Friday, March 22, 2013

Homeless Youth

In "Why is there homelessness?," I wrote about how several waves of gentrification in DC has led to the large numbers of homeless here. This morning, the Washington Post reported, "Counselors at one of the city’s largest shelters for homeless youths have had to turn away more than 80 unaccompanied children — some as young as 12 or 13 — who came to them for help in the past six weeks after the city cut more than $700,000 from the shelter’s budget." Other shelters are having similar problems. 

No kid should be turned away from a shelter. The DC Government is flush with money, so please sign my petition to Mayor Gray that the DC government provide a shelter bed for all DC homeless youth tonight. It is very quick and easy to sign the petition. Thanks! 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Surprising Finding regarding HOPE VI

By 1993, HUD implemented HOPE VI as a national program "to eradicate severely distressed public housing." The DC Housing Authority has since received seven HOPE VI grants totally $6 billion, which dismantled public housing projects (including Arthur Capper Dwellings, Capitol View Plaza, East Capitol Dwellings, Eastgate Gardens, Ellen Wilson, Frederick Douglass, Sheridan Terrace, Stanton Dwellings, Valley Green) and created mixed-income projects with the majority of the former public housing residents displaced. Interestingly, in 1994, the first permanent bonds issued by the National Capital Housing Authority (NCHA) were due, meaning that $48 million dollars plus interest had to be paid to investors.   

The table below lists the long-term bonds sold by the NCHA to investors from 1954 to 1968. The sub-total shows the amount of long-term debt that would be due by 1994. By 2009, the NCHA would need to pay back the more than $124 million in long-term debt from the pre-1969 period. The information in the table comes from the DC Archives (DC Archives, National Capital Housing Authority, Legal Division, Minutes 1954-68 (Duplicate), 91-012 NCHP).

According to the official agreements with bondholders (Declaration of Trust), the NCHA could not sell this property during the 35-40 life of the bond. Did the NCHA bonds actually help protect public housing, at least for the 35-40 year period? In the 1990s, did the DCHA (the new NCHA) sell off parts of public housing to help pay for the over $48 million due to investors? Did the DCHA assume that, by paying off the bonds, the DCHA could then dismantle public housing, which displaced very low-income residents?

As a side point, by 1969, years before DC Home Rule, the NCHA had accumulated not only $124 million in debt but also debt in short-term bonds, and threatened to go into bankruptcy. In 1975, the new DC government inherited both this debt of over $124 million and public housing that had not been maintained, within the context of the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and 1980s experienced by urban areas worldwide.

Bond Issue
Year Issued
Maturity Date
Interest Rt
1st Issue

2nd Issue
3rd Issue

4th Issue

5th Issue
6th Issue


7th Issue
8th Issue
9th Issue
10th Issue
11th Issue
12th Issue

13th Issue

14th Issue


15th Issue
16th Issue

17th Issue


18th Issue


19th Issue


Grand Total


  DC Archives, National Capital Housing Authority, Legal Division, Minutes 1954-68 (Duplicate), 91-012 NCHP.

P.S. If I correctly understand the CPI Inflation Calculator, $124 million in 1968 would have the same buying power as $828 million today.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Murals and Gentrification

While having dinner out on 14th St, NW, our friend asked, why is African American history being commodified [to support gentrification] on 14th St? Why is there a mural of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike on the side of a soon-to-be opened new restaurant here? We walked up the street to the building of the planned Italian restaurant and took this photo. What function might this mural of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike be providing?

Of course, one could say: U and 14th Streets have been a center of African American life, and this photo just captures and celebrates that life. Yet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his very last speech at the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," supporting economic equality, unions, jobs, and a reorganization of the economy (King Institute Encyclopedia). He would never have supported the gentrification and the displacement happening on 14th St (see previous post). The day after he made this speech to striking sanitation workers, Dr. King was assassinated. He and everyone knew that he was in grave danger for his ideas and actions. For example, in his speech, he said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life--longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now… I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” During their two-month strike, the Memphis sanitation workers were also in grave danger. They had been attacked with mace and tear gas; the mayor had declared martial law. The people depicted in the 14th St. mural were marching within a world of violence.

One could then say: Isn't it great that this mural has made you remember this event and talk about it with others? Isn't it great that this mural has initiated a discussion?

Yet, the mural is functioning in several ways, not merely as a discussion piece. The artist of the mural, JR, is the winner of the $100,000 TED prize in 2011 for his pledge to “use art to turn the world inside out” (Washington Post). In contrast to Dr. King's and the sanitation workers' demands for significant economic change, JR's demands are for vague existence:
"This says it all, 'I am a man,'" said JR, referencing the signs the pickets are holding in the photo. "They created such a strong and powerful image that still resonates today, but in another context. Still people say, 'I am a man,' but they care less about the color [of their skin]. It’s 'we are humans, we are here, we want to exist.' And I like that, I think that’s pretty powerful." (Washington Post)
Is JR's work being used as part of gentrification's turning of "the world inside out"? What would it look like to really "turn the world inside out"? Turning the world inside out requires much more than showing us an image. Dr. King and many of today's community organizers know this. Unfortunately, even the most innovative artists can be drawn into "The Art of Gentrification."

What function is the mural providing? Is the mural helping to sell the U St area? Is it raising property values by providing history and authenticity, even though it isn't technically local history? Is it possible that the mural helps to assuage the guilt some have about displacing African Americans from the area? Maybe through a kind of "sanitized" celebration of general African American history by erasing the call for economic equality and against displacement and by replacing it with a vague embrace of humanity and existence? Or does the mural assuage this guilt because it suggests that the bad guys are racists in the South, in the past, and maybe in the suburbs, but not the people eating and shopping on 14th St.? Is the mural an extremely attractive tool in the current battle over who has a right to the city? Does it somehow give license for developers to make such signs declaring that luxury condo owners can now say, "This is My District"! Well, all of this could be true.
Photo is by Borderstan
Of course, the mural could be mobilized for a renewed call for economic equality, unions, jobs, and a reorganization of the economy. That would require much more than an image; it would require the decades of organizing work and skills that DC's community organizers have. Now, that might "turn the world inside out."

Research Guide on the CGA Pump Me Up Exhibit

This is a great research guide! See in particular the section on DC Politics/Society in the 1980. A great resource!
This research guide gathers together information and resources from the collections of the Corcoran Library and elsewhere about the topics addressed in the exhibition Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s, on view February 23, 2013 -- April 7, 2013. Each of the main topics of the exhibition has its own page of information, which you can access using the tabs above. Each page offers books, articles, videos, and links to the Corcoran's library databases about that specific topic.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why is there homelessness?

In the Post last month, Colbert I. King asked, "Why can't D.C.'s homeless be helped?" King did not answer his question but rather discussed previous failed attempts by DC Government to eradicate homelessness. It seems to me that gentrification is one of the root causes of homelessness. It does not have to be so, but it just happens to be so here.

DC has had many waves of displacement caused by gentrification. As I discussed in "The Consequences of Displacement," an early form of gentrification occurred between 1950 and 1960 when 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. Highway construction displaced many more. Only the very luckiest could move back into their neighborhood, in the few spots in public housing. There were many people automatically excluded from public housing, such as single people no matter how poor. By 1955, 5,000 families were on the waiting list for public housing with little hope of getting a place. Many of these people doubled up with relatives, including with those in public housing, but the District often did not know where people went. By 1968, the District had descended into a housing crisis. 

Today, gentrification has raised rents and converted low-cost rentals into high-cost rentals or expensive condos, which takes away affordable housing and creates new homeless people. According to DC Fiscal Policy Institute, over the past decade, "DC has lost more than half of its low cost rental units and 72 percent of its low value homes." Today, DC residents require an income of $60,240 to afford a two-bedroom apartment ($1,506 at fair market rent). To afford this, a minimum wage worker earning an hourly wage of $8.25 "must work 140 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or a household must include 3.5 minimum wage earners working 40 hours per week year-round" (NLIHC, p. 41). Furthermore, new 'affordable' housing is, in fact, not affordable for the poor, as I discussed in a previous post.

Displacements have continued. On the same day as King's article on homelessness, Moira E. McLaughlin's Post article "Boutique condos to take place of Central Union Mission" appeared. Central Union Mission is moving from 14th St and R St, NW, to the Union Station area. The Central Union Mission's executive director David Treadwell mentioned that the new location would allow them to reach "poor and needy people who have been pushed out of the [Northwest] corridor, but still have great need for the services offered by Central Union Mission." Both very low-rent housing and homeless shelters are being taken over by more wealthy owners, those with many housing choices already. The original article in the Post showed only a clean, ahistorical image of the Central Union Mission (see top left image), while the building as it stands now calls out for empathy from the neighborhood; in the image above on the right, the sign on the right-hand side calls out "...Love Your Neighbor. CENTRAL UNION MISSION." The sign on the other side of the building says (image on lower left), "CENTRAL UNION MISSION Feeding and Caring for Washington DC's Poor and Hungry." In place of the homeless and those housed but very poor, 50 boutique condos with "a lot of character" will sell for $419,900 to $849,900, housing those with many housing choices already. Such displacements are happening across the District and can be seen as a root cause of homelessness.

P.S. The new owner of the building is thinking about calling the new building "The Mission." What is its mission? The building's interior designer also designed the 14th-Street restaurant and lounge Lost Society, "Designed to evoke an underground, Victorian atmosphere." Is the mission to help bring back the white, racist, upper-class Victorian society, displacing everyone else?

P.P.S. The owner of building says, "All of our retailers are of a certain ilk, and they're all local. We like dealing with local tenants...high-end without question...We have a tremendous amount of interest at this point." Are they high-end local chains, as discussed in "What's wrong with chains?"? 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Buildings and People

Walking towards the DC Archives by the Convention Center, I came across this sign by Borf, along with photos organized by Ward 6's own Rosina Teri Memolo. These photos were taken by and of students at Lincoln Heights and Edgewood Terrace. Borf writes:
The bourgeoisie of the whole world, which looks complacently upon wholesale massacre, is convulsed by horror at the desecration of brick and mortar.
Are Ward 6 residents convulsed by horror at the potential desecration of buildings? Are they more concerned about the historic preservation of buildings than about the preservation of people? Are Ward 6 residents complacent about the displacement of our neighbors from Ward 6, which makes their lives worse off? Of course, it doesn't have to be an either/or, either buildings or people; but why does it so often end up this way?

You can see the original, impressive photo display here. Rosina and the students were working with Words Beats & Life, Inc.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Join us at the DC Historical Studies Conference


Washington, D.C., November 14-17, 2013
Submission Deadline: May 1, 2013

"Marching on Washington"

We invite you to take part in the 40th Annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies. Submit your proposals for individual papers, panels, viewings of new films, walking tours, author talks on new books, and practical workshops on research or material preservation. All topics related to the history of metropolitan Washington, D.C., including nearby Maryland and Virginia, as well as the federal government, are welcome. Don't miss this opportunity to reach the conference audience of scholars, students, and interested members of the public eager for this lively consideration of all things D.C.

The theme for the 40th Annual Conference is "Marching on Washington," covering a diverse range of anniversaries: the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, 1973 initiation of modern Home Rule, the centennial of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession, and the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Conference themes are not exclusive; the presentation of all new historical research about D.C. is welcome. Past presentations have considered art, archaeology, architecture, biography, D.C. governance, demography, geography, law, military, music, neighborhoods, race relations, schools, as well as oral history techniques and archival collection reviews.

The conference opens with the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Lecture and reception, honoring the memory of this pioneering scholar of African American history. Kate Masur, an associate professor of history at Northwestern University and author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., is the speaker.

You are also invited to take part in the Friday lunch-hour History Network, a forum where history-related organizations and vendors display materials explaining their activities and services.

For a flavor of past conferences, see the following programs from previous years; click:

The deadline for submissions is May 1, 2013. Please email proposals to the conference committee at

Submit a 200-word abstract of your paper, including your professional title and institutional affiliation (if applicable), contact information (email), and audio-visual/IT equipment needs (please indicate PC or Mac and software versions).

Submit a brief description of the session with role of each panelist, professional titles and institutional affiliations (if applicable), a 200-word
abstract for each paper presenter, contact information for the panel organizer/primary contact, and audio-visual/IT equipment needs (please indicate PC or Mac and software versions).

Submit a brief description of your film including topic, running time, ages of audiences for which it is suitable, whether it is a finished piece or work in progress, and whether you would like additional time for audience feedback and discussion.

Walking Tour
Submit a description of your tour's length (running time), location, start and stop points, and ages of audiences.

Author Talk
Submit a description of your published book including publication date and indicate whether you are able to sell books on site. Authors selling books are asked to supply a volunteer to handle transactions without assistance of conference staff.

Practical Workshop
Submit a description of your workshop including all IT/audio-visual requirements (please indicate PC or Mac and software versions) as well as
requirements for tables or other display areas.

The History Network marketplace of ideas takes place on Friday, November 15th. Reserve your space now via email:

About the Conference
The 40th Annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies is co-sponsored by the Association of Oldest Inhabitants of D.C., the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, Cultural Tourism DC, Friends of Washingtoniana Division, H-DC, the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., Rainbow History Project, and the Washingtoniana Division of the D.C. Public Library.

The organizing committee (Matthew Gilmore, chair; Brett Abrams, Johanna Bockman, Jeffrey Donahoe, Mark Greek, Stephen Hansen, Ida Jones, Chris Klemek, Jennifer Krafchik, Jane Freundel, Levey, Adam Lewis, Jenny Masur, John Muller, John Richardson, Gary Scott, Kimberly Springle, Mary Ternes, Ruth Trocolli, and Kim Zablud) welcomes the assistance of other volunteers on any of three subcommittees: program, logistics, or publicity. In addition, volunteers are always needed to help run the conference. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact: Matthew Gilmore at