Thursday, December 19, 2013

How can Ward 8 income levels increase when jobs aren't coming here?

It's a simple question but the answer seems elusive. As income levels west of the river continue to climb so does access to more jobs, amneties, housing and quality retail.

But when you cross the Anacostia river it is an entirely different story.  The median income for workers in our zip code (20032) is $27,211 according to data from the 2011 Census Bureau. If you include the people who are not working you can bring that number down even further to $17,608.

Just let that sink in for a minute. Now think about that from the perspective of a developer or a retailer.

Not encouraging is it?

I've lived in Ward 8 since 2007 and the last time I was aware of a large scale job opportunity here in the ward was in 2008 when the Giant on Alabama Avenue opened. That was FIVE years ago!

Our problem in a nutshell: Ward 8's high unemployment has led to depressed income levels which keep away job opportunities which in turn keep the income levels depressed. The only things currently being built in Ward 8 in any significant numbers are more low-income and "affordable" rental housing developments. Unfortunately they are not coming with any stores or jobs in which to employ the people we have here now. And so we have even more people "waiting on the 8th" without job opportunities close by to lift themselves out of poverty. At the risk of pointing out the obvious the last place an unemployed (or underemployed person for that matter) should want to live is in Ward 8 -- there are no jobs here!

If the possibilities of "gentrification" cause anxiety, the realities of  the very real "ghetto-fication" of east of the river communities cause outright terror.

If the recent investment of millions of dollars in new low-income and "affordable" housing is any indication we are doing the opposite of good common sense. Right now it feels as if DC's focus is on moving low-income and unemployed people farther and farther away from jobs and job opportunities. If the jobs are west of the river why are we pushing unemployed and underemployed people east of the river? Why are we trapping the people who are here now in a cycle of unemployment and poverty? Why are we attracting people with the most need to the place with the least amount of resources?

What sense does that make?

Aaron Wiener of Housing Complex pointed out where the bulk of those new "affordable" rental housing units are going. Notice a trend?
"The initial $100 million, says Trueblood, was largely budget-surplus money that was being dedicated to the Housing Production Trust Fund to increase and improve D.C.'s affordable housing stock. But the additional money comes from sources like D.C.'s deed transfer and recordation taxes and the federal government that were always earmarked for affordable housing. Gray's announcement this morning wasn't a promise of new funding, but rather a description of where that funding is going. 
So where is it going? Below is a list of the projects that'll receive these affordable housing dollars between now and the end of the next fiscal year through the Department of Housing and Community Development. The biggest beneficiary projects are So Others Might Eat's Benning Road development (198 units), the vacant Parkway Overlook complex near Anacostia (183 units), and the Gregory Apartments in Washington Highlands (124 units)—all east of the Anacostia River—along with eight buildings currently undergoing Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act negotiations (1,139 units)."

West of the river has an "affordable" housing problem. East of the river has an unemployment problem. Fixing west of the river's problem is not fixing our problem -- if anything it is making our problem worse.  Right now the plan is just exporting low income people over the bridge. The number of  D.C.'s "affordable" housing units rise -- but those units are going east of the river where there are no jobs and few services.  I'm not sure if those housing advocates really know how hard it is to get a job here, to travel to our lone grocery store, or the hundreds of little things that make live west of the river so convenient. If they did they may not see those new units as such a big win. True, it keeps people technically "in the city" but on the very edges of our borders and right outside of economic prosperity.

Do we really want the poor to have a shot at the American dream or are we building a permanent underclass?

So how do we fix this? How do we fix it now? Because to be honest if something is not done soon things are only going to get worse before it gets better.

If you don't have an answer on what needs to be done to raise the income levels, maybe you have an idea of what needs to stop that is making the situation worse?

As always, feel free to comment anonymously or under a screen name but please indicate where you live.

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Anonymous said...

You are operating on the flawed premise that people must work where they live. Congress Heights and Anacostia are easily accessible to the downtown core by transit. These places are no further away from downtown than parts of Upper NW. Not many jobs in Spring Valley either.

The problem is not the lack of jobs in Ward 8 per se, although it certainly could use more. The central problem is the ward's lack of appeal to higher income households, who could easily live in Ward 8 and commute downtown but won't. Attract these people, and then the amenities you seek will follow.

Anonymous said...

what's the solution? should i vote republican next time? sh** did i say this?!?!
well, what's the 100M+ surplus doing for me and where is coming from? - my taxes, deed recording fat 2%. Just to put that money where least needed? and how much that will help the poor to break the cycle?
the DC government should be put on a tax diet so no more fully loaded suvs or housing projects to generate convenient electorate.
how about the poor? - hey this is the land of the opportunities. take advantage of it -even an illegal immigrant will tell you so.
you can call me heartless.

DaReslnt1 said...

Realistically, most people in the DC area do not work where they live, there is some sort of commute to work. Most of these people lack the ambition, motivation and skills to obtain jobs that pay livable wages.

Where there is a will, there is a way, but if I didn't have to pay for food, shelter, healthcare plus collect a disability check......I would not necessarily be looking for a job.

Anonymous said...

I agree totally with anon 3:29.

Anonymous said...

While many people do not live right where they work, I disagree with your premise that it is easy to get downtown. For me to take public transportation from Fairlawn to NW DC, it takes at least 2-3 transfers and an hour or more to travel what you can drive (or even bike) in 20-30 minutes maximum.

Anyway, arguing about where people work discounts the fact that there are fewer amenities in the Anacostia/Congress Heights area. In upper northwest, there are plenty of restaurants and stores (grocery and other). More shopping opportunites would increase the quality of life for people living here. I don't want to need to get in a car everytime I want to go grocery shopping, I'd rather walk to something close by that offers quality food options.

Anonymous said...

I am the original commenter replying to the most recent post. I think the comparisons btw Ward 8 and NW are not useful. Ward 8 is in no way comparable to the parts of NW with development and amenities. Ward 8's problems are multifaceted, complex and intractable. It is not just a matter of getting a few stores. There is no simple public policy fix. Simply put, Ward 8 is not attractive to most higher wage earners (and upscale businesses). This is not to say that people in the ward are bad. Indeed, most are hard working, decent people. But the fact remains that those with means tend to live elsewhere. I don't know how one fixes this, but a starting point is to acknowledge the scope of the problem. Ward 8 has difficult issues tied to deeply entrenched poverty. A new grocery store is not going to change that.

Anonymous said...

Just as it is valuable to ask real ward 8 residents about ward 8, I think it would be helpful to ask the newcomers to Anacostia why they decided to come. There are some higher income newcomers to Anacostia, perhaps they may have insights into what would entice other higher income folks to come eotr. Maybe the city could commission a study that would guide it in enticing newcomers, who in turn, would entice retailers (assuming it hasn't already commissioned such a study). I suppose I fit the profile of such a person. I bought because Sheridan Station offered reasonably spacious new construction with immediate proximity to the metro and close proximity to the Navy Yard neighborhood. I suggest that the city help develop the areas close to metros- such as Congress Heights and market them to middle income folks in and close to DC, esp people in apts near metro stations.