Friday, August 31, 2012

The Consequences of Displacement

Between 1950 and 1960, 23,500 residents were moved out of SW DC to make way for new middle- and upper-income, as well as some public, housing. At the time, it was understood that impoverished slums were being replaced with a mixed-income community. This urban renewal has similarities with more recent displacements of the Ward 6 poor done in the name of helping them. These displacements have quite devastating affects on the majority of the residents.

In a previous post, I discussed the results of a survey of a small group of those displaced in the 1950s:
They found that the 98 families obtained housing that was physically improved, especially with indoor toilets and in well-maintained buildings, but they experienced new problems...By 1965, government officials realized that the "myths" of housing reform and slum clearance "were based on rather vague and misleading correlations between the physical conditions of housing and such social factors," like poverty and crime. For those interviewed, poverty continued (a common experience among those displaced), and they then suffered "from another set of problems created by their removal from what was once their homes" because they lost not only their homes but also "a functioning social system." Some became sick with grief, like that experienced by a death in the family, which was a common reaction to such relocations. Seventy percent of those interviewed had visited SW after redevelopment, and "a significant number talked about crying and feeling sick" when they visited.
I am in the midst of conducting oral histories with former residents of Arthur Capper public housing. One interviewee, whom I call X for now, had moved as an eight-year old with his family in 1960 from Southwest to Arthur Capper public housing. Here is part of our discussion:
JB: Why did you move?
X: I found out later on that, I think, they were renovating the area down there... So, all the low-income had to move out of that area. So, I think we had...well, of course, we had to move ourselves.
JB: Did anyone you knew move back into the area?
X: No. (Then in a whisper) We were gone. We were gone.
His family was one of the lucky ones, which obtained an apartment in public housing. He spoke very fondly of his time in Arthur Capper, especially because the residents could trust each other and shared food and other items when they were in need. He also remembered that relatives and family friends who were now homeless stayed with them in their public housing apartment for long periods of time, sleeping on the sofa or on the floor. A cousin lived so long with them that X considered him a brother. His father also helped out the many poor and homeless in the area with food.

Families who had been displaced by SW renewal had to move again in the 1990s and 2000s when Arthur Capper public housing was closed. Public housing has long provided a respite for *both* the official residents and the family/friends they have taken in, the thousands of people made homeless by renewal and by more current "revitalization." The current destruction of public housing through HOPE VI and other programs displaces the official residents and the family/friends who depend on their kindness. This displacement comes with great costs to the individuals and communities involved, including communities in Ward 6.

Several decades ago, a Chicago newspaper predicted that the affect of urban renewal displacements would have devastating affects over the long term:
Something is happening to lives and spirits that will never show up in the great housing shortage of the late '40s. Something is happening to the children which might not show up in our social records until 1970.
The HOPE VI displacements began in the 1990s (though some displacements occurred earlier), which means that we are already experiencing the affects on the lives and spirits of the children who grew up in this time

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What is poverty?

This past weekend, I attended the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver. It was absolutely fascinating. Scholars attend such meetings to get the most up-to-date research in the field, get feedback on their research, learn about new data or new fields, meet other scholars in the field, obtain new materials or learn new ways to improve their teaching, and train graduate students who present their own work. Some scholars I spoke with also said that they were energized by the conference, by the excitement of so many people working so rigorously on social research. As people, for example, discussed their datasets and statistical findings or displayed quotations from the many people they had interviewed, you could feel the excitement in the air.

I had the great opportunity to hear a presentation on poverty measures by sociologist Diana Pearce of the University of Washington. According to Pearce, when we say that someone is living in poverty, we mean that someone's income does not adequately cover their basic needs. In other words, poverty is income insufficiency or income inadequacy. In the 1960s, Mollie Orshansky developed the official federal poverty thresholds based on USDA food budgets. Pearce argued that the federal poverty line (FPL), however, has not raised to reflect the real costs of living and does not take into account that it costs more to live in some places than in others. According to her website:
The federal poverty level (FPL) is based on USDA food budgets that meet minimal nutritional standards. Because families in the 1950s spent an average of one-third of their income on food, it was assumed that multiplying the food budget by three would result in an amount that would be adequate to meet other basic needs as well. Since its creation, the FPL has only been updated for inflation. FPL thresholds reflect the number of adults and children, but they do not vary by age of children, nor by place.
As a result, federal and state agencies, as well as foundations, have to make "work arounds," such as setting food stamp eligibility at 130% of the federal poverty line.

To fix these problems, in 2010, the federal government implemented the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes into account the real costs nationally (through the Consumer Expenditure Survey) of basic necessities and geographical differences in, specifically, housing costs. According to the Census:
Thresholds used in the new measure will be derived from Consumer Expenditure Survey expenditure data on basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing and utilities) and will be adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing.
Pearce argued that the SPM still does not deal with the real costs of basic needs. So, she has put forth the Self-Sufficiency Standard (SSS), used by many government agencies:
The Self-Sufficiency Standard defines how much income a family of a certain composition in a given place needs to adequately meet their basic needs -- without public or private assistance.
The SSS measures whether income adequately covers basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing, utilities), health care, and work-related costs (transportation, taxes, and child care). If income adequately covers these costs, then that person is self-sufficient and not living in poverty.

Of the many interesting things that the SSS reveals is that most (78-85%) households with incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard have at least one worker, and half of these households includes a full-time worker. The Recession has especially hit these working poor households.

At this link, you can find the SSS for your state. For DC, the SSS is $21,224 for a single adult and $38,151 for an adult and an infant: 

One can understand these high self-sufficiency wages when we think about the high cost of child care and housing, as well as food, in the DC area. You can also use a calculator to figure out whether your personal income is adequate for a location (like Ward 6 in DC) and whether you are eligible for public assistance. We can thank Diana Pearce for clarifying the issue of poverty. Now, what can be done about income insufficiency in Ward 6? 

P.S. See my previous post "Who are the poor in Ward 6"? 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cooperatives in Ward 6

DC and Ward 6 have been unusually fertile places for cooperatives of all sorts. At the Coop DC website, you can see a list of the current, past, and future cooperatives. In Arthur Capper public housing from 1970, there was the MLK food coop. Around 221 11th St SE [correction: 219 11th SE], the Furies collective lived and published their magazine in the early 1970s. We now have the Capitol Hill Energy Coop, many preschool and daycare cooperatives (such as Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op, Capitol Hill Cooperative Nursery School, Capitol Hill Learning Group, Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School, G Street Cooperative Playgroup, Gan Shalom Cooperative Preschool, Jenkins Hill Child Development Center), and housing cooperatives especially in SW (such as Tiber Island and Harbor Square cooperatives). In the building pictured to the left (736 7th St SE), the Women's Community Bakery Collective worked from 1979 to 1992. Below are some details from a preliminary history written by Vernice Woodland. If you remember other cooperatives in the area, let me know. Thanks!

Women's Community Bakery Collective, 1976-1992

By Vernice Woodland. The Community Bakery, Inc. as incorporated in Maryland in May 1976 and for a couple of years operated in Hyattsville, MD as the Women’s Community Bakery. In September 1979, the business moved to DC…. 736 7th Street, SE. From 1979 through 1992, the business operated at this address. A two-story building, the bakery was on the first floor where the production and packaging took place, bakery office, employee space on the second floor. The business also had a delivery truck for deliveries...This is one of the few producer cooperatives located in DC at that time…they baked whole-grain breads, rolls, muffins and a few other bakery goods to grocery stores and restaurants. Their major operations were the preparation and baking of the products, packaging and delivery to regular customers. The bakery described itself as a “non-profit, community-owned businesses” – a women’s collective.. community ownership referring to the community of workers. The business also gave surplus products to social service groups including shelters, and a limited retail business with neighborhood residents, particularly those families located in what I think used to be the Carroll and the Arthur Capers (sp?) Housing that used to be located in the M Street SE area as well as the Potomac Gardens and Kentucky Court communities... Interesting group – they closed in 1992, not because of declining business… the principals were tired, wanted to do something else, and couldn’t find anyone to take over the business...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Capitol Hill Vigilantes

In 1963, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) published this brochure (the cover is shown to the right), calling on Hill residents to become "vigilantes": "If the 'Hill' is to be stabilized and preserved, that is just what we must become, and what we must remain."(1) The brochure reproduced a speech given to the CHRS on May 13, 1963 by Tony P. Wrenn, archivist at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But who or what are Hill residents to be vigilant of? Who or what are they supposed to be looking out for?

Vigilantism has long had negative connotations.(2) Vigilantes seek to take justice into their own hands, outside the law. The larger man in this drawing is wearing a coonskin cap, quite popular in the 1950s from tv shows about Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and their frontier vigilantism against Native Americans. The brochure's speech calls on Hill residents to be "pioneers," suggesting that the Hill was a frontier or the Wild West. The KKK and other groups also practice vigilantism through violent intimidation of people they perceived as threatening outsiders. On Capitol Hill, our historical neighbor Bernard L. Henning (802 4th St NE) made famous his song "The Bilbo Bill (Every Man a King)," which was a "condensed summary of Senator Bilbo's white Supremacy Speech delivered to the Mississippi Legislative in 1944."(3) Segregationist and white supremacist views had their followers in DC and on Capitol Hill. While the CHRS probably did not support such ideas, especially by 1963, the brochure did present vigilantism, which already had lots of historical baggage, in a positive light.

The brochure seems to assume a white reader. The drawing has five white people, along with an attentive dog and a (distracted?) cat, confined to a solitary row house on top of a grassy hill. Of course, we know that Capitol Hill row houses are generally lined up right next to each other very close to the sidewalks and streets. So, this image suggests a feeling of isolation and siege. From the history of CHRS, we know that there were fights against highway construction and various kinds of urban renewal projects. In the brochure's text, the speaker refers to residents of Roslyn, NY who are fighting against "undesirable industrialization, rampant road-building programs, and the spread of the apartment building." Yet, the text speaks much clearly for vigilance against "slums": "It will prevent any chance of deterioration in the future -- the possibility that a district will ever become a slum."

On the one hand, if the Hill is declared a "slum," then it might be demolished by the government, as in Southwest DC. The woman in the sundress is watering her flowers as part of this vigilant activity. On the other hand, she and the guy with the binoculars are on the lookout for something else in the distance. The term "slum" had racial connotations at this time. As discussed by a Western Michigan University sociology professor in the late 1950s, white urban residents had long perceived a "Negro invasion" and sought through various means to halt this "invasion," not due, at least in the minds of Northern whites, to overt white suprematist views but for "economic" reasons. Among whites, there was a view that African American entering "white" neighborhoods -- "pioneers"? -- would lower housing values (an incorrect view, in fact) and also would bring the deterioration of housing stock and slums with them. In the brochure, the speaker pleads his audience to keep alert of what is going on in the neighborhood, organize the neighbors (such as by the petition that the older woman is holding but also through being tough on zoning regulation), write the histories of the houses (to re-narrate the neighborhood not as a slum but as a historically significant, respectable (white?) neighborhood), and prod politicians into action. The speaker calls for vigilante action "or you will have no future."

So, of what or whom are Capitol Hill residents being called to be vigilant? Those who supposedly bring the slums? Is this 1963 brochure expressing the new form of racism that developed because KKK-style racism became unacceptable, especially in DC: a racism built instead on notions of "culture," "local history," and "economics"?

(1) "Capitol Hill Vigilantes" speech by Tony P. Wrenn, archivist of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to the Capitol Hill Restoration Society on May 13, 1963, P0958, Kiplinger Research Library, The Historical Society of Washington, DC.
(2) From the Oxford English Dictionary:
1890 N. P. Langford Vigilante Days i. xiv. 181 "In the name of Vigilante justice [some men] committed crimes which...were wholly indefensible."
(3) "Uncle SAP Worldwide Santa Claus" song/poem and "The Bilbo Bill (Every Man a King)" song copyrighted by Bernard L. Henning, discussed at the Dec. 9, 1947 meeting
of the Southeast Citizens Association. GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society records, MS2009, Box 34, mainly Folder 14, Southeast Citizens Association.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Rise of Ward 6 Residential Segregation by Income

On Wednesday, the Post reported on a Pew Research Center report on rising residential segregation by income in the United States. Basically, it said that those with higher incomes were living more with those with higher incomes, and those with lower incomes are living more with those with lower incomes. However, the majority of people still live in middle-income or mixed-income areas. The take away is that income inequality has continued to increase since about 1967 and people are living in ever more economically homogeneous areas.

One issue that is not explored in the report is that DC and Ward 6 have areas with extremely high incomes, extremely high incomes on a national scale.
The DC median household income is $58,526, which means that half of the population makes above this amount and half of the population makes below this amount. The US median household income is $51,914. Census tract 9.01 in NW (between Nebraska, MacArthur, Massachusetts Avenues) has the highest median household income in DC and likely one of the highest in the US -- $213,000 -- which means that 50% of the households in that census tract make more than $213,000. In DC, there are 8 census tracts with a median household income over $130,000. In Ward 6, we have two census tracts with among the highest median incomes in the city, more than those in many Georgetown census tracts. Census tract 67 and Census tract 81 are two of these eight very wealthy census tracts (see map below). Census tract 67 has a median household income of $141,000, while next-door census tract 81's is $132,000.