Repost from Jan 2014
I had written a long editorial in support of this amazing and insightful TED talk by Rodney Byrnes but in the end I deleted it. I decided it really wasn't necessary to address something that I have covered at length on this blog. Those that know, already know.
It is no coincidence that D.C.'s most underserved neighborhoods are located east of the river. It is no coincidence that east of the river has the highest levels of unemployment in the district. It is no coincidence that although the District is experiencing record levels of prosperity and economic development east of the river is still lacking basic services and amenities. More than a river divides us.
When someone is hungry you feed them. It is the good thing to do. But making that hungry person move to a dessert to get the sandwich isn't really helping is it? If anything it is creating a new host of problems.
So why build more low-income rental housing in a market that is already saturated with it? Councilmember Barry said it best -- Ward 8 already has too much rental housing. I will have to take that a step further, Ward 8 has too much of a particular type of rental housing. There is not one single market rate rental property (without an income restriction) that is comparable to what you would find west of the river. Ward 8 literally has no quality apartments for middle income renters which is weird because we have enough vacant land and empty buildings. New market rate housing could be created without displacing current low-income residents. In order to attract quality retail and support our local small businesses we need two things: higher incomes and increased density. It is as simple as that.
|Ward 8 residents rallying against another homeless shelter|
on a business corridor
And for those who think keeping all middle income residents out of Ward 8 is a great idea, keep this in mind. That particular demographic (professionals with disposable income) represents the best chance we have at job creation in Ward 8 and we can all agree that Ward 8 needs jobs -- and lots of them. Retailers and businesses follow the money. They invest in neighborhoods that can afford them. Don't believe me? Watch the videos in the 5 blog posts preceding this one. The strongest neighborhoods are those that have a good income mix: not exclusively rich and not exclusively poor. Real estate professionals know this. Business owners know this. Even the DC government knows this. Everyone knows that the overall income levels for Ward 8 are too low to attract private sector investment. Something we need to create local jobs. Unfortunately it is very much a "chicken or the egg" kind of situation. We need higher incomes to attract employers and amneties but we need employers and amneties to attract the higher incomes. If we don't want to displace our low-income residents then we need to import some higher incomes to balance out the low ones. Councilmember Barry hit the nail on the head when he told Housing Complex reporter Aaron Wiener, "people think we don’t have any money over here. Don’t think that we can be homeowners. Think we’re coke dealers and all that kind of stuff."
Right now on Reddit a young couple without kids is contemplating a move to Congress Heights and is asking for a recommendation. Unsurprisingly every single commenter (DC residents no less!) are advising that couple -- those potential Ward 8 residents -- to stay away. This happens every single day.
Think of a healthy community as a glass of lemonade. Too much sugar and it's too sweet. Too much lemon and it's too tart. We need a balance. More so for our lower income residents who could really benefit from nearby jobs, retail, and healthcare.
So build more "affordable" rental and homeowner housing (and lots of it); but build it where low-income residents will have the best and closest access to jobs that pay a livable wage; high performing schools; and good transportation. By concentrating the bulk of the new affordable housing dollars east of the river we are running the risk of increasing the already high numbers of concentrated poverty. Why are we sending unemployed or underemployed people to the two wards with the highest unemployment rates and the least number of job opportunities? Why is anyone expecting the unemployment numbers in Ward 8 to go down when we are keeping employers away? Why are affordable housing advocates okay with that? There are some organizations that are advocating for more affordable housing in communities where their own staff wouldn't visit -- let alone live. What kind of double standard is that?!
West of the river needs more "affordable" housing -- and fast. East of the river needs holistic community revitalization. East of the river needs wrap around services. East of the river need jobs. East of the river needs some higher incomes and a bit more density. And most importantly, East of the river needs to stop falling for the okie doke.
And just like that, another long editorial that I really didn't want to write. :(
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