

    DC never had a neighborhood like that.

    Chinatown has no history here. Seriously. It came out of Mayor Barry cronyism and some powerful restauranteurs in the 1980s.

    DC, It's a Capital City.

  • Northwesterneer

    If Chinatown in DC is an old neighborhood, why are all the photos from the 1930s and 40s in that area of German restaurants and the Goethe Institute?

  • Kes

    I don't see how promoting shelters that people have rotated thru is "failing to help the poor". I mean, some shelters are better than none, right? Even if the paths to affordable long-term housing are still shakey or unavailable.

    I also don't see a person on public assistance (be it WIC, Section 8, TANF, or whatever) and think, "Hey, that person *isn't working*! Lazy leech!" I think, "Hey, that person clearly can't make it on their own. I'm glad we as a society decided that people in that position should be helped out." Articles I've read say that programs like TANF are actually pretty effective at helping families get thru rough spots like losing a job or a major health crisis, and most people who use the program shift off it in a few years. Just because there are more people waiting who need it doesn't make it an ineffective program. To my mind, it demonstrates that the program is providing a needed service.

    The chronically poor are obviously in a bit of a different situation. Why did they lose their apartments? Did they lose their jobs? Were they struggling with addictions? Did their support cut off and they couldn't afford the place on their own? Shelters are a necessary last-resort, but without a comprehensive work-training, financial education, substance-abuse counseling and follow-up, it is not really surprising that people raised in shelters as children have difficulty maintaining a residence as adults.

    And how is your trust fund buddy not working for himself? Bumming around in a band doesn't say to me that he wasn't trying to create "great things", just that he failed at it. Plenty of people do, no shame in trying. And working in a record store is still working. Using a trust-fund to finance a lifestyle that a record-store income can't support seems to me to be the *point* of a trust fund. Do you really think your buddy would be a happier more productive person if he'd decided to be an investment banker? I don't have a trust fund, but I did achieve things I couldn't have done on my own steam, like homeownership & college tuition, thanks to gifts from relatives. Just because my bootstraps aren't entirely my own doesn't mean I'm not independent and productive *now*. I don't think anyone is really "self-made" and I don't think availing yourself of other people's resources that are freely offered, be they a relative's or the government's, is a moral failing.

  • Kes

    What is a "real" Chinatown? One with lots of Chinese residents and establishments where you can buy Chinese food and goods you can't get anywhere else? So DC's isn't as old or big as NYC's or San Fran's, so what? The community still exists. Those people are still here (for now...). And the 1980s was along time ago, from my perspective. How old does it have to be before it is authentic enough?

    (Wouldn't mind a good German restaurant downtown tho, now that you mention it... mmmm, schnitzel.)

  • Johuann

    Northwesterner, you had me believing you might have roots in DC until you stated that Chinatown was a Marion Barry 1980s invention. There's a hundred years of history behind DC's Chinatown. It used to be in the Federal Triangle near the Central Market. In one of the more intriguing real estate plays of the century, land was quietly assembled and the community moved en masse to H Street when it became plain that the feds would redevelop the old neighborhood.

    When I moved here in 1976, Eye St was mostly Chinese-occupied townhouses from 5th to 10th. A lot of the community was wiped out by the old Convention Center, now City Place, and later the International Square. That's around the time they housed some of the displaced in these apartment houses like Wah Luck. So Nw'er, the Marion Barry arch was just a later chapter in the story of DC's Chinatown. I do agree the metro DC's Chinatown has been in Rockville for the last 40 years.

    Very interesting collection of posts here from bleeding hearts to chest-thumping self made men. Does society owe the least among us a place to live? Just consider that even the busy bees socking away $15K a year are one bad accident away from being wiped out by a debilitating medical problem. Would you expect then to be treated the way you've treated others? As one commentator said 'you don't know their story'.

  • Northwesterneer


    I did not see the Chinese community there prior to the move to the Wah Luck House and I remember people moving from other parts of the city to there, but now that you bring up the convention center construction, I recall that too.

    The urban renewal in Southwest could fill a book- I have heard from people born in Southwest that the Southwest Chinatown wasn't much, but that's before my time. Actually, almost everyone I know who was born prior to WWII in DC was born in Southwest- it was a huge neighborhood. However, it was so slummy- it was "the wrong side of the tracks" and you know where the tracks were in SW- they're still there pretty much.

    I worked with developers when I was young prior to the erection of the arch and... I got most of my information on the arch from them- but they themselves moved here in the 1950s. Additionally, I was around Carol Schwartz and others who were pretty sarcastic about Barry. Barry did many things like the arch- I presume you got my reference to his weak "DC, It's a Capital City" campaign- which have mixed histories and results. After Chinatown I know he talked about the Nehemiah Center and other tax money boondoggles which never panned out. Can't remember when he built the Reeves Center- before or after the arch. But at the time it felt like he was using city funds to open commercial enterprises that felt artificial that no one wanted- like Brutalist architecture- they sounded good on paper but the human experience of the Nehemiah Center was- keep driving and do not stop.

    It's living through that, and realizing that there's no proof that the government intervention did much good, that makes me balk at it now.

    In the end, though, if 1974 was 40 years ago, maybe that is a definition of "old" that I don't want to admit to.

    It reminds me of an elderly woman many years ago who told me to visit Meridian Hill Park. Malcolm X Park? I asked her. No, she entoned, he was... not a Christian. It was Meridian Hill park when we used to go there and that's what we call it. Now, years later, Courtland Milloy just claimed that Millenial White Kids changed the name of the park...

  • Daniel


    I disagree with your perspective on this, but I take the most issue with your "Washington, DC never had a real Chinatown and never had a Little Italy..." comment. As someone who's a fourth-generation Washingtonian, I call complete and utter bullshit on that. Tell that to my father, and his parents, and grandparents who lived in a heavily Italian neighborhood around Eckington. Just because it wasn't there when you moved here in the 80s doesn't mean you know everything. Making shit up /pretending like you know everything about things like that really cheapens everything else you say.

  • kneejerk

    Daniel, I think you just made Northwesterner's point. No one ever said DC never had ethnic enclaves or neighborhoods, but none of DC's commercial areas were as lasting and identifiably ethnic as almost every other big city has. If your grandparents' Italian Eckington could be wiped away without a trace by the 80s, well, that's not what we are talking about here.

  • Sally

    I think that DC needs to keep the affordable housing that exists downtown, particularly for senior citizens. Who needs another luxury studio tower for myopic little twits, with another wine bar and Five Guys underneath??

  • Alan

    Sob Story,

    You are clearly not in the real estate business. The underlying land may well be worth $65 million. The structure of top of it is certainly not worth $185 million. No matter how you play with the numbers, $250 million for that property is an absurd over-valuation. Anyone who says otherwise knows nothing about real estate in this city. Stop trying to justify a valuation that is absurd.

  • Alan


    Please read the thread more carefully before you comment. You say "No one ever said DC never had ethnic enclaves or neighborhoods," yet in his 7/11/14 comment at 12:12, Northwesterner *clearly* wrote: "Washington, DC never had a real Chinatown, and never had a Little Italy, never had a Polish Section, no Russian neighborhood" which is indeed the functional equivalent of saying "DC never had ethnic enclaves or neighborhoods". If you don't read the thread thoroughly before you jump in, everyone has to reiterate points that were already made that you could have found on your own.

  • VikkiR.

    I am so shocked and upset to see this anti-social crime happening in D.C.'s Chinatown.
    All over this City, important flavor and neighborhood personality are disappearing.
    Adams-Morgan is suffering in a similar fashion, and businesses are dying, as a result.
    We need to set up some protest events, as we did years ago, before we lost Dr. King. Lets organize a March to "Promote Individuality & Creativity"!!! A good Society is supposed to allow for all sorts of people, places and things to interact, that's what "Society" is...Interaction is an absolute must. If we allow our many flavored City to be "plasticized", & lose it's multicultural flavor,then D.C. will cease to resemble a feast prepared by an experienced chef, with appetizers, various breads, and vast choices of desserts.Instead our town will only have the elegance and ambiance of a paper-wrapper MickyD burger.
    Such a food smells far more like the Texas Bush dinner table than the Obama dinner table.

  • HUD subsidizes the owner

    HUD subsidizes the OWNERS - not the tenants. If market rent in Mt Vernon is $1900/mo for a 1-BR and the tenant pays only 30% of his income (example $300/month); HUD gives the remaining $1600 per month to the CORPORATE OWNER (ya know, the millionaire that wouldn't step foot in his own property). $10.5 billion of HUD's budget (every year) goes to these Section 8 OWNERS... not the tenants.

  • economist

    congratulations, that's the stupidest comment in this whole thread.

    Because $1900/month is a "market" rate, in the absence of Section 8 the owner would have filled the apartment with a rent-paying customer and collected $1900/month. The owner gets the exact same amount of money with the Section 8 program. So who gets the benefit of Section 8? The renter who only has to pay $300/month to live in a nice $1900/month apartment.

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