Friday, January 10, 2014

ABSOLUTE MUST READ: 'D.C.’s Lincoln Heights waits for renewal as city’s affordable-housing strategy languishes'

If you do nothing else today please take some time and read this Washington Post article. It is a lengthy piece but well worth it. If you live east of the river it should be mandatory reading.  An excellent piece of investigative journalism and hopefully an eye opener for those unfamiliar with the struggles facing east of the the river.

As I have said in numerous posts before I don't have a problem with low-income housing -- I would just like to see some jobs and amneties come along with all of that new low-income and "affordable" housing. Jobs, amenities, retail and services are needed to attract those work force incomes we need east of the river. It's not enough to just offer affordable housing for affordable housing sake. People want affordable housing near things. They want a walkable neighborhood. No one really wants to have to take three buses to go to the grocery store or to grab a bite to eat.

From the article:
“Everyone wanted to do this, but there was no evidence whatsoever that this plan would work,” said Neil Albert, who was Fenty’s deputy mayor of economic planning and development and later the city administrator. 
Lincoln Heights [in Deanwood] had the weakest case. Unlike the other three neighborhoods, there was no nearby train line or retail corridor. And there was very little developer interest.

Without a consumer base with disposable income developers will stay away.  All the best intentions in the world aren't going to make a bit of difference. Private developers are in the business of making a profit. Empty lots, vacant buildings, and bankrupt projects do not solve D.C.'s affordable housing crisis -- maybe on paper but not in real life. It definitely doesn't help revitalize disenfranchised communities like ours. Ward 7 and Ward 8 has the highest unemployment. We are desperately in need of living wage jobs and lots of them. It's ironic, the very thing we need east of the river (some higher wage earners to raise the income levels to attract investment) is the very thing that is keeping us from providing quality low-income and "affordable" housing to our residents. It's also keeping employers from relocating here.  Further proof we need a diverse income base now. We need a balance: income levels not so high that everyone is "priced out" (and lets be honest, that is a long way off for east of the river) but not so low either that no one wants to invest here significantly. The former may be a future possibility but the latter is our current reality.

To be fair this is a complicated problem. It is very much a "chicken or the egg" type of situation. The issues are so complex and so many even I am not sure how you can solve it. However, one thing I do know is that doing the same thing and expecting a different result won't work -- this article shows us in no uncertain terms that it is not working.

And on that very lengthy note I am going to try and refrain from editorializing further. One of these days I will learn just to post event announcements and cute pet pictures. ;)

Very interested in reader comments on this one. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE WEIGH IN!

Go HERE to read the full article in the Washington Post by Robert Samuels.

The New Communities Initiative was intended to solve a problem that has perplexed cities nationwide — how to make room for affluent newcomers in poor, mostly black communities without displacing the families already there. Four District housing projects and their surrounding neighborhoods were chosen to participate: Lincoln Heights in Deanwood, Park Morton in Park View, Barry Farm in Anacostia and Temple Courts, near NoMa. 
But the failure to execute the plan calls into question some of its founding assumptions — that the city could reengineer communities so that poor, working-class and affluent residents would live side by side in equal proportions, and that private developers would agree to invest in that vision. 
All four projects are riddled with problems and years behind schedule, prompting some housing officials to suggest scrapping the initiative and starting from scratch. In internal memos, city officials have almost doubled the timeline for its completion, from 2015 to 2023. 
In a sign that New Communities may become an issue in the mayoral race, candidate and D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) has been hammering the Gray administration in public meetings for its failure to fulfill the plan’s promise to low-income residents. Gray has made spreading the city’s prosperity to poor and working-class neighborhoods a cornerstone of his reelection campaign. 
While each of the four neighborhood plans is failing, Deanwood has fared the worst overall. 
There are no cranes here. There are no full-service supermarkets, sit-down restaurants, bars or banks. According to Urban Institute data between 2000 and 2012, the neighborhood was the only one of the four to become poorer during that period. The number of families on welfare rose 5 percent, to 2,764. The poverty rate climbed from 29 percent to 34 percent. 
Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue, the main thoroughfare, is barren but for a few gas stations, a 7-Eleven, two fast-food businesses, a dry cleaner and a man who sells barbecue on Fridays from a repurposed trash canister. 
“We need help,’’ said Malloy, 62, as she walked up and down the hilly neighborhood. “And it seems like no one cares.”

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