Friday, July 3, 2015

Protesting Demolition and the "Re-location Game" in Ward 6

In the 1980s, public housing residents across the country protested and even took public housing authorities to court for abandoning public housing projects and letting them fall apart, which many considered a kind of de facto demolition. According to the residents, these authorities played a major role in 'creating' the deteriorating projects of the 1980s and 1990s. Then the media would blame the residents for the condition of the projects.

Many residents sought to take control of the projects either as managers or as owners, so as to prevent de facto demolition and displacement. In DC, residents at Kenilworth-Parkside became the managers of the project and then owners, avoiding demolition. In the 1990s, with the new HOPE VI policy, public housing authorities could legally demolish the projects. In 2001, after witnessing the displacement caused by HOPE VI in the District, residents of the Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg project south of the Southeast freeway around 5th and K St, SE. appealed to HUD for the right to take control of the project and the HOPE VI grant of $35 million that would demolish the project. They cited the "gross mismanagement" of the District public housing authority and backed their request with a petition signed by 218 residents, while continuing to collect signatures.

Leonardo Wood, a resident of Carrollsburg said, "We know all about this re-location game...This is my second time around...You would think that the title of this program — HOPE VI — would mean that they are going to give the people hope....But as far as we can see, this program is just about redeveloping the buildings, not the people who live here."

The developers won the HOPE VI grant and Capper/Carrollsburg was demolished.

P.S. Anu Yadav will be performing her solo show 'Capers about the 2001 protests against the demolition of Capper/Carrollburg on Tuesday, July 7th, at the Anacostia Playhouse at 7pm.  She debuted ‘Capers at the same festival, the DC Hip Hop Festival, 10 years ago. Her performance was captured in the film Chocolate City. The play was based on the stories of DC public housing residents who protested the demolition of their neighborhood.  She's invited the DC mayor’s office, community organizing groups, HUD and former residents, to a discussion moderated by Jess Solomon of Art in Praxis. And it's free!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The "Constructive Demolition" of Public Housing (II)

In my previous post, I talked about how, in the 1980s, public housing authorities across the country removed the residents from projects and then abandoned the projects or significant parts of them. Public housing residents protested their displacement and this abandonment, which they understood as causing the demolition of public housing, though in a passive way, and which they called "constructive demolition." As discussed by Edward G. Goetz, public policy professor at the University of Minnesota, in his New Deal Ruins, the media and others would use what Goetz calls a "public-housing-as-disaster narrative" and blame public housing residents for the condition of public housing, which had cities had let deteriorate.

Goetz further observes that, in the 1990s, cities across the country turned to active demolition of public housing projects. The National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing (NCSDPH) and its final report were a fundamental part of this policy shift. Yesterday, in the National Archives in College Park, I came across the meeting transcripts of the NCSDPH, which are exceedingly interesting to read. (1) 

Kimi Gray and Mayor Marion Barry, Youth of Parkside
Kimi Gray visited a NCSDPH meeting in 1991. Kimi Gray was a very famous public housing organizer, who lived in the Kenilworth-Parkside public housing project in Ward 7. (She had become a darling of the Republican Party and an ally of Mayor Marion Barry, which is a story I'll discuss in later post.) In 1991, Kimi Gray recognized that cities across the nation were actively demolishing public housing because private developers wanted the land: "And all the prime land left is ours now. So now the game is to get rid of us." Public housing residents like those at Kenilworth-Parkside and Fort Dupont had organized themselves to resist this displacement and maintain permanent affordable housing for very low-income people. Public housing organizers helped residents around the country stop demolition and displacement. 

In the minutes, Kimi Gray states, "Right now we're fighting in this city to keep one of our prime properties from Capitol Hill. I mean we are physically fighting." Given the timing of the meeting, I am assuming that she and others were fighting against the demolition of the Ellen Wilson Dwellings, a public housing project around 6th and I Streets, SE. The Ellen Wilson Dwellings were abandoned in 1988 and then demolished in 1996 and turned into the Townhomes on Capitol Hill, a development without any rental units. If I am correct that Kimi Gray is talking about the Ellen Wilson Dwellings, then it is interesting that public housing residents were fighting to keep public housing "from" Capitol Hill. Did "Capitol Hill" mean a space or a force fundamentally different from that of Ellen Wilson? Was "Capitol Hill" some kind of colonizing force? Did Ellen Wilson have to be kept from "Capitol Hill" to remain public housing?

(1) Transcripts of Commission Meetings, Feb. 27 - Nov. 22, 1991; National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing, Box 1, Record Group 220 Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions and Boards, National Archives at College Park, MD. [I need to correct this citation today.]

Monday, June 15, 2015

The "Constructive Demolition" of Public Housing

While conducting research on a public housing project on Capitol Hill, I came across an interesting lawsuit, Edwards vs. the District of Columbia. In 1985, Brenda Edwards and 8 other current and former residents of the Fort Dupont Dwellings, a public housing project in Ward 7, sued the District government, arguing that the law required it to consult with them as tenants and it did not during its decision to demolish the Fort Dupont Dwellings (1). In their case, the plaintiffs argued that the District government intentionally let public housing fall apart in order to declare the project uninhabitable and demolish it. According to their argument, the District played a major role in creating the deteriorating public housing projects of the 1980s and 1990s.

It seems that the District was just one of many municipal governments seeking to demolish public housing during the late 1970s and through the 1980s. In 1977, HUD had approved funds to modernize 28 Fort Dupont units, but the DC public housing authority (PHA) did not do the renovation work. By 1981, citing escalating costs, the District applied to HUD for permission to demolish the units and then two years later asked to demolish 112 units. According to a 1988 article, HUD had not approved or denied these requests (2).

As described by one of the judges discussing the case brought by Edwards and her neighbors, the plaintiffs alleged "that the District has pursued a deliberate policy of evacuation and neglect that will lead inevitably to the obsolescence, abandonment and physical demolition of Fort Dupont... the failure to maintain and the evacuation of Fort Dupont tenants reflect a systematic policy designed to render this federally funded housing project 'unusable for housing purposes'...The purpose of the District's to clear the way for the ultimate actual demolition of an abandoned Fort Dupont." The plaintiffs also stated that District PHA had threatened them with eviction if they did not move. Those relocated claimed that their new housing was unsafe and unsanitary, which is illegal under public housing law (3). The plaintiffs called these actions by the District government "constructive demolition," demolishing a public housing project by evacuating the tenants and abandoning the project. Thus, the District PHA was an active agent in the creation of DC's poorly maintained public housing of the 1980s and 1990s.  

Long-time DC builder of low-income housing and former Director of the District of Columbia Housing Development Corporation, Donald F. Humphrey, testified that the Fort Dupont Dwellings should not demolished but rather should be renovated:
Based upon this consultant's initial observation, Fort Dupont Dwellings including the 112 units do not appear obsolete as to physical condition, location, or other factors, making them unusable for housing purposes.... 
The damage done to these structures has been caused by owner, not resident, neglect. Because of the quality of the original construction used at Fort Dupont, it would be unreasonable to demolish the units. Had even reasonable protection been afforded the dwellings, as required by law, major structural damage probably would not have occurred. However, based upon my initial observations, even given the lack of maintenance, Fort Dupont including the 112 units which [the local PHA] has asked to demolish can be rehabilitated at much less cost than that of building comparable replacement housing. (4)
As I understand, Brenda Edwards and her neighbors wanted to be reimbursed for the utilities they paid and other aspects of the lease they signed and were not provided. They also sought safe and sanitary public housing (5).

Figure 1: Demolition of a Pruitt-Igoe building in 1972 (Public domain image).
Nationwide in the 1970s and 1980s, public housing tenants sought to stop the demolition of public housing projects, even though these projects had been constructively demolished for decades. Residents of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis (Figure 1 above) protested the demolition of the buildings they lived in at Pruitt-Igoe. Here are just a few of the cases in which public housing residents protested against the demolition of the public housing in which they lived: 
  • McCray v. Beatty, 64 F.R.D. 107, 111-12, 115-17 (D.N.J. 1974), settlement agreement approved where tenants had engaged in rent strike to protest imminent closing of project and unfavorable living conditions.
  • Fabri v. Rutherford County, No. 80-3418, slip op. (M.D. Tenn. Feb. 11, 1983), consent decree ordered, minority plaintiffs purchased county-owned housing project after suing to stop demolition.
  • Booker T. Washington Terrace Tenants Ass'n v. Pierce (U.S. HUD filed Feb. 6, 1985), cited in 19 Clearinghouse Rev. 782 (1985), $3.8 million allocated to rehabilitate 140 of 300 units after plaintiffs complained of inadequate notice and opportunity to comment on proposed demolition, as provided under 1979 regulations.
  • Department of Housing & Urban Development Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, 1988, Pub. L. No. 202, tit. IV; 415, 1988 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News (101 Stat. 1329) 123, tenant opposition led to legislation forbidding expenditure of HUD appropriations to demolish Allen Parkway Village project in Houston and West Dallas housing projects.(6)
There are many other topics of interest here. This movement introduced new rights for public housing residents with unintended consequences. Yet, for now, it should be clear that municipal governments played a significant role in undermining public housing in the 1980s and 1990s and, even in such poorly maintained public housing, the tenants did not necessarily want to move and used the courts, sometimes successfully, to protect their homes.

Works cited
(1) The information about the case comes from "821 F. 2d 651 - Edwards v. District of Columbia,", though I will eventually look at the actual legal documents.  "Plaintiffs brought this lawsuit as a class action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(1) & (2), "on behalf of themselves and on behalf of a class consisting of all current Fort Dupont public housing tenants, and all such tenants who have been or will be relocated to substandard housing from Fort Dupont.... [T]he class consists of approximately one hundred and fifty ... households."" 

(2) Krislov, Marvin. 1988. “Ensuring Tenant Consultation before Public Housing Is Demolished or Sold.” The Yale Law Journal 97(8):1754–64.

(3) Krislov 1988,  p. 1747.

(4) "821 F. 2d 651 - Edwards v. District of Columbia,"

(5) Patrice Gaines-Carter. "Tenants Battle District for Homes: Plan to Raze Fort Dupont Dwellings...," The Washington Post, Feb. 21, 1985, C1. 

(6) Krislov, 1988. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Omnivorous Gentrification: Gentrification and Food in DC

Sociologists have noticed that middle- and upper-income individuals worldwide have shifted from highbrow consumption to omnivorous consumption of music, literature, food, and so on. In the area of food, this has meant a shift from fine dining to more casual dining across a wide range of cuisines. Here in DC, we see an amazing variety of restaurants opening to excited acclaim: taquerias, chifa restaurants, Taiwanese-style ramen shops, Balkan small plates places, farm-to-table restaurants, and so on.  The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu had argued that highbrow consumption was a way those with higher social class distinguished themselves from those with lower class status, bringing this distinction into their bodies and potentially becoming nauseous or afraid of contamination when eating lower class food. Thus, we can see this relatively new cultural omnivorousness as a movement away from snobbery and towards equality or a kind of democratization of taste.

However, sociologists have shown that our omnivorousness is a new way to seek status, which is linked to gentrification and continuing inequality. In the American Journal of Sociology, University of Toronto sociologists Josée Johnston and Shyon Baumann presented their analysis of foodie writing from such magazines as Gourmet. They found that this high-end foodie writing was dominated by discussions of food or restaurants as "authentic" or "exotic." "Authentic" places have carefully developed historical back stories tying them to a specific location or a specific person, and are presented as having simplicity and as relatively free of commercial interests, "Exotic" places are seen as providing rare or unusual foods, though the majority of foods discussed in gourmet food writing are not from Asia or Africa or Latin America but rather from various corners of the United States.

These frames reflect a long-term American rejection of elitism and embrace of democracy, inclusivity, and equality. However, this democratic ideology obscures how gourmet food writers, restaurants, restaurant review writers, and individual consumers use authentic or exotic foods to display their cultural capital and maintain status. In the case of gourmet food writing, writers legitimate a relatively narrow range of foods, which, in fact, require considerable cultural capital to recognize as desirable and considerable economic capital to afford. Think about Union Market -- "a district with authentic soul" -- replacing the wider variety and inexpensive food outlets of the shrinking or demolished Florida Avenue Market. In contrast to the overt democracy ideology, there is a covert ideology of status and cultural distinction, which reinforces inequality.

Sociology PhD student at the University of British Columbia Zachary Hyde built on this work by studying newspaper reviews of new restaurants in Downtown Eastside, a gentrifying section of Vancouver. In Downtown Eastside, young chefs have opened trendy restaurants of casual or "authentic" dishes. For example, one reviewer wrote, "J.C. Poirer once worked at the late, great Lumiere in Vancouver under Rob Feenie...In the last few years, he abandoned haute, rolled up his sleeves, and segued into the casual rock 'n' roll dining scene in the Downtown Eastside. At Pizzeria Farina...he makes a small selection of simple artisanal pizzas" (Hyde 2014: 348).  Elite cooking is now marked by "authenticity," "authentic" "creativity," and honesty. It is presented as without contamination by nonartistic motivations, like making a profit.

In the Washington Post, Tom Sietsema works within these trends in his review of the restaurant Rose's Luxury:
The backgrounds of the staff, led by chef-owner Aaron Silverman, 31, read like a list of hot spots from around the country. General Manager Andy Erdmann hails from the esteemed Uchi and Uchiko in Austin. Chef de cuisine Scott Muns comes to the project from the very good Volt in Frederick. Last but far from least, Silverman, a Maryland native who trained at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, counts time at the beloved McCrady's in Charleston and Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York. 
The top chef's philosophy is simple: "I'm not in the restaurant business. I'm in the good times business." Fun is in his blood; the restaurant's name is a salute to the chef's long-gone grandmother, Rose Silverman, revered in her time for her dinner parties, poetry and playwriting. "She enjoyed life and having fun," says her grandson. (Post, 10/15/2013)
Sietsema highlights the highly trained chefs in a laid back atmosphere working on simple dishes with personal meaning and connections, while not discussing economic motivations that might contaminate the carefully developed back story and the "fun." Yet, chef Aaron Silverman is opening a fine dining restaurant -- "'really fancy. Fancy is fantastic. Formal not so much,' says Silverman while sitting at a rustic wooden table at Rose's" -- so we are likely seeing another layer of fine dining developing.

Hyde argues that these restaurants are presented or present themselves as helping the community. They may do this by "revitalizing" or "improving" the area or by donating to local charities or by hiring employees. Yet, according to Hyde, "the tastes of newcomers trump concerns over accessibility to affordable goods" (p. 355). Brooklyn College sociologist Sharon Zukin has also found that consumption spaces like restaurants privilege and legitimate newcomers' consumption as "authentic," which allows newcomers to stake claims to the neighborhood like at Union Market. These claims to authenticity reflect the interests of new residents and are a means to excluding other residents either from consumption spaces or from the area more generally. Thus, claims to authenticity help to gentrify spaces and displace people, while presenting this as merely great, eclectic taste.

Why did omnivorousness become connected with gentrification? Can omnivorousness be separated from gentrification? Or are we witnessing a battle that pits different kinds of omnivores against each other? Is omnivorousness a kind of cannibalism, the rich eating the poor? The poor then might show their omnivorousness and eat the rich?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Update: Kojo Nnamdi Show today

It is always hectic during the semester. In addition, in response to the demand to "publish or perish," I have been submitting articles for publication in the non-virtual world. Soon, I will be publishing a real blog post. In the meantime, I am going to be on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" today at 1:30pm, talking about bus culture along with the director of short video on the X2. Feel free to join us by calling in.

P.S. You can listen to our discussion here: 

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Sociology of Martin Luther King, Jr.

While making dinner on Thursday evening, I turned on WPFW. They happened to be playing a speech that Dr. King gave in March 1968 at the National Cathedral, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution." His mode of interpretation takes the listener on a wonderful intellectual journey. He moved from a piece of literature ("Rip van Winkle"), through history (see confirmation of what he says by Smithsonian historian Pete Daniel), ethnographic observation (of the poor in the United States and abroad), social movement strategy (the Poor People's Campaign), and finally religion. His global perspective sounded so familiar and so different: "we are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution."

Yet, what drew me to sit right down in the middle of my kitchen floor to listen to him was the fact that he was speaking as a sociologist. Yes, he was trained in sociology:
Martin Luther King, Jr, B.A. in Sociology, Morehouse College, Class of 1948. However, I am pretty certain that this is his Doctorate picture. Source: Sociological Images.
His sociological approach was even more clear in his speech at Western Michigan University (below) that I heard this morning. In the speech, he criticizes psychology for its desire to create a society of well-adjusted individuals and to eradicate "maladjustment" in individuals. At the time, child psychologists in particular used the terms "maladjustment," "deviance," and "delinquency." Dr. King moves beyond the individual focus of psychology to the societal focus of sociology. Within a society with racial segregation, poverty, and religious bigotry, it is not only normal but also positively good to feel and remain maladjusted, for example, in segregated places or during discriminatory acts. Feelings of "maladjustment" and "deviance" led people to join a range of social movements -- the civil rights movement to name just one -- to change society, rather than merely adjust themselves as individuals.

He made one further statement that impressed me: "I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few."

It made me think of DC: "I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities (like apartments affordable for low-income households) from the many to give luxuries (and luxury condos) to the few."

His sociological training shaped his social vision of the world. And, at the same time, the world of social movements that he worked in profoundly changed sociology. Thus, in his speeches, we can hear both what sociology was and what sociology would become.

P.S. A previous post on Dr. King. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

How to End Homelessness? Jobs

On December 17th, homeless advocate Eric Sheptock brought together a group of people to get some feedback on an article he was writing. Eric is himself homeless and lives in the CCNV (Federal City) shelter near Judiciary Square. (You can follow him on FB and Twitter.) We met in a basement meeting room in the MLK Library. The group included a resident of the DC General shelter, another homeless person, a former ANC commissioner from near Barry Farms, a resident of Barry Farms public housing, a volunteer social worker, and a Visiting Fulbright Professor and grassroots community organizer from Budapest, Hungary. Of course, these descriptions of the group do not capture the many other identities of these individuals. The discussion was completely fascinating and led to a great article that you can read at the end of this post.

The article shows how past attempts to end homeless have failed and asks whether the District government actually wishes to end homelessness. In 2004, the District implemented Homeless No More, the 10-year plan to end homelessness in DC. Homelessness was supposed to have ended on December 31st, just 5 days ago. Instead, homelessness in DC increased by at least 50% since the plan was adopted. And the DC government has ended programs that might help the homeless:
In February 2013 the plug was pulled on a sweat equity program open to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients, even though the majority of homeless parents in the job-training program were on track to be housed and employed. The $2.6 million spent renovating two buildings on Wayne Place in Southeast is cited as the reason for shuttering the pilot program. Yet city officials heralded it as proof that many welfare recipients want to work. 
The article suggests that the DC government does not actually want to end homelessness:
If we assumed the government is doing exactly what it intends to, it would appear D.C. Government intends to fail to end homelessness; it would appear that mayors Fenty and Gray each pulled together affordable housing task forces to create a facade of wanting to enable low-income workers to live in D.C. If that is not the case, then our government's track record on these issues looks grossly incompetent: spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars without ending homelessness. Either option is cause for concern. 
Instead of ending homelessness, the DC government has encouraged gentrification.

What might actually help to end homelessness? Living-wage jobs and a Homeless Bill of Rights.

According to the National Coalition for the Homelessness, Homeless Bill of Rights measures work to ensure that homeless individuals are:

  • Protected against segregation, laws targeting homeless people for their lack of housing and not their behavior, and restrictions on the use of public space.
  • Granted privacy and property protections.
  • Allowed the opportunity to vote and feel safe in their community without fear or harassment.
  • Provided broad access to shelter, social services, legal counsel and quality education for the children of homeless families.

The following cities and states have passed or are considering homeless rights legislation:
California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Baltimore, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Madison, Wisconsin.

While a Homeless Bill of Rights is necessary to end housing and employment discrimination, I believe that Eric's main policy recommendation is a massive jobs program, jobs with a living wage. (What is a living wage in DC? Here is what MIT says.) A massive jobs program would help a whole range of people all across the United States.

Here's the article: