Editorial

EDITORIAL: ‘Cultural Displacement’ Means D.C.’s Poorer Blacks are Packing Up with Nowhere to Go

The cost of housing gobbles up an average of 30 percent of a family’s monthly gross income — even more if you live in places like New York City or Los Angeles. But for some, that average hovers closer to almost 50 percent — a situation which the federal government describes as “severely cost burdened.”

As for longtime native Washingtonians, particularly low-income African Americans, they’re feeling the crunch to such an extent that over the past two decades, they’ve had little or no choice but to abandon the communities that they, their parents, even their grandparents, once fondly called “home” — desperately searching for alternative cities with housing that they can afford.

In fact, according to a new report conducted by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), “Shifting Neighborhoods: Gentrification and Cultural Displacement in American Cities,” the District now has the highest percentage of gentrified neighborhoods in the nation. The study reveals that more than 20,000 Black residents were displaced from low-income neighborhoods from 2000 to 2013 in D.C. which has the highest “intensity” of gentrification of any U.S. city and ranks third highest of U.S. neighborhoods that have been transformed.

Further details, according to Jason Richardson, who serves as director for NCRC and who shared the results earlier this week on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, gentrification leads to cultural displacement — that is, “when the tastes, norms and desires of newcomers supplant and replace those of the incumbent residents.”

These newcomers, the research shows, were mostly affluent whites as nearly 111,000 Blacks and more than 24,000 Hispanics, nationwide, moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods in former urban strongholds for Black and brown citizens in cities that also include Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore and San Diego.

But no one needs to tell us that here in what was once proudly referred to as “Chocolate City.” The evidence is all around us if we take just a cursory glance at D.C. neighborhoods like Brookland, the U and 14th street corridors, Petworth and Mount Pleasant that, not so long ago, were economically thriving Black communities. They, like other pockets in the District, have undergone unprecedented economic change that has resulted in rapidly rising rents and property taxes, not to mention the loss of many long-heralded cultural institutions and a seismic shift in the identity of neighborhoods whose residents find themselves hanging on by a thread.

Forty percent of D.C.’s lower-income communities have been decimated by gentrification in the years analyzed by NCRC — even as skyscrapers for new development dominate the skyline and trolley cars take bar hoppers up and down the avenue. While new residential or multi-purpose developments have escalated by leaps and bounds, the amount of affordable housing has lagged behind.

The District’s current Administration says it’s committed to ushering in new options and opportunities for those eager to join the “middle class” — a goal that we certainly support. But for those Blacks who find themselves trapped among D.C.’s lower-income residents, time is not on their side — nor has it been, if this report has any validity to it, for the last several decades.

The future does not bode well for those who lack economic stability or higher educational achievement. Where these families will end up is anyone’s guess. But the writing on the walls indicates that they’d be wise to look for new zip codes if they don’t want to join those already hopeless or homeless in the nation’s capital.

And that’s the sad truth about life today and the inevitable future for low-income Blacks in “Chocolate City” — at least for now.

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