Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Repetition of Displacement at the Ellen Wilson Dwellings (II)

In response to my previous post, someone who lived in the Ellen Wilson Dwellings in the mid-1960s as a small child reminded me of a third displacement. In 1965, five of the Ellen Wilson buildings were razed (see map below from the DC Archives) to build the SE Freeway. This razing destroyed 79 apartments. If 3 people lived in each apartment, then over 230 people were displaced. If more lived in each apartment, then more were displaced.

I know of one family that was moved to Arthur Capper public housing, but I don't know where the others went.

Of course, the freeway's path went a certain way and not other ways as a result of the influence of certain people. Those living in these five buildings did not have the power to stop the freeway from destroying their homes, while others on the Hill had this power. Did those with power on the Hill work with Ellen Wilson residents to stop the freeway from destroying this section of the Ellen Wilson Dwellings? (I know that there was much organizing to stop other parts of freeway.) If not, why not?

So far, we have three displacements of low-income African Americans basically on one block:

1) the 1939-1941 displacement, including the 300+ low-income African Americans living in the Navy Place alley, to construct the Ellen Wilson Dwellings, a white public housing project.

2) the 1965 displacement of low-income African Americans, and maybe some whites, from 79 apartments in 5 buildings. Possibly totaling 230 people.

3) the 1988 displacement of low-income African Americans in 134 apartments to renovate the buildings, which were destroyed and replaced with a mixed-income development. There were households living in 129 of the apartments. Seven households from Ellen Wilson were allowed to move into this new development.  If we use the earlier calculation of 3 per apartment, then ((129 - 7) x 3)) about 366 people were displaced.

How do we stop such repetitive displacement not only on this block but also elsewhere in Ward 6?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Repetition of Displacement at the Ellen Wilson Dwellings

This summer, I've been conducting research on the history of the Ellen Wilson Dwellings, a public housing project that used to sit at I Street between 6th and 7th Streets, SE, and that was replaced by a mixed-income development funded by one of the first HOPE VI grants. The Ellen Wilson Dwellings opened in 1941, were emptied for renovation in 1988, and destroyed in 1996. After researching this the entire summer, I feel as if a book could be written about just about the history of the Ellen Wilson Dwellings. Here are just a few things that I found.

Ellen Wilson was built in 1941 as a segregated white public housing project. African American groups protested the naming of the project for a known white segregationist and wife of Woodrow Wilson, also a white segregationist. According to the Washington Post in 1941: “Negroes have protested against the name. They claim Mrs. Wilson was responsible for segregating employees at the Bureau of Engraving & Printing.”(1) They also protested the creation of segregated public housing. Ellen Wilson basically sat on a large block between G and I Streets, SE, between 6th and 7th Streets. The north side of the block (G Street) housed only white homeowners and renters; this side was not demolished. Along the East and West sides, there were predominantly white residents. The South side was predominantly African American. Most significantly, over 300 African Americans lived in the block’s alley, called Navy Place. African American residents had lived in Navy Place for at least 75 years. To build Ellen Wilson, all the African American residents from the alleys and the South side of the block, as well as whites and African Americans from the East and West sides of the block were displaced. Not a single African American resident was allowed to move into the new Ellen Wilson.The Alley Dwelling Authority declared the block part of a “predominantly white” neighborhood and thus Ellen Wilson became a white public housing project: “Officials of the Alley Dwelling Authority, explaining why the new homes were to be occupied by white tenants, said the surrounding neighborhood is predominantly white.”(2)

By 1953, DC public housing was no longer allowed to remain segregated. It would be interesting to know if anyone from Navy Place or other parts of the block moved into Ellen Wilson at this time.

In 1996, the Ellen Wilson Dwellings were destroyed, after being abandoned for about eight years, and only 7 households from the 134 unit public housing project were allowed to move into the new development. The creation of the new development was part of a nation-wide movement against the segregation of minorities into public housing and was part of a local, deeply committed movement for social justice. These movements spoke out against the negative consequences of concentrated poverty. In the end, however, the outcome in 1941 and in 1996 were nearly the same: the displacement of low-income African Americans was complete in 1941 and nearly complete in 1996.

How did this happen? The answer so far seems to involve two main issues:
  • the Ellen Wilson public housing residents had been moved out and dispersed when discussions about plans were made for the new development, plans that were supposed to help them. What did they want? Where did they end up? 
  • Some of those involved in the planning had many more resources than others and could push things in the direction they preferred. I found a paper on which strategy by one group had been laid out. The notes said many things, including: “avoid debate,” “Involve bleeding hearts in constructive way,” and “Isolate naysayers.”(3) 
Queens College sociologist Stephen Steinberg has argued that claims about concentrated poverty are myths used politically by developers and politicians when poor people live on valuable land, like on Capitol Hill, which has been gentrifying since the 1960s. (Ellen Wilson was thus already part of a mixed-income community well before the 1980s.) Steinberg writes:
We have to be savvy about the political uses of the theory of concentrated poverty, which is invoked wherever the poor occupy valuable real estate that is coveted by developers, and which is part of the neoliberal agenda of reclaiming urban space that earlier was relinquished to the nation’s racial and class pariahs.(4)
In both 1941 and 1988/1996, low-income African American residents were displaced in the name of a form of development that claimed to help them but in fact hurt them. How can we avoid the displacement of our neighbors and protect such housing that is affordable?

P.S. The Repetition of Displacement at the Ellen Wilson Dwellings (Part II)

(1) Kluttz, Jerry. 1941. “The Federal Diary.” The Washington Post, March 27, p. 15.
(2) "ADA Grant Boosts Home Units to 2,426: $1,366,000 Project For Colored Houses In Northeast Area Gets Approval," The Washington Post, Dec 28, 1939, p. 17.
(3) GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society, MS2009, Box 70, File 16,  "Ellen Wilson correspondence, 1989-1990," Pat Schauer. Handwritten meeting notes, March 20, 1989.
(4) Steinberg, Stephen. 2010. "The Myth of Concentrated Poverty," Pp. 213-227 in  The Integration Debate: Competing Futures for American Cities, edited by Chester Hartman and Gregory D. Squires. New York, NY: Routledge.

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: