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Fueled by reflections from the ONE DC Freedom School, Congress Heights residents testify at Zoning Commission Hearing

By Caroline Hennessey

On January 22, residents of Congress Heights fought back against development aimed to line the pockets of one of the largest slumlords in the District. The development project seeks to displace families with the intention of capitalizing on their conveniently locates homes near the metro station, demolish 5 rent-controlled buildings, and eliminate an affordability requirement intended to keep eleven units accessible to low-income families. One after another residents testified at a hearing before the Zoning Commission to the deplorable conditions they have been continuously subjected to, and expressed their sentiment that “these slumlord do not deserve to be granted this new property”. Alternative forms of inclusive development were put forth as well: “I would like to see a housing co-op for our buildings” stated one resident. Ultimately, the project was not approved for the time being due to the articulately expressed concerns and ideas of residents, community members, and organizers of ONE DC.

The strength that tenants displayed at the hearing and their ability to stand up and speak the truth regarding the devastating realities of the current development model for poor black DC residents was due in no small part to a change in perspective after becoming involved with ONE DC. In December, a group of residents from Congress Heights attended a Freedom School organized by ONE DC that shaped the conversation by exposing many of those who would be affected and afflicted by the unaffordable, non-inclusive proposed development to other alternatives. Residents discussed the root causes of the hardships of displacement and the hostile living environments they have endured for years, and compared and contrasted the status-quo of capitalist, profit-driven development and “investment” with collective models based on principles of a solidarity economy. ONE DC worked with residents to expose them to the deep-seeded imbalance of power that perpetuates development beneficial only to those most privileged in our society. Together they watched videos and discussed other examples of instances where oppressed people have come together to take back power by realizing their own alternative collective visions of labor, housing, and food cooperatives. These ideas and visions were then applied to the specific situation facing residents of Congress Heights today. Some weeks later, these same residents took what they had learned through this discussion to the floor of the Zoning Commission in the first step of what will likely be a long fight for their housing.

The Freedom School is intended to grow and expand to include, unite, and empower residents throughout Ward 8 and DC to take back the city that is theirs. To this end ONE DC has and continues to work tirelessly to connect with residents and educate them in the fight for a fair and inclusive Washington DC.


Towards a New Gentrification Mythology

By Jennifer Bryant, [email protected]

Originally Presented at A.C.T.O.R. Deconstructing Gentrification Panel 1/4/2015

I studied English in college and I’ve always been fascinated by stories. In order to deconstruct gentrification, we first have to start by looking closely at the narratives we've built up around it.

One of my favorite quotes, and the epigraph to the novel I’m writing, is a quote from the Egyptian artist and writer Hassan Khan. He says: “Maybe we’re all guilty of building our own mythologies.” I love that quote because we’re constantly creating myths to make sense of, and in many cases to justify, what’s going on in the world around us.

I want to begin today by deconstructing the mythology of gentrification. There are many pieces to this puzzle but I want to zoom in on one recurring myth - and that is that gentrification is not a race issue but purely an economic issue. I want to explore this myth by lifting up a true story about a house on a tree lined street in Bloomingdale in Northwest, Washington, DC; and then I’ll end by exploring alternatives to our current model of development.

I live in Congress Heights in Ward 8. Every time I’m walking up Alabama Avenue I pass the Jewish cemetery that sits on the side of the road not too far from the metro station. It’s a visible reminder that this wasn’t always a predominantly Black neighborhood. Congress Heights was established around 1890 when Arthur Randle purchased land in the area and laid out the streets. Restrictive covenants were attached to deeds, as they were in many parts of the city, to prohibit the sale of land or buildings to African-Americans. This is why, for many years, Congress Heights was predominantly white.

Restrictive covenants were around for generations until May of 1948 with the landmark Supreme Court case Hurd v. Hodge. This case, one of the most crucial housing policy cases in the nation’s history, involved the issue of restrictive covenants in Bloomingdale right here in Washington, DC. The Hurd case is critical to understanding how race and class operate in DC, and ultimately to understanding how gentrification is a continuation of race-based housing policy.

In May of 1944 a Black couple named James and Mary Hurd bought a house at 116 Bryant Street NW. The home had a restrictive covenant on the deed that, quote, prohibited “the sale of the house to anyone of the Negro race.” A few doors down from the Hurd’s new home, at 136 Bryant Street NW, there was a white couple named Frederic and Lena Hodge. When they found out Black people were moving into their neighborhood they filed a District Court lawsuit to prevent the Hurd’s from living on their block. They argued that Black residents would bring down their property value. Because institutionalized racism is so deeply embedded in the fabric of the American legal system, the Hodges won their lawsuit, and the Hurd’s were forced to move.

Thankfully that’s not where the story ends. Our brilliant radical scholar ancestor Charles Hamilton Houston – a native Washingtonian, graduate of Dunbar High School, and former Dean of the Howard University School of Law - took up the Hurd’s case, took it all the way to the Supreme Court and won. One of his arguments was that restrictive covenants created overcrowding in Black communities which exacerbated the issues of poverty and crime and relegated millions across the country to permanent second class citizenship. That last point is significant, because race-based housing and economic policies continue to exacerbate issues of poverty and crime around the country and in the District.

As many of you know, there is a movement growing right now across the country where people have taken to the streets under the banner “Black Lives Matter”. The Ferguson Action Coalition and organizers all over the country have declared 2015 “The Year of Resistance to state violence against Black lives”. We know that there are gross inequalities in policing, that’s what kicked this whole thing off. But there are also gross inequalities in housing, education and labor. What this movement is doing, that is very important, is drawing the connections between all of these things. So when we say Black Lives Matter, we’re not just talking about state violence at the hands of police. But we understand that poverty and gentrification are forms of state violence too.

In April of last year Salon published a piece by Daniel Jose Older called “Gentrification’s Insidious Violence: The Truth about American Cities”. In it he explains that the violence of gentrification takes four main forms – cultural, political, economic and racial — and that these four pillars lead cities to go to war with themselves. He says:

“It is a slow, dirty war, steeped in American traditions of racism and capitalism. The participants are often wary, confused, doubtful...
To forge ahead, we require an outrageousness that sees beyond the tired tropes and easy outs that mass media provides. This path demands we organize with clarity about privilege and the shifting power dynamics of community. It requires foresight, discomfort and risk-taking. It will be on the Web and in the streets, in conversations, rants and marches. We need a new mythology.”

Many have posed the question, if not gentrification – what? When we step outside of gentrification mythology we see that there are, in fact, many alternatives. The central alternative is this: equitable development rooted in a solidarity economy. ONE DC, the organization I work with, has joined forces with our members who are long-time DC residents, and progressive organizations across the city to create the People’s Platform - our plan for equitable development in the city. The main push is for community control and equitable development without displacement.

This alternative is not only possible, but it already exists. Before I close, I want to lift up two ways equitable development is happening right now in the District.

Washington, DC has the second highest number of limited equity housing cooperatives (coops) in the country after New York City. Limited equity coops are a shared ownership housing model that helps to preserve affordability for existing and future residents. Unlike renting, coops provide direct control over one’s housing. They allow for long-time residents, including those on fixed incomes, to not be priced out of their neighborhoods.

Worker owned cooperatives have similar benefits, providing worker-owners with direct control over their labor. There are many different worker coop models but they are generally all democratically run businesses owned and/or operated by workers. When the business makes a profit the worker owners collectively decide how the surplus should be distributed. This is different than traditional business models that are common in the District which pay low wages and exploit workers. Currently, there are only a handful of DC-based worker owned coops; however, ONE DC has joined forces with Impact HUB DC, COOP DC and others to begin to develop and incubate new worker-owned cooperatives.

The District’s current model of development is not the only way forward. We can creatively and collectively chart a new course for this city – one that makes room for all of us, especially long-time residents. Together we can create a new mythology – one that is rooted in our collective values and honors each of our right to coexist in this city without the threat of displacement.

[1] Source: http://househistoryman.blogspot.com/2008/06/hurd-v-hodge-dc-racial-covenants-50th.html

[2] Source: http://www.weown.net/LimitedEquityCoops.htm


Gentrification, Revitalization or Renaissance?

An in-depth discussion about housing trends in D.C. was hosted by Elevation DC Magazine, Oct. 21.

The conversation was an effort to explore the line between preserving affordable housing for long-time District residents and making way for newcomers to enjoy living in the city as well, said David Bowers, VP and market leader at Mid-Atlantic and representative from Enterprise Community Partners, who sponsored the event.

The panel discussion, “Gentrification, Revitalization or Renaissance,” was moderated by Rebecca Sheir, host of WAMU’s Metro Connection and took place at Shiloh Baptist Church in the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest.

The “G word” or gentrification can be a touchy subject, according to panelist Dr. Bernard Demczuk, George Washington University’s assistant vice president for D.C. government relations, African American history teacher at School Without Walls and Ben’s Chili Bowl historian. He said he prefers not to use the term at all.

He argued that word’s associated with the displacement of low-income residents by more upwardly mobile individuals is inaccurate. Instead, the cause is a reflection of the third great wave of American cities.

“It has to do with the natural flow of economics and demographic shifts,” he said. “And ain’t nothing going to stop it.”

Long-time District residents and newcomers attended the discussion. Conversely, Dominic Mouldon, representing non-profit ONE DC, views gentrification as an injustice against people of African descent. “D.C. claims to be a human rights city,” he said. “The crime [of gentrification] is the erasing of civil and human rights for D.C. citizens — the erasing of history, culture and art of long time D.C. residents.”

Read more at The Afro


Kalmanovitz Initiative Intern Reflects on ONE DC Experience

By Diondra Hicks

My experience as a Kalmanovitz Initiative Summer Organizing Fellow with ONE DC was utterly amazing. It afforded me the opportunity to do meaningful work with very interesting people. I do not believe that most summer interns can arrive at their workplace as excited and eager to see what new endeavors the day will bring as I was this summer. Each day of my internship I walked into work not really knowing what to expect. I learned that grassroots community organizing is a job in which you must be open-minded because anything can happen. New issues, people, and tasks are constantly being introduced and it takes a lot of time and knowledge to be able to effectively intertwine these seemingly distant pieces to create movements for change.

So on our first day at ONE DC, Dominic instructed us to simply walk around the neighborhood and take note of what we observed. I was able to detect that the Shaw neighborhood had a deeply rooted history with Howard University, a colorful mural of Chuck Brown, and the infamous U Street corridor. But I could also see the impeding emergence of gentrification in the neighborhood as many new, fanciful housing developments situated on the same blocks with aged townhouses and public housing facilities seemed largely out of place. Without a doubt, gentrification was changing and even erasing the physical culture and history of the Shaw neighborhood in ways as explicit as the displacement of many residents in the area. On day two of my internship, Reece said to me, “Millions of anonymous people is what history is about.” This statement would prove to define a lot of the work I engaged in during my summer at ONE DC.

During our first few days at ONE DC we were given lots of information to read about ONE DC’s history, essential rules of being a community organizer, phases of oppression, emotional justice, radical movements, direct action, and much more. However, the most valuable knowledge I gained came from my experiences. I can group my experiences at ONE DC into three major categories: research on Ban the Box legislation, planning right to income meetings, and work around the creation of a Black Workers’ Center for DC. My second week at ONE DC was filled with Ban the Box legislation research as ONE DC was seeking to become a supporter of this legislation.

Ban the Box has been the catch phrase for a series of campaigns around the nation to remove the check box on job and housing applications that asks if one has ever been convicted of a crime or felony. Usually, upon truthfully checking this box an applicant’s paper work is disregarded as a qualified applicant. Banning this box aids the 25% of all American adults which have been convicted of a crime. It makes them more likely to be able to provide for their families and less likely to return to prison. We shared news of Ban the Box with individuals ONE DC had contact with in the past and were glad to see the DC City Council push the bill onto Congress on July 14th, although with some undesirable amendments.

Under their Right to Income campaign, ONE DC held monthly listening sessions to hear from the individuals the organization seeks to build power with. Most people were contacted due to their involvement in the Marriott Jobs Program, a job training and hiring project put together by multiple partners in order to ensure that DC residents were hired for a DC job opportunity at the Marriott. Unfortunately, the program ended in a lot of disappointment for the applicants involved. Many people simply never heard anything back from the Marriott. These listening sessions were held to create a safe space in which individuals could express their frustrations with not only the Marriott Jobs program but also with the state of unfair hiring and employment practices all over the District. Reece themed these sessions with ‘The Five Phases of Oppression.'

During my time at ONE DC I helped to plan the sessions on Power and Violence. During the Power listening session we used snippets from Richard Pryor stand-up sets that demonstrated unproportional injustices for Blacks in America. The Violence listening session allowed people to voice their experiences of employers’ harsh, demeaning, and unfair tendencies on jobs. There is one more listening session to be held to cover The Five Phases of Oppression. After all of the sessions have been held the staff at ONE DC will compile all the information, experiences, and suggestions made by DC workers in order to create a mission and vision for a Black Workers’ Center in DC.

The rate of unemployment for Black workers is twice that of White unemployment. In addition, Black workers are 25% more likely to be underemployed than White workers. In these positions of underemployment, Black workers are often mistreated on their jobs. Low wage jobs have a poor reputation for practices of wage theft and other violence against workers. Reece introduced the idea of a Black Workers’ Center to ONE DC to make working conditions better, create better jobs, and fight against bad work and bad employers. He talked enthusiastically about the Center and was able to grab the attention and curiosity of others with his pitch.

Over time at ONE DC though, I found myself unable to really define what the Black Workers’ Center (BWC) would be or what it would do. It took encouragements from many people, some even without knowledge of my lack of comprehension, to speak up about my opinions of the work I was participating in and one day I finally did. I expressed to Reece that I felt the wording around the BWC was vague and I was unable to give a strong pitch for it because I was unsure of the vision for and actions of the BWC. This conversation led to an entire day of Reece and me working though the communications around the BWC and became the highlight of my time at ONE DC. Over several weeks Reece and I edited our write up for the BWC, adding strategic information and steps. I am really proud of the work that we did and while the information surrounding the Black Workers Center is still subject to change, I feel really good about making the message more direct and clear. I believe I have developed a strong suit for work in communications.

Pushing the creation of a Black Workers’ Center required me to meet individuals in the community to try to get to know them on a more personal level. During house visits and meetings I met many interesting people with a range of life stories and dreams for their futures. We are hopeful that the BWC can be instrumental in initiating change in the lives of some of these people and many more. We have gathered individuals who want to respond to the Marriot Jobs Program asking for explanations for the disappointments of the hiring process, people who currently work for Marriott and want to stand up to their unfair employers, residents who have a background in healthcare and dream of having ownership in a healthcare business, and individuals who simply just want better job opportunities. The vision of the BWC supports the realization of all of these goals for the workers of Washington, DC.

I learned so much from my experience at ONE DC and each day was enjoyable. I even got the opportunity to dabble in a little bit of the housing work ONE DC does. I was a little saddened by how quickly my time ended there. Hopefully though, I will be able to return to ONE DC in some capacity during the school year. The internship with ONE DC gave me a real world experience with real people who live in it; not some glamorous office suite job, but hard work with people who need help and social justice. The work grassroots community organizers do is not important because it involves big names and events that will be recorded in history text books; the work they do is important because of the thousands of anonymous lives they touch to effect change for the underserved and create a history of progression with those individuals.


Shaw Residents and Community Organizers Strategize to Stay in Their Neighborhood

By Brenda Hayes, This Light: Sounds for Social Change

In a town rife with Non-Profits that seemingly have all the answers for what ails longtime D.C. residents as they face gentrification-fueled displacement, ONE DC’s July 26th meeting was a much needed breath of fresh air for me. I asked permission to record the meeting for my radio show This Light: Sounds For Social Change, thankfully permission was granted to me to do so.

The meeting opened with a visual recap of June’s meeting. A 1950 to present timeline of redlining and economic cycles that lead to displacement hung on one of the walls. An adjacent wall held a visual that had the word “Concentrated Poverty” written in the center, surrounding those words were some of the commonly held beliefs about people who live in poverty; rampant drug abuse, crime, apathy.

We all sat in a familiar “meeting circle,” introduced ourselves and said how long each of us has lived in D.C.; there was one man who has lived in D.C. since birth, 60+ years.

eyesclosed.jpgNext we were led to do an exercise in which attendees were asked to present a physical movement that represents their perspective of gentrification and displacement. Some of the poses and movements included a young white woman who stood with her back to the rest of the group as she covered her eyes, blind to what was going on just behind her. A few people held stances of defiance, arrogance, indifference and helplessness.

For the second part of the exercise, we were asked to physically represent empowerment, action and change. I was most struck by what one Shaw resident, who happens to be a black woman, did; she held an invisible protest sign high above her head, two young white participants quickly stood in support behind her holding their invisible placards up. What these three participants represented to me is the need for community lead, driven, and sustained movement for equity in housing, work, and education.

Before the meeting, I interviewed longtime community activist Linda Leaks who handed out Terms of Empowerment, a seven page glossary of housing-related terms in which residents should become familiar when trying to remain in neighborhoods besieged by gentrification.

I also interviewed Patricia Trim, a 40+ year Shaw resident. During our conversation Ms. Trim told me how her mother would come to D.C. during the week for her job with the Federal Government and leave her with relatives in Virginia. Ms. Trim’s mother couldn’t afford to have her stay here in D.C. until she was sixteen years old. Ms. Trim and her mother moved several times, Champlain Street in Adams Morgan, 18th and Wyoming, 17th and T Sts., each time staying in apartments until the rent was raised to a prohibitively high amount. protest.jpg

Ms. Trim recently drove to Columbia Heights to see a dentist on 14th Street. As she drove to her appointment she realized she was in the neighborhood where she grew up. After her appointment, she
decided to drive around a bit and was astonished at and dismayed by all the changes that have taken place in recent years. She couldn’t bring herself to drive down Champlain Street the street where she first lived when she and her mother moved to D.C.

When she arrived back home that day, she went to her bedroom to pray. She tearfully asked “What I have done to fall so far from grace to be treated less than a human being.” I fear too many D.C. residents people are asking that same question.


Jessica Gordon Nembhard's Collective Courage Receives Enthusiastic Reception in DC & Baltimore

By John Duda, The Democracy Collaborative

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a member of ONE-DC’s shared leadership team, offered two area talks to mark the release of her long-awaited book Collective Courage: African-American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice Dr. Nembhard, who is also an Associate Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Department of Africana Studies at CUNY’s John Jay College, and a member of the Grassroots Economic Organizing Collective, was the featured speaker in an evening program exploring the intersections of economic and racial justice at the new Impact Hub DC space on June 3rd, and spoke in Baltimore the next night at Red Emma’s, a worker cooperative bookstore and coffeehouse.

collective_courage_JGN.jpgAt the event on the 3rd, which was sponsored by The Democracy Collaborative, Impact Hub DC, and ONE-DC, Dr. Nembhard was joined by local cooperative development advocate and fellow GEO collective member Ajowa Ifateyo for a conversation on the history of African-American cooperatives uncovered in the long years of research that went into the book, as well as the way this history informs attempts to organize cooperative economic institutions in communities of color today.  According to Nembhard, our understanding of cooperatives as primarily something that get created in relatively privileged white communities is by and large a total mistake.

In part, this mistaken impression is due to the consequences of the need to keep cooperative organizing in African-American communities clandestine due to fear of racist retaliation—because co-ops were kept quiet, they also were kept out of the historical record.  Despite facing this challenge along with many others, an extensive and vital tradition of African American cooperative activity nevertheless provided a key economic base of support and an indispensible site of leadership training during the long civil rights movement.  The hope expressed in the conversation was that this important and formerly unknown history can help guide and inspire today’s movements working to use cooperatives to empower marginalized communities.

Indeed, as the updates the audience in DC heard—on ONE DC's Black Worker's Center, Impact Hub DC's new worker cooperative incubator, Community Farming Alliance's DC-based farm cooperative for people of color and women, and on Black Belt Justice Center's efforts to expand African American community ownership of land—amply demonstrated, the struggle for economic self-determination so wonderfully chronicled in Dr. Nembhard’s Collective Courage is very much alive and well today.


What Would It Take to End Displacement?

By Rob Wohl

For the past three months, ONE DC has been organizing a series of community learning forums called “From the Streets to the Rooftops” to bring together long-time residents as well as newcomers to DC to develop a shared analysis of the processes of gentrification and displacement that are affecting our neighborhoods.

In the first session, we learned about the structural forces driving displacement, focusing on how systematic disinvestment in low income communities of color intensifies poverty while creating opportunities for developers, banks, and other real estate interests to make big profits by buying up cheap land, building expensive housing, and marketing it to wealthier residents. Next, we studied the mythology that drives and justifies the displacement of long-time residents of DC and other cities. We discussed how politicians and academics have masked the problem of poverty, discrimination, and disinvestment in communities of color by pathologizing “concentrated poverty.” When the public is convinced that the city’s main problems result from too many poor people living together, displacing those people and bringing in new, affluent, whiter residents can be treated as the solution.

In our most recent session, we began to study the ways that communities have come together to resist displacement. We brought together a panel of organizers of six community leaders and organizers from DC and Baltimore to draw lessons from fights to preserve public housing, ensure that long-time residents have the right to return when their homes are redeveloped, hold landlords accountable to their tenants, and ensure that our city’s “redevelopment” and “revitalization” plans remain inclusive.

And we’re not done yet. Join ONE DC, community artists, organizers, new and longtime residents on Saturday, July 26th as we explore the cultural diversity of DC through music, poetry, art, and interactive activities. Join in the group meditation and reflection, and participate in discussions around topics of local concern which include the economic cycle of gentrification, the myths of poverty and entitlement, and the successes and challenges of past movements. As we celebrate our shared human experiences and our cultural diversity simultaneously, we will explore the next steps to fight gentrification and the displacement of communities.

We’ll come together from 1-5 PM at Impact Hub DC, 419 7th St NW, and we hope to see you there.

RSVP Here

 


 


ONE DC Partners with GW's Center for Civic Engagement for Equitable Development Symposium

By Bianca Valencia, The George Washington University

From the start of the planning committee, GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service (CCEPS) was excited to have the opportunity to partner with a strong, substantive, community-based organization like ONE DC. The collaboration between Gregory Squires (GW) and Dominic Moulden (ONE DC) in writing the social policy article entitled “Equitable Development Comes to DC” truly initiated a great start. The symposium that occurred on Thursday, March 27, 2014 brought about 120 participants.


It was wonderful to have local residents and GW academic faculty and students all come together for this event. Each of them had the opportunity to learn from one another and grow in their networks. In regards to students, it is essential that they not only learn from books, but also from people within their field of study. In this way, they learn to value the knowledge that comes from the community members’ life experiences. This creates a greater sense of pride and connection between their major and the surrounding environment.


The planning committee consisted of the executive director from CCEPS (Amy Cohen), resource organizer from ONE DC (Dominic Moulden), GW sociology, public policy, and public administration professor (Dr. Gregory Squires), adjunct professor at American University (Kalfani Ture), and two GW student event coordinators (Leah Galasso and Bianca Valencia). They each played a critical role in determining the needs of the symposium and executing those plans. Specifically, it was absolutely great to work with Kalfani because of his involved nature with equitable development. In fact, he was an intern for ONE DC, and is currently a doctoral candidate of anthropology and an approaching faculty member.


As for the student coordinators, Leah and Bianca were both able to grow and develop new skills since working on the symposium. They both quickly realized that committee meetings were starkly different from a classroom environment. They also never worked in a participatory democracy before. However, after the readjustment period, both students were able to create their own mark and coordinate with each other in order to complete various tasks. By the end, they both became more confident in not only approaches of creating a large-scale event, but also in group collaboration.

Overall, the Equitable Development Symposium was a tremendous success. The hope is to make this event annual as to increase awareness and draw more networks to create solutions to the current problem. The Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, as well as the GW community are more than excited to continue their partnership with ONE DC.

Save the Date: 2nd Annual Equitable Development Conference - March 26, 2015. Details TBA