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The Problems with Gentrification: a Meeting of the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition

According to the literature, gentrification is a two-fold process: the first step is the invasion of an area by a moderate-to-upper income (MUI) mostly white demographic; and the second step is the displacement of the principally low-to-moderate income (LMI) “minority” people, or people of color, who had been living there prior to the invasion. This displacement occurs, because these LMI people of color residents of the area are priced-out due to rising costs of living there after the invasion. Many MUI white people do not realize why gentrification is a problem. These people insist that renovating an area to fit the aesthetic of this demographic only rejuvenates and uplifts an area. This is not correct. This is actually an ethnocentric worldview in that it does not consider the perspectives of those who have lived for generations in an area and find themselves unable to transfer generational wealth in the form of housing, and to maintain subsistence in their indigenous area.

In the long term, gentrification only shelves the major issue at hand, which is the lack of funding to and basic services in areas of predominantly LMI and “minority” communities. When these communities are displaced, the forces of their marginalization are not addressed and treated; instead, these marginalizing forces are ignored, and the solution to the problem of this population’s ‘economic stagnancy,’ if you will, or destitution is to relay them to the suburbs. In this, LMI people of color are expected to take on the burden of migrating on their own and to abandon the culture that their ancestors have fostered in these primarily urban areas. MUI mostly white people are therefore the army drones imposing the imperialism, and destruction, of an overarching hetero-normative capitalist machine. This is a problem, because these marginalizing forces and systems (i.e., sexism, racism, capitalism, etc.) only increase the gap between the richest and poorest people.

Gentrification also “whitewashes” neighborhoods in that the culture of people of color within an area is eviscerated, or even appropriated and objectified for commercial profit. The whitewashing of neighborhoods is an inherently racist practice. LMI people of color are systematically being dismantled from organizing in a collective manner towards self-actualization as a community against the army drones of the overarching hetero-normative capitalist machine. The problem with gentrification is the ideology masking and discounting its ill effects, which is the idea that housing is a commodity. For the security of human rights, housing ought not be treated as a commodity in the sense that developers need to be regulated by the U.S. Government to ensure that housing development is not for-profit. The U.S. Government should sanction and mandate that banks provide more home-purchase lending to LMI communities, whom are more so people of color, so that that which is built is in the hands of the people, rather than in that of the few in Big Business. This would enable housing to become more affordable over time.

The topic of gentrification is a precursor to that of affordable housing. On May 12, 2018 I attended a meeting of the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition in a Black Church in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC. At the onset of the meeting, the people in attendance lamented the imperialism of a DC coffee shop bookstore franchise, Busboys and Poets, as the indicator of gentrification and ensuing displacement. The most important message of the meeting was that “we need non-market driven ways to address real affordable housing.” The meeting’s central presenter, Parisa, grounded it on the topic of the Comprehensive or “Comp” Plan issued by the Washington, DC Government. The Comp Plan was issued in 2006 and is to last twenty years. It is a guiding framework document for defining the requirements and aspirations of DC residents on socio-economic physical development in the area largely ignored by the City Council.

The problem with the Comp Plan document is that it is overly broad and does not contain systematic and detailed technical data on how to accomplish the requirements and aspirations, and thus the particular needed development, of DC residents. In addition, there is no targeted approach to avoiding displacement. Furthermore, there is no measurement and evaluation of what has been done. The Comp Plan document also neither describes displacement, land speculation, slum landlords, nor the demolishing of public housing. In short, the Comp Plan is a narrative that sets a tone that is set up for failure to act. Many have said that housing in DC is a “supply and demand” problem; and this narrative justifies a solution of building more. However, the market does not serve LMI people.

The meeting of the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition further touched upon the inherent racism in DC land use. Parisa asserted four current-day policies that continue to disadvantage Black residents: land giveaways to developers, restrictive entry to “affordable housing” such as credit checks, that there are few family size units, and the displacement of Black tenants. In addition, overall one in four renters in DC now spend more than 50% on rent and utilities. A few solutions were also given at the meeting. These include: rent control, land trust, cooperatives, and public housing. If you are interested in learning more about the DC Comp Plan document, visit plandc.dc.gov. For an analysis of the document, visit the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition’s website: http://www.dcgrassrootsplanning.org/.

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