Showing posts with label DC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DC. Show all posts

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Our Lives Depend on MLK

On October 16th, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will be dedicated. Some might think the memorial commemorates how African Americans finally gained rights equal to whites. Others might think that the memorial represents the special interests of African Americans and their immoral claim to special rights. In contrast to these views, historians, anthropologists, and sociologists have shown that the African American struggle for rights, within which Martin Luther King, Jr. worked, created the very rights that all American citizens enjoy. The African American struggle for rights works within a social life that produces the neighborliness and community that many of us cherish in DC. Here are some of the points made by scholars:
  • In her work on DC during and after the Civil War, Northwestern University historian Kate Masur has shown that the African American fight for equality created positive rights. Most importantly, the 14th Amendment both granted citizenship to recently freed slaves and declared that all laws applied to everyone. Earlier, different people had different privileges and rights in different spaces. The 14th Amendment created nation-wide citizenship rights. At this time, the African Americans also forged parents’ rights to their children for all residents. One woman successfully took back her daughter from a white man with a form letter stating, "The wishes of the parent and child are both to be considered before those of any third party and all the rights of the family must be recognized and respected among these people the same as among the whites" (p. 76). Thus African Americans’ demands for specific, concrete rights helped the nation to move beyond the past system of special group privileges to our current system of universal rights and national citizenship.
  • American University anthropologist Brett Williams found in her study of Mt. Pleasant that residents' class cultures lead them to see and use the neighborhood in different ways. Older, mainly African American renters and homeowners develop deep, local ties on a daily basis, teaching their children "to greet and joke with shopkeepers, bus drivers, and people on the learn details, nicknames, reputations, stories, and histories" and regularly visiting the same local businesses and people. In contrast, the newer, often white homeowners have a more cosmopolitan engagement, "believing in breadth rather than density and a quest for variety rather than repetition." They take their children across the city to schools, playgrounds, soccer games, and dance classes. Many African American renters excuse the new neighbors' ignorance of local street life and appreciate their contribution of "volunteer time, money, and knowledge to neighborhood activities," but the new neighbors "for the most part do not reciprocate this goodwill; their feelings seem to vary from indifference to tolerance or compassion to vague unease or active dislike." Brett Williams advocates a politics grounded in density and repetition:
"Ultimately, many white middle-class people who want to reclaim a piece of the vibrant central city for themselves are going to have to change. They need to learn from the cultural world built by those who preceded them: they need to develop some of the same skills as they try to look inward. In the summer of 1986, after a long seclusion, I was confronted by one of the men on the street: "Where the hell have you been? You never come up here anymore; you don't even associate with the people in the neighborhood." Half joking, he was almost chiding me about what was supposed to be almost a job. If we are to preserve variety in our cities, I believe that those of us who want to live in such areas have to take on that job, which is first of all the world of culture, and then we must try to link that cultural stand to broader, but also deeper, denser, more textured, repetitive, and rooted political action."
  • In his How Racism Takes Place, UCSB sociologist George Lipsitz writes about racial segregation that we also see in Ward 6 and argues, "the actual long-term interests of whites are often damaged by spatial relations that purportedly benefit them, while Black negotiations with the constraints and confinements of racialized space often produce ways of envisioning and enacting more decent, dignified, humane, and egalitarian social relations for everyone."
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial commemorates African American struggles over the centuries that have created our universal rights and the continuing movement to realize the vision of a more decent, dignified, humane, and egalitarian world. We all depend on this movement.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Decline of Rental Housing in Ward 6 and DC

As the Post reported yesterday, the number of people in poverty has increased to one in six. In DC, one in five live in poverty. As far as I can tell, the new Census data made available on Tuesday does not yet provide poverty data at the census tract level, but it does provide rental housing data. Those living in poverty in DC live predominantly in rentals. Also, many other DC residents and long-term visitors also live in rentals.

Citywide, in the past ten years, our population increased by nearly 30,000 people and the number of renter-occupied units increased by about 7,000 units. The proportion of renter-occupied units has not kept up with our population growth. Percentage-wise, there are more owner-occupied units in 2010 than in 2000. However, the Census does not yet provide us with data on how much these renters pay for these units or their income levels. Therefore, we don't know whether these new rentals are predominantly high end. In 2000, about 700 households lived in the Capper and Carrollsburg public housing in census tract 72, which has been dismantled and replaced by Capitol Quarter houses, condos, and apartments with only 39 units available to individuals or families making $30,050 or less (0-30% AMI), aside from the 162 senior units. Therefore, the majority of the new units citywide are not likely for those living in poverty.

In Ward 6, the poverty rate has been steady at about 20% for the past 30 years. The population of Ward 6 has increased by about 8,000 people over the past 10 years, so the number of people living in poverty has increased. The table below lists some of the Ward 6 census tracts. (To see where these census tracts are, see this map.) The bolded items represent areas with decreasing numbers or percentages of renter-occupied units. The wealthiest census tract in Ward 6, number 67, lost nearly 40 renter-occupied units. The poorest census tract in Ward 6, number 71, gained 4.

Renter-Occupied Housing Units

2000 (%) 2000 (#)2010 (%)2010 (#)
Census Tract 67 42.2% 79340.4%754
Census Tract 71 69.7% 76957.6%773
Census Tract 6485.6%82383.8%819
Census Tract 7296.6%81684%1534
Census Tract 79.0164.9%95164.2%989
Census Tract 80.0133.3%37835.1%451
Census Tract 8148.1%64446.6%677

Many would argue that it is good to increase the number of home-owners in these areas. However, the demand for rentals is ever increasing, especially for affordable units for interns, low-wage workers, etc. The supply of affordable rentals does not meet the demand. This is a nationwide trend. Even more problematic is the conversion of rental properties into owner-occupied properties, which displaces the poor. From the incredibly informative Housing Policy in the United States 2010 textbook, we know that the average nationwide income for those working as elementary school teachers ($49,781), LPN nurses ($38,941), security guards ($29,401), and cashiers ($19,757) would not allow them to buy a house or condo. Of course, many of the new rental units available are far outside the price range of the average hourly wage for those working as LPN nurses ($15.72), security guards ($14.13), janitors ($11.57), and cashiers ($9.50), who are also in poverty. What can be done to stop the decline in affordable rentals?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Histories of Potomac Gardens (Part 1)

Here is the fascinating 1993 documentary In Search of Common Ground about Potomac Gardens residents. The seniors living in Potomac Gardens (public housing in Ward 6) talk about their lives in rural North Carolina and other parts of the South -- many as sharecroppers, harvesting cotton and doing much difficult work -- before coming to DC in the 1950s. The interviewees remember their excitement about DC and their happiness that they no longer had to do agricultural work. At the same time, they also described the new difficulties they confronted in segregated DC.

In her classic, highly readable, eye-opening book on Mt. Pleasant, American University anthropology professor Brett Williams similarly shows the historical, social, economic, and cultural connections between the Carolinas and DC. African Americans migrating to DC (like those in the video) brought Carolina culture with them and traveled back and forth, maintaining ties with the Carolinas.