By Dominic Moulden, Gregory D. Squires, and Aristotle Theresa
When anything goes wrong in a city, policymakers all too often want to move Black people around, asserted Mindy Fullilove, a clinical psychiatrist at the New School, to an audience at a 2015 conference on equitable development in Washington, D.C.
This has certainly been the formula in the District, going back at least to the redevelopment (what we would today call gentrification and serial displacement) of the Georgetown neighborhood in the 1940s, Foggy Bottom in the 1950s, several Capitol Hill and other Northwest D.C. neighborhoods in the 1970s and 1980s, and today in areas ranging from Shaw to H Street NE and even Anacostia. The proposed conversion of Barry Farm to a mixed-income development, resulting in a loss of 400 affordable housing units despite protests from many residents, is just the latest in a long line of initiatives presumably aimed at revitalizing distressed neighborhoods.
But as Chester Hartman, a prominent urban planner and the first executive director of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, has often asserted, families have the right to stay put. They have the right to remain in the neighborhoods where their families have resided for decades, if not generations, with access to good schools, safe streets, healthy food, and other public services and private amenities that newcomers to these communities anticipate.
This does not deny the realities of racial segregation, poverty, and uneven development that have long plagued neighborhoods in the District and every other major city in the United States. The costs are real. Residents of lower-income communities, and particularly those with high concentrations of nonwhite populations, have shorter life expectancies and reduced access to good schools; they also are exposed to higher crime rates. This is not by accident. In a 2012 national housing discrimination study, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Urban Institute found that white families were told about and shown more homes than African Americans or Latinos, increasing the home search cost for minorities. Steering and exclusionary zoning laws continue to segregate neighborhoods by race and class.
There is new wine in these old bottles. Alleged discrimination on the part of Airbnb, Facebook and other social media—with some homeseekers losing out because of stereotyped ethnic associations with their names and the sound of their voices—has been added to the panoply of traditional discriminatory housing practices.