Thursday, December 29, 2011

Gentrification on Capitol Hill (II)

Thanks to Greater Greater Washington for linking to my previous post! Most of the trends I discuss here did not take place so much during the 1940s. During the 1940s, whites were moving to the suburbs. By the late 1940s, the newspapers were already talking about Capitol Hill's renovation movement. However, Anita Rechler is talking about the dramatic shifts in the neighborhood during the 1960s. I knew that there was gentrification going on during the 1960s because Friendship House and other organizations were very concerned about it, but I had focused on the late 1970s when our block (in the Transition area of the map) changed dramatically. Now, I see how much changed during the 1960s.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gentrification on Capitol Hill

In her fascinating 1974 M.A. thesis on the Capitol Hill renovation movement, Anita Rechler finds that, while DC and Ward 6 population declined from 1960 to 1970, the number of households actually increased. This shift resulted from:
  • the renovation movement, which began even by the late 1940s and attracted white, young professionals often with no children.
  • the movement of white families with children to the suburbs (since 1920) and to predominantly white areas elsewhere in DC, which increased after the 1954 court ruling desegregating schools. The change was quite abrupt. As I found in my own research, in 1954 when integration began, the Stanton Elementary School in Ward 8 had a 100% white student population; by 1960 it had 75% African American and 25% white students.
Using Census data and real estate transactions in the Lusk Real Estate Directory, Rechler examines the changes across the Hill between 1960 and 1970. In this map of 1970, the purple-blue are areas with many renovations (Restoration area), while the light blue are transitional areas with fewer, though numerous renovations (Transition area) and the yellow areas have few renovations (Unrestored area).

View Ward 6 Renovation Map (1970) in a larger map

She states that by 1958 over 100 houses each year were being renovated. Of course, renovating and improving buildings is a good thing. Yet, this trend had several problematic consequences. Areas became more segregated by race and class between 1960 and 1970. The renovation movement allowed certain groups -- white professionals and real estate developers -- to benefit from or take advantage of racist attitudes and racial/class inequalities to hoard opportunities. (Sociologists Charles Tilly and Douglas Massey discuss opportunity hoarding more generally.) In the Restoration and Transition areas, black homeownership and renting decreased, while white ownership increased. In the Transition areas, black and white renting declined, while ownership increased. In the Unrestored area, white ownership and renting decreased. In addition, the Restoration areas had households with higher incomes than the other areas. The renovation movement led to increased racial segregation, income inequality, and wealth inequality (due to shifts in homeownership).

On Capitol Hill, Friendship House, Group Ministries, and other groups voiced great concern about the economic impact of the renovation movement on the low- and moderate-income families. Many of these families could not afford renovations (or were renters). In 1972, the DC government proposed that south of North Carolina Ave and east of 1st St SE be made a Federally-Assisted Code Enforcement Area (FACE), which would have provided cash grants and low-interest loans for home improvements, thus allowing low- and moderate-incomes families to take part in the renovation movement. This proposal was never adopted.

Rechler also interviewed real estate agents, community leaders, and residents. She shows that renovation was not a spontaneous activity. Rather, from the late 1940s, real estate agents were deeply involved in renovation and reshaping neighborhoods. Real estate agents had long been renovating houses themselves as investments. By the time Rechler conducted her research, larger developers started working on Capitol Hill. St. Clair Investments, a large suburban development corporation, began buying and restoring in 1973.

Especially with the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities around the 1930s to the 1960s, discussed in an earlier post, real estate agents stoked the fears among white families that their neighborhoods were being taken over by African Americans. Real estate agents even hired African American women to walk around the neighborhood with baby carriages and did other tactics to motivate white families to sell their houses at a low price. The real estate agents would then sell the house at an inflated price to African American families, whom agents knew could not obtain regular mortgages. So, the agents would provide high-interest loans directly to them. The African American families often could not afford these inflated loans and pay for the maintenance of these still unrenovated houses. This is called blockbusting, which led to decay.

On Capitol Hill, according to Rechler, there was an additional trend of reverse blockbusting: "Real estate agents, brokers, and speculators use sales tactics and pressure practices to displace the poor and black from their homes in order to attract the white middle class." She was told that a real estate investor might call the DC government to report a house for possible housing code violations. Low-income owners could not obtain loans to make the needed renovations and thus faced the possibility that their house might be condemned. The speculator, however, would provide cash and thus pressure the owner to sell quickly. Speculators also quickly flipped houses to each other, driving up prices. According to Rechler, the restoration movement
is encouraged by a hyperactive real estate market which vigorously solicits property to sell, real estate speculation which promises high profits for those who can afford the investment, and financial arrangements which favor the investor over the average homebuyer. In Capitol Hill restoration operates in a market where speculation is virtually uncontrolled and public access to information is greatly curtailed.
The traditional real estate market for those seeking shelter and the speculative real estate market for those seeking profits have converged more and more lately. As we rely on our houses as part of our retirement or some form of insurance, we require that our houses increase in value. Yet, as they increase in value, it means that cities become too expensive for those with low- and moderate-incomes, even those who maintained and developed community in neighborhoods, which now draws people to move to these neighborhoods.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The end of the semester is always so busy. We're in the midst of grading and doing a wide range of administrative activities to keep our departments and universities running. I just finished grading one set of papers and will receive a pile of exams tomorrow. In the past two weeks, I made it into the DC archives on two days to do some speedy research. I'm looking at finance and public housing in DC. Wow, did I find some great stuff! More on that soon. Now, I am reading up on real estate investing!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Our Block's History Party

What looks like local history or arbitrary personal choice is often influenced or shaped by larger social or historical forces. Social change may open up or shut down opportunities. Block histories provide concrete and tangible cases of broader social and historical change, which is what makes block and local histories so exciting, especially for sociologists.

Last night, our block had a History Party, a potluck and discussion of our block's history from the 1960s to the present. Since 2009, we have put together a phone list, a listserv, and a twice-yearly progressive block party, in which 2-3 residences host part of a dinner over one evening. Last night, we experimented with a new format. About 25 people attended, including about 6 kids, who were well behaved during this adult Show and Tell. The discussion was very lively. Early on, we went around the room, introducing ourselves, stating when we moved to the Hill and the block, and, for those who had lived a long time on the Hill/block, listing the schools we attended, etc. I was the notetaker, which was an interesting task because the discussion often broke into small groups and then returned to one large conversation. Below, I discuss a few items within broader sociological and historical context, while trying to maintain the anonymity of those involved.

At the party, we found out that, while the block had been racially mixed in and before the 1930s, our block was predominately African American by the 1960s. Our neighbor and his family who had moved to the block in 1961 remembered only one white family on the block. Our neighbor had moved from South Carolina to DC after the Second World War. While this might seem like an arbitrary personal choice, our neighbor was part of the Great Migration, in which millions of African Americans moved from the South to the North from the First World War and through the 1960s. As sociologist Stewart Tolnay has discussed, the First World War and restrictive immigration policies meant that new jobs became available to African Americans in Northern cities. Rural African Americans also long felt a push to move to cities to escape sharecropping (that left them landless and poor), unemployment caused by agricultural mechanization, Jim Crow restrictions on educational and political opportunity, and racial violence. Southern African Americans often followed relatives (our neighbor followed his uncle) and were drawn to cities with institutions that supported African American communities, such as "an NAACP chapter, a mature National Urban League, African American churches, and African American newspapers" (Tolnay, p. 217), which DC certainly had since the Civil War. In this video, which I discussed in a previous post, Potomac Gardens public housing residents talk about their Great Migration experiences:

After the Second World War, newly constructed highways, newly available mortgages, and new suburban developments, which sociologists like William Julius Wilson have shown to be racially exclusionary, drew many white families to the suburbs leaving houses available to African Americans arriving from the South. At the same time, DC also maintained racial segregation, as GWU sociologist Gregory Squires and his colleagues have found in the case of housing and as more generally discussed in a fascinating exchange on H-DC.

Long-time residents on the block also remembered the various businesses around the block. Two brothers ran the Abe Store at 9th & C St SE. At two locations at 10th & C St SE, the Brookses ran a dry cleaners, Brooks Valet, from 1952 to 1983. You can see several of our neighbors in the Post photo (first and second page of the article) of the 1983 community block party held in the Brookses honor. In the Post article, the Brookses remembered the block as predominantly African American working class residents who worked at the Navy Yard. Long-time residents remembered that the block (as well as surrounding blocks) was "family-oriented" and very social, with great block parties.

Four or five residents who moved to the block in the late 1970s and early 1980s spoke about crime during this period. The block captain in the late 1970s talked about how the block formed a Neighborhood Watch group and worked with police, which resulted in a decrease in crime by the mid-1980s. We know that during the mid- and late-1970s the nation was experiencing a severe economic crisis and large-scale unemployment. In addition, gentrification -- the displacement of lower income households by higher income, often professional households -- has been going on on Capitol Hill since the 1950s, but the late 1970s was a period of intense gentrification. Scholars often discuss Capitol Hill gentrification as a significant case study because it has been so extensive and began so early. In 1977, GWU urban studies professor Dennis E. Gale surveyed recent Hill homebuyers living in our block's census tract (67) and another highly gentrified census tract (66). In his sample, he found that 94% of these recent homebuying households were white and described our census tract as "still largely transitional in nature and population changes are occurring more rapidly there." Most of those living in our census tract moved from other parts of DC and had high incomes. According to Gale:
A large majority of our residents felt that racial conflict was not a frequent occurrence in their neighborhood. When conflict did occur though, it was generally between younger, black passers-through and white residents. Relations between black and white neighbors were perceived as good and generally free from any serious conflict. About half of our study group expressed a preference for a neighborhood composed of approximately equal proportions of blacks and whites. One-fourth preferred a predominance of whites and a minority of blacks. Most of the remainder indicated that they had no strong racial preferences but would rather their neighbors were of socio-economic backgrounds comparable to their own.(p. 3)
We can see that our block and census tract was experiencing significant social change during the late 1970s. In fact, in the late 1970s worldwide, people experienced fundamental changes to their societies, which sociologists and other scholars are studying right now. It will be interesting to continue examining our block's history to find out more about this shift taking place right in our neighborhood. Thanks to my great neighbors for a fascinating History Party!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Financialization, Inflation, and DC

In the Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein recently discussed how investors have moved from investing in production to investing in finance. As a result, we see rapidly expanding investments not in commodity production -- like in the production of wheat, corn, coffee, and other food items, as well as housing, oil, and natural gas -- but in commodity futures, betting on changes in the markets for these commodities. The expansion of investments in and profits from finance, as opposed to production, is called financialization. As I discussed earlier, financialization is not new (it has been growing since the 1970s), but now financialization is quite extensive. According to U of Michigan sociologist Greta Krippner, financial sector profits rose from 10-15% of total profits in the US economy in the 1950s-1960s to more than 40% of total profits in 2001. The popularity of financial investments and the self-fulfilling belief that increasing profits from these investments will continue indefinitely is driving up the prices of the commodities themselves. According to Pearlstein:
Little did you know that it’s no longer the supply and demand for companies, houses, office buildings, natural gas or wheat that sets prices. More likely it’s the supply and demand for the futures, swaps and other derivative instruments linked to those things.
Now, as a result of financialization, prices are not so tied to real supply and demand for things, so we see new levels of inflation in food and real estate prices. This is particularly distressing for those living on low incomes in the US and in the developing world. The DC area is experiencing this too. This graph shows the increase in consumer prices in the Washington-Baltimore area since 2001 (Bureau of Labor Statistics data):

Financialization does not seem to be going away. How will those living in poverty deal with increasing prices? What will happen to those who have lost their jobs and their housing? Or could financialization go away? Would supply and demand for things themselves reappear? Would investment in the production of things expand? Since so many pension funds invest in finance, what would happen to pension funds? What might replace financialization?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, Sports, and Ward 6

Thanksgiving is a day of many activities, including sports. Sociologists explore many aspects of sports and society. Just one example is the work by U of Minnesota sociologist Doug Hartmann. In his article "Sport as Social Intervention," Hartmann examines the interest among policymakers in midnight basketball and other programs that use sports as a tool to lure "at-risk" youth away from crime and back to school. In this article, he discusses one particularly successful program that goes far beyond offering only sports programs. Hartmann notes that midnight basketball programs too often are just ways that athletic administrators can obtain some funding for their limited sports facilities in an era of cuts to school budgets and to social services. He also warns policymakers not to expect too much from such programs. When expecting too much,
such misunderstandings can actually serve to reinforce and exacerbate the problems faced by at-risk urban youth by deflecting public attention away from deeper social sources of their problems. 'If we are not cautious,' as Jay Coakley has put it, such programs '... may unwittingly reaffirm ideological positions that identify young people, especially young people of color as 'problems' and then forget that the real problems are deindustrialization, unemployment, underemployment, poverty, racism, and at least twenty years of defunding social programs that have traditionally been used to foster community development in ways that positively impact the lives of young people.'
In the 1970s, Friendship House next to the SE Library and the Eastern Market Metro provided a wide range of programs for youths and their families that dealt with this range of "real problems" that they faced and still face today. Are young people of color in Ward 6 considered only as "problems"? Are sports the only programs provided to poor youths to succeed within massively unequal Ward 6 and society more generally of today?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gentrification of Yesteryear

Things have been really busy. Wanted to share something quickly. The Capitol Hill area experienced gentrification -- the replacement of lower-income residents with higher-income and often professional residents -- in the 1960s and then again in the late 1970s. In his excellent Between Justice and Beauty: Race, Planning, and the Failure of Urban Policy in Washington, D.C., Howard Gillette cites a Washington City Paper article from 1988, which reported that all of DC lost "8 percent of the city's middle-class taxpayers since 1975, with increases of 5 percent among the poor and 7 percent among the wealthiest city residents." By 1992, the Washington Post reported a drop in the number of poor households and "increased disparities between rich and poor in Washington and the metropolitan area." While my blog has been interrupted, gentrification has not.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Friendship House and Cesar Chavez

The Friendship House sought to organize/empower the poor so that the poor themselves could work to end poverty. In the public housing projects and in other activities, the Friendship House employees talked about various social movements. For example, in 1973, the Ellen Wilson Dwellings saw a movie about migrant workers to encourage them to join the boycott against Safeway (the nationwide boycott involving Cesar Chavez against Safeway and A&P to force them to make certain that farm workers received adequate compensation). Around the same time, African American firefighters visited Potomac Gardens to ask their support (which may have been related to the Oakland's Black Firefighters Association formed in 1973, as discussed in this PBS video). Here is a film maker seeking to make an updated version of such a film that public housing residents might have seen:

It is interesting that public housing residents seemed more politically integrated in the 1970s. Is this true? Why do you think this is?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Lost Connections of the Friendship House (II)

Someone wrote me and said that during the past 20 years, the Friendship House was no longer really carrying out its social services mission. Possible reasons: loss of funding? gentrification moving those helped by Friendship House farther away? loss of good staff?

I'm going to be reading more in their records soon, looking for some answers. Let me know your thoughts about or experiences with the Friendship House. It really helps to have your input.

The Lost Connections of the Friendship House

At 619 D St SE, the Maples condos are now selling for between $400,000 and $1.65 million. From 1936 to 2008, the Friendship House provided social services at that site. In 2008, the Friendship House closed due to bankruptcy.

The Friendship House was a settlement house. Settlement houses, like Hull House in Chicago run by Jane Addams, were set up integrate immigrants, help reduce poverty, and advocate for political change. African Americans also established settlement houses to help African Americans migrating from the South to large cities. At the GWU Special Collections, I have been reading the letters, reports, and records of the Friendship House. It quickly became apparent to me the immense loss our community has experienced.

The Friendship House was a place that helped organize the poor to advocate for themselves and create community. The Civil Rights Act and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 provided funding to Community Action Agencies like the United Planning Organization and the Friendship House to fight poverty by empowering the poor.

During one three-month period in 1982, Friendship House had distributed 6,175 flyers, pamphlets, and newsletters (about resident council meetings, jobs, school activities, bingo nights, etc; usually distributed door-to-door allowing them to know personally many Hill residents); connected 150 residents with resources; assisted 33 renters or owners; advocated for city-wide policy changes; organized public housing meetings and a disco to fund public housing resident councils; helped people get jobs; dispensed clothes; gave out emergency food assistance; enrolled 84 families in a food cooperative; organized parents to improve the public schools; provided a breathtaking array of youth activities; provided seniors with meals and services (including visiting them in the hospital); and more (GWU Special Collections, Friendship House Association records). They organized public housing residents into resident councils to advocate for repairs and security, formed food cooperatives and low-cost food buying clubs, and organized residents as consumers to work to improve the Safeway and call for lower utility bills. The CQ Research reported in 1998:
What's a kid to do after school or during summer vacation when Mom and Dad have to work? There are plenty of answers for those participating in the DCKids program at Friendship House in Washington, D.C., one of Washington's oldest social-service agencies. They can take guitar lessons, learn how to resolve conflicts peacefully, talk about African-American history, write a play about drug abuse and violence, or visit one of the Smithsonian Institution museums.
They also worked with organizations across Ward 6 and the city. Now, the poor have been displaced from their homes, especially with the closing of the Ellen Wilson, Arthur Capper, and Carrollsburg public housing projects, where the Friendship House worked regularly. At the same time, according to the Census, poverty has remained at 20% over the past 30 years in Ward 6. Middle- and upper-income residents have benefited from the work that the Friendship House did. An immense network has been ripped out of Ward 6 with little left to replace it. With the end of Friendship House, who is left to empower the poor?

The historic significance of Friendship House should be a concern for the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and the Historic Preservation Review Board: "Historic preservation safeguards the District of Columbia’s cultural heritage, supports the local economy, and fosters civic pride in the city’s beauty and history." From a Hill Rag article about the closing of the Friendship House:
Nancy Metzger, Chair of the Historic Preservation Committee of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, the community gatekeeper for Hill historical preservation, says she is glad that the property has been purchased and hopes that long overdue repairs might be initiated. Metzger expressed concern that the continuing neglect and unabated damage of the last years might be its permanent undoing. “I understand water has gotten in. It has been neglected. The roof needs to be addressed,” Metzger lamented. There are also concerns that faulty electrical wiring expose it to the strong possibility of fire. “We want it to be restored and brought back to the community in some way.”

Is bringing the building "back to the community" done by selling it as high-end condos? Wasn't the Friendship House long part of the community? It is sad that it ended this way. In 1973, the Friendship House became part of the Capitol East Housing Coalition "to try to help low and middle income people remain in their Capitol Hill maintain the economic and racial mix which now exists in the Capitol East area." They were formed "in response to the massive restoration of homes which is taking place in Capitol East, and which threatens to transform Capitol Hill into another Georgetown" (GWU Special Collections, Friendship House Association records). Now, the Friendship House is gone, and the building belongs to those who can pay $1.65 million.

P.S. Any updates on the Friendship House from those who worked there would be especially welcomed.

P.P.S. In what ways have you seen or experienced the disappearance of the Friendship House?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Qatar, Real Estate, and DC

This morning's Post reports:
Earlier this year, the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar was looking for a safe place to park some of its vast oil wealth. Qatar’s investment arm chose to pump $700 million into the new CityCenterDC, a downtown Washington apartment, office and retail complex that doesn’t have a major tenant signed up yet. The District, the Qataris decided, was as low risk an investment as could be found anywhere in the world.
Foreign investment in DC real estate and businesses is not new. On the one hand, this investment in cities has been a worldwide strategy by investors since the late 1970s. Deregulation and high interest rates at that time in the US financial markets made foreign investors very interested in putting their money in US markets. Foreign investors as well as domestic investors (such as mutual funds and pension funds) realized that they could make much more money in financial markets than investing in production. My favorite sociologist Saskia Sassen, as well as other great sociologists like Greta Krippner, talk about the enormous inflow of capital into the US especially from Japan, how this expansion of credit has inflated real estate prices and created new forms of financial risk, and the resulting financialization of our economy (the increasing dominance of financial profit making, as opposed to profit making in production, in our economy).

On the other hand, as discussed by geographer Jason Hackworth, since the 1970s, cities around the world have actively encouraged investment in real estate in their center cities. Enticing foreign investment in such real estate is a strategy by city governments and business groups around the world. As I talked about in a previous post, "What is Neoliberalism?," in this new context, cities like Washington, D.C. have taken on many of the tasks once carried out by the national state, but these cities do not have the resources to realize these tasks (due to austerity and low tax rates) and do not have the power to stand up to the demands of multinational corporations. Cities have thus become what sociologists and geographers call "entrepreneurial," competing with other cities for international investments, high-bond ratings, and high-income residents (including the "creative class" discussed by Richard Florida). The entrepreneurial city must focus on competition and neighborhood branding to lure new residents and international investors. These trends create "dual" cities, with areas of great wealth and other areas of great poverty, through gentrification and dispersal of the poor from certain places (The Yards in SW and Hine Jr. High, both in Ward 6) to make way for new development projects funded by international investors, which in turn fund the entrepreneurial city government. As a result, as the Post article quotes the chair of the Federal City Council, which represents the DC business elite:
'there's less of a local D.C. business community' now that companies based elsewhere control many of the city's major employers. But businesses owned by out-of-town interests also have a stake in the city's financial and political health...those executives are recruiting candidates to run against council members who are 'taking us back 20 years.'
Does "taking us back 20 years" mean taking us back to a time when politicians responded more to their constituents and less to the demands of international capital in our nation's capitol? Are we unintentionally turning DC into a kind of Disneyland for adults and a safe investment for international investors, while undermining what makes DC interesting and compelling as a city? Furthermore, are all DC residents equal, as democracy requires, or are residents measured by the revenue they generate?

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Book on Neoliberalism

Over the weekend, C-Span Book TV showed their interview with me about my book Markets in the Name of Socialism: The Left-Wing Origins of Neoliberalism. It's about 12 minutes long. I talk about what neoliberalism is -- policies supportive of free markets and against the state's role in the economy, though I would also add that neoliberalism is also very supportive of hierarchical authority. Neoliberal policies support hierarchical corporations and states. One economist, Ronald Coase, famously saw the similarities between the Soviet Union and large American corporations, both were/are planned societies. In my book, I talk about the ideas of many economists who envisioned societies without these hierarchical organizations.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hawk & Dove, Race, and Class (II)

The new Hawk & Dove will open with "a locally-sourced, seasonal bistro menu prepared in an open kitchen." While it did not have to happen this way, the turn to local food has in fact driven out the local, in this case the local working class and the other local residents who patronized the Hawk & Dove. Hawk & Dove also regularly provided affordable or discounted meals to the homeless and poor in the neighborhood. Similarly, and equally unnecessarily, historical preservation has been more about preserving buildings than about preserving people. Interestingly, my neighbor Thom appealed to the ANC and the Historic Preservation Review Board to preserve not the Hine school building (at 8th and Pennsylvania Ave SE) but the educational heritage of the Hine site -- the culture of children and learning that had been embedded in the schools at that site and in the community since the Civil War. (See the comments section here). According to the HPRB,

Historic preservation safeguards the District of Columbia’s cultural heritage, supports the local economy, and fosters civic pride in the city’s beauty and history.

Thom was not successful. A relatively autonomous, local children's culture is in the process of being lost.

Hawk & Dove, Race, and Class

Many identify gentrification as whites moving out blacks. While one has to recognize the role that race plays in gentrification, the key feature of gentrification is the replacement of a less affluent group by a wealthier social group. Back in March, the Washington City Paper published "Confessions of a Black Gentrifier." Black gentrification has been going on for some time around the country, as discussed by sociologists such as Mary Pattillo and Michelle Boyd about Chicago and by numerous scholars about Harlem. Generally, however, the displacement of the less affluent and the shift in class composition are the defining features of gentrification. DC has had a working class including white and black residents. Even though gentrification has moved the working class outside of the District, DC's working class world continues in various forms today.

On Saturday, after being in business for over 40 years, the Hawk & Dove will close. The new Hawk & Dove will open with "a locally-sourced, seasonal bistro menu prepared in an open kitchen." A couple of days ago, I was sitting at the Hawk & Dove bar talking with a long-time (white) customer. He regularly comes to the bar as part of his circuit through the city to see his working-class friends at working-class bars. This circuit is shrinking as places like the Hawk & Dove change and working class jobs continue to disappear in DC. Also, those who had those jobs are quite old and are passing away. Yes, there were many working-class jobs around the Navy Yard, the Capitol buildings, and most importantly Foggy Bottom. At Foggy Bottom, according to my "informant," Pepco and Washington Gas employed many people, who regularly patronized Lindy's Red Lion. These jobs are now gone, and the expanding subcontracting of government jobs and the movement of many jobs to the suburbs has further undermined DC's working class world. Yet, there are still working class jobs in DC, such as those in the Capitol buildings, and the working class still patronizes Lindy's Red Lion and Hawk & Dove. What does my informant miss about DC's working class world? Those who live in all the new condos don't know their neighbors. The working class knew their working-class friends throughout the city. On Saturday, bid farewell to Hawk & Dove, but also keep an eye on the working-class networks that remain.

P.S. Thanks to Alex B's comments, I'll suggest that the current Hawk & Dove is a (at least partially) cross-class institution, unlike Senart's and Chesapeake Room nearby and owned by the new Hawk & Dove owner. Such cross-class institutions are difficult to create because they must be affordable and open/comfortable to a broad range of people. The interns who frequent the Hawk & Dove are usually working for free and have more in common with the precariat (see video interviewing the precariat) -- precarious work is temporary, informal, often unpaid or poorly paid, uncertain, insecure -- than with the proletariat.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

DC Studies

For those of you interested in DC Studies, I just want to recommend H-DC, the Washington, DC History Network. I subscribe to their listserv, which has great info about the history of DC. For example, H-DC told me about the upcoming DC Historical Studies Conference. The conference will take place in downtown DC Nov. 3-6, 2011. Their conference website has the schedule of panels and tours. In addition, you email questions about DC to the H-DC editors!

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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Book on U St.

Urban historian Amber N. Wiley has written a great review of Blair Ruble's Washington's U Street. Ruble, who directs the world-famous Kennan Institute and the Comparative Urban Studies Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center downtown, explores U St as a "Contact Zone" and DC as an ambiguous place " by virtue of its function as the seat of the federal government and geographical location between North and South." One particularly interesting part of the review:
Ruble situates Washington within a network of three cities that include St. Louis and Baltimore that had a black population consisting of a majority of free blacks by the outbreak of the Civil War. Contraband camps set up during the Civil War and the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau also added to the early important presence of blacks in the city. Ruble therefore refutes the idea that Washington became an important center of African American life only beginning in the early twentieth century. This point is significant to Ruble and other scholars of Washington history such as James Borchert, Kathleen Lesko, Valerie Babb, and Carroll R. Gibbs because it emphasizes the contributions of free and enslaved African Americans to early life in the republic.
I'll be talking more about this point in an upcoming post.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Updated DC Cooperative Map

I have added a few more cooperatives to this map. I'll have to add the limited-equity housing cooperatives when I get their exact addresses. Let me know any other cooperatives or organizations that assist cooperatives in town.

View DC Cooperatives in a larger map

P.S. [6/6/2012] See the Co-op Directory and Co-op DC Group.

Gentrification is Global

Gentrification is happening worldwide, as cities around the world seek to survive and grow in the global economy. Global finance invests in our local restaurants and development projects, as well as those in other cities, globalizing gentrification. In studies of this process in different locations around the world, we can see common trends. Writing about European gentrification two years ago, Berg, Kaminer, Schoonderbeek, and Zonnevelt found:
Even though population movement is a common feature of cities, gentrification is specifically the replacement of a less affluent group by a wealthier social group -- a definition which relates gentrification to class. Whether a result of city council policies or real estate pressures, gentrification stands in contrast to earlier attempts to improve deprived neighbourhoods by addressing the built environment, the central objective of urban renewal up until the 1970s. More recently, the betterment of deprived neighbourhoods has taken a completely different form as the improvement of living conditions is no longer considered the task of the state ('to enlighten the masses'), but rather a side effect of the development and emancipation of the higher and middle classes. The state seems to have acknowledged its inability to influence the welfare of its residents directly and has left that task to the workings of the supposedly objective agency of the market. Gentrification has become a means of solving social malaise, not by providing solutions to unemployment, poverty, or broken homes, but by transferring the problem elsewhere, out of sight, and consequently also geographically marginalising the urban poor and ensuring their economic location and political irrelevance.
Through HOPE VI, several DC public housing projects -- like Ward 6's Capper-Carrollsburg -- were dismantled and the residents dispersed. Likely, they were given vouchers, a market-based program in which the voucher holder pays 30% of their income and the rest of the rent is paid by the government. Those who know my research will know that I do not think that markets are necessarily a problem, specific institutions around them are. Several years back, John M. Hartung of HUD and Jeffrey R. Henig, GWU political science professor, looked at the DC-area distribution of those using vouchers. They found that those "with vouchers and certificates most highly concentrated in tracts with residents having a low socioeconomic status (tracts with a higher percentage of persons 25 years of age or older who have no more than a ninth-grade education) and where there is an ample supply of affordable rental forces cannot be counted upon to spontaneously generate socially desirable ends." It seems that the deconcentration of the poor may have led merely to its reconcentration elsewhere, marginalized outside the center of the city, its amenities (like Metro and jobs), and access to political influence. Who instead benefited from this program? Have they benefited globally?

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?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Give a Call to WPFW

Everyone knows that WPFW 89.3 is a great DC radio station, which has been providing an alternative to mainstream media since 1977. They also speak for DC! Give them a call and donate right now: 202-588-9739 or 1-800-222-9739. Of course, you can also donate online, but thanking the radio station with your own voice is a great thing.

P.S. Also, check out WPFW's fabulous new webpage.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gentrification Lecture on Tuesday

GWU American Studies Professor Suleiman Osman will be giving a fascinating lecture about trends we also find in Ward 6: gentrification, renovation, and our search for authenticity.

"The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification, Renovation and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar Brooklyn"
Lecture by Suleiman Osman, PhD, George Washington University

The National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

6:30 P.M. – light refreshments, 7:00 P.M. – lecture

Reservations are not required. $10.00 for Latrobe Chapter members, student members (full time) free with ID, $18.00 for non-members.

The gentrification of Brooklyn has been one of the most striking developments in recent urban history. Considered a “blighted” slum by city planners in the 1940s and 1950s, Brownstone Brooklyn by the 1980s had become a landscape of hip bars, yoga studios, and expensively renovated townhouses in new neighborhoods with creative names like “Boerum Hill” and “Carroll Gardens.” In his recently published work The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, Suleiman Osman locates the origins of gentrification in the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. Starting in Brooklyn Heights in the 1940s, a new urban middle class (or “brownstoners” as they referred to themselves) began to migrate into Brooklyn’s brownstone areas, purchasing and renovating aging townhouses. Where postwar city leaders championed slum clearance and modern architecture, "brownstoners" sought a new romantic urban ideal that celebrated historic buildings, industrial lofts and traditional ethnic neighborhoods as source of authenticity they felt was lacking in new suburbs and downtown skyscrapers. They started new reform democratic organizations, founded block associations and joined forces with long-time residents to battle urban renewal. But as brownstoners migrated into poorer areas, race and class tensions emerged, and by the 1980s, as newspapers parodied yuppies and anti-gentrification activists marched through increasingly expensive neighborhoods, brownstoners debated whether their search for authenticity had been a success or failure.


For general information, please see the Latrobe Chapter website at, or contact Christine Henry at (202)-744-8123 or

Friday, September 9, 2011

Public Housing Residents: Criminalizing the Victims?

I get the sense that some DC residents consider public housing residents 1) criminals, especially when crime occurs around public housing, and 2) the cause of the assumed "failure" of public housing. This is not the picture I get from reading 10 years (1979-1989) of Washington Post reporting on Potomac Gardens and the personal papers of John A. Wilson, DC council member and chair, who worked to improve other Ward 6 (then Ward 2) public housing in the 1980s. I have found that public housing residents not only have been accused of the crimes done against them but also that their decades-long, partially successful efforts to improve their living environments have been forgotten.

Across the nation, federal, state, and city governments had assumed that rents would cover maintenance costs, but this was not the case. In Ward 6, unmaintained public housing projects were without heat (many families used kitchen ovens to heat their apartments) and functioning elevators, had collapsed roofs and ceilings, had broken sewage lines and flooded first floors, and other results of the lack of general maintenance. From 1979, the Marion Barry Administration made renovation of public housing a top priority. Throughout the 1980s, renovations were made through the city, but at a very slow rate, leaving people in horrible conditions. Public housing residents feared for the health and safety of themselves and their children.

The lack of funds also meant a lack of security. Most public housing did not have functioning front doors or fences, which meant that anyone could enter their buildings anytime of day. At the 1200 Delaware Ave, SW building, there was "widespread fear among the tenants. This is apparently due to the fact that the building is totally open at all hours to anyone who wants to enter the building" (JA Wilson Papers, MS2190, Box 25, File 15). These outsiders continually broke all the lights, leaving residents in the dark. In 1988, Greenleaf residents in SW reported:

At Greenleaf, front doors were installed for a brief period last summer, but then removed so they would not be vandalized. Security guards were hired for a brief period, but then left becuase they were unsafe without doors or a guard station...When residents met with Mr. Jackson about this, he said that residents had to take responsibility for reporting drug pushers before the Department would improve security. (JA Wilson papers, MS2190, Box 25, File 17)
The city basically told residents that they would have to deal with the situation themselves. Residents across the city organized themselves. At Greenleaf public housing, a group of residents formed The Committee for the Betterment of 203 N St, SW and organized "Operation Fight Back" to drive out drug dealers in their building through regular resident patrols. A non-profit working with them asked the police for assistance in this terrifying endeavor:

Can we have 24 hour police coverage for at least three weeks -- one week while we are patrolling the halls, and coverage later so there will not be retaliation?

Would four police be possible -- two for the front, two for the back?

Could there be some undercover police?

How can we be sure pushers won't hurt the children of residents who are patrolling? Is there some way the residents who are most active can have a call-in point, where they tell their whereabouts or where they are going?

Is there any special equipment we need? What about walkie-talkies?

What has been the experience of other neighborhoods who have tried to get rid of drugs? How did 14th Street get cleaned up?

What other precautions should we take? (JA Wilson Papers, MS2190, Box 26, File 12)
For those without the money to enter the private apartment market, public housing was all they had. There were thousands on the waiting lists for private apartment vouchers or other options. Yet, public housing is more than just housing. Public housing often provides community and social networks (and social capital) that poor people in particular need to survive. As one Potomac Garden resident told the Washington Post in 1983, "I like it here. I like the people. I don't like the problems. But the people are good people."

Many in the DC government sought to help and were successful in many cases in the late 1980s, but poor residents in general were abandoned to fend for themselves. The residents organized, but a basic level of security and maintenance would have helped them to realize their goals.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Peter Bug, Fellow Sociologist in Ward 6

John "Peter Bug" Matthews is a fifth generation DC resident, an alumnus of Tyler Elementary School, and a great community organizer, founding the Peter Bug Shoe Repair Academy at E and 13th St SE (right near Safeway) and committing himself early on to helping DC youth. You'll learn a lot from the interview of Mr. Matthews done by Destiny-Pride. Here are some items particularly relevant to this blog:
  • Mr. Matthews has a degree in sociology and anthropology from Federal City College, which opened its doors in 1968 and later became part of UDC.
  • Mr. Matthews worked alongside his college friend Carroll "Skeezie" Payne helping kids at Potomac Gardens and at Tyler. As part of the Roving Leaders Program, they sought to engage at-risk youth in constructive activities. This 1989 Post article talks about Potomac Gardens children spending "large chunks of their time visiting with Carroll (Skeezie) Payne, a city housing worker who has become an ex-officio grandfather to many of the youngsters in the project." Mr. Matthews did a lot of work organizing residents of Potomac Gardens, Arthur Capper, and other public housing in Ward 6.
  • Mr. Matthews nearly founded a shoe manufacturing company for Timberland in the area, which only required matching funds that the DC government failed to provide. The failure of this project "was one of the tragedies of the dream that we thought we were going to fulfill."
  • When asked what relaxes him, Mr Matthews said,
You know what really relaxes me? When I can see people having fun. Folks ask, “Man, why do you do all of this [referring to his annual Peter Bug Day]?” I say, because I want to hear folks say, “Man, we had a good time.” I need people. I need to be around people. I can’t stand to be by myself because I might drive my car off a bridge [laughter]. I’ve got to have some people around me. Just to make people feel happy and be proud of themselves – that relaxes me.
Save the Date: Peter Bug Day is the third Saturday in May.