Rev. Jesse Jackson has joined the fight for affordable housing in the District, particularly for residents east of the Anacostia River who fear that development in the area will push them out of their homes.
In a discussion Monday afternoon at the Anacostia Arts Center in Ward 8, Jacks on spoke with community leaders, affordable housing activists and advocates and concerned residents about the need to prevent development in the city from pushing Ward 8 residents out of their homes.
The question-and-answer styled forum was moderated by Aaron Holmes, a candidate for the Ward 8 council seat in the last election.
“On Friday, he hears about the affordable housing situation, and he shows up here on Monday,” Holmes said of the famed civil rights leader.
Jackson led the audience in a call and response.
“We intend to save Ward 8 from gentrification,” he said. “This ward is our ward. We live, build and fight to protect the integrity of fair housing in Ward 8.”
The group acknowledged the many factors that contribute to residents being pushed out of the District through redevelopment, including soaring property values and taxes and discriminatory housing practices.
A real estate agent in the area, Pho Palmer highlighted skyrocketing property values in the Congress Heights neighborhood based on reports from a listing services. The reports showed that the median sale price of a home in Congress Heights was $80,000 in December 2010 and moved to $272,000 by the end of 2016. As of March, the median sale price in the area was $300,000.
Jackson said the key to tackling gentrification in the District would be building an experienced team.
“There are people across this country who have fought this fight and would be happy to help you,” he said.
Jackson said the formation of a commission on the issue could help organize a major plan of action with a few clear objectives.
“There are more people in this room than ever came together to figure out voting rights in Selma,” he told the crowd of nearly 40 people. “The answers are in the room.”
Some were disappointed that Jackson did not have a more comprehensive plan and urged him to use his celebrity to help organize the community and come up with more specific points.
“We are in a state of emergency,” said activist and We Act Radio co-owner Kymone Freeman. “This is the last phase of gentrification. After this is the [Anacostia] River.
“I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t heard any concrete policy changes,” Freeman said.
Jackson offered to have his nonprofit organization Rainbow PUSH Coalition to assist neighborhood activists to fight displacement and said he would return to help.