Monday, July 9, 2018

Fighting Gentrification Across the City

Every day I hear about people fighting to stop the DC government from giving away (or selling at very low prices) public land and buildings to private developers. The government does this by declaring this public property surplus. To surplus these properties, the Mayor must deem them "no longer required for public purposes." The privatization of these properties means that they then serve the interests of the new owners/investors. Many DC residents do not agree that these properties are no longer needed for public purposes. DC residents regularly seek to stop this process and keep these properties public, in order to serve local needs. By succeeding, they help their communities, which makes DC an even better place to live.  

Here are the battles I have recently heard about (let me know about others you know about):
  1. DC General shelter in SE DC. As DCist reported: “[Mayor Bowser] is foul for doing that. D.C. has money. Y’all going to tear down an overflow for the homeless just to put the rich right here. Why?” says Carlena Durbin, a 31-year-old who lives at the shelter with her 10-year-old son and her spouse.
  2. Crummell School in NE DC. According to Empower DC's June 29th newsletter: "At the request of Mayor Bowser, the DC Council is considering the surplus and disposition of the 2-acre site of the historic Crummell School, the heart of the Ivy City community, to a developer who will build high-density, mostly high-cost housing. You may remember that Empower DC worked with the community and submitted a proposal for the school which would have created a one acre park, community land trust, play ground, affordable housing, community health care, daycare and other neighborhood-serving programs. Our proposal was rejected by the Mayor."
  3. McMillan Park in NW DC. According to the Friends of McMillan Park: "The property was selected by the now-defunct public-private National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCPC) in a land swap deal for Anacostia Riverfront property used to build DC’s baseball stadium. In advance of a NCPC completing a Request for Proposals process, disgraced DC Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. selected a sole-source development team that proposed a scheme that included 1,200 units of housing in buildings up to 10 stories tall, a 100,000 square foot shopping center, a 125-room hotel and conference center, and underground parking.  This team proposes to essentially bulldoze the entire park and pave it over with dense urban development, leaving very limited open green space to remain."
  4. Barry Farms public housing in SE DC. I don't think that this is public property disposal, since the land is likely still owned by the DC Housing Authority, but it is an ongoing battle over buildings. As discussed in this Post article, the residents are concerned that they will be permanently displaced.
  5. Greenleaf public housing in SW DC. I don't think that this is public property disposal, since the land is likely still owned by the DC Housing Authority, but it is an ongoing battle over buildings. Greenleaf residents have fought for a long time for a "build first" model, in which no one is moved from the Greenleaf development and promises "zero displacement of current Greenleaf residents." Yet, as discussed in the Hill Rag article "Don't Place your Trust in Build First for Greenleaf," residents are still concerned that they will be permanently displaced.
  6. Takoma Park Junction just outside the District.  According to an op-ed in the Post, Takoma Park residents "are most worried that their beloved food co-op, denied adequate parking and loading, might be thrown out of business," though I have heard from other residents that they are concerned with how such developments have raised rents in other areas of DC and displaced low-income renters. 
As DC geographer Katie Wells has discussed, DC has been disposing of public property for private consumption for at least the last 20 years: "City-level policymakers have sold schools, libraries, firehouses, and homeless shelters to developers of upscale gyms, luxury condominiums, and private art museums" (2014: 474). Later, Wells noted, "Since 1998 the D.C. City Council has tried to sell 68 percent (or 15 out of 22) of its public shelters" (2014: 484). You can see the current list of public properties being privatized in DC right now. In her article, Wells talks about how DC residents without homes and their allies stopped the surplussing of the Franklin School for years. Last year, the DC Government privatized the Franklin School, which developers are using to create "Planet Word, an interactive language arts museum and education space." The goal of the activists, housing for those without homes, was not realized.

Where are the other battles going on in DC? How can we help our neighbors in their fight to keep public properties for "public purposes"? 

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