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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