Gentrification is a complex and controversial topic. Real estate developers assert they have a legal right to purchase and renovate properties in older neighborhoods. Yet, they often clash with residents who find themselves priced out of their homes. Washington D.C., once known as “Chocolate City,” is in the midst of a gentrification meltdown, as rents and home prices skyrocket and make it difficult for longtime residents to stay.
In April of 2015, Mint Press News reported that Valley Green, a community in predominantly Black Southeast Washington, residents were forced to move out of their homes to make way for newer housing developments. Only 24 of the original 300 residents were allowed to return to homes they once occupied.
Some residents suspect malicious intent when they learn about examples like Valley Green. Wealthy landowners buy up multiple properties and renovate them to appeal to other wealthy people. The upper class moves in, and those with lower income are not able to keep up with the demand for higher rent, shopping, and property taxes.
“What's happening in the community is a couple of dynamics,” said Terrence Muhammad, 44, a long-time Washington resident. “A lot of different housing projects, they are torn down regardless of the people living there.”
Demographic studies show that Southeast Washington Wards 7 & 8 — wards separated by a full river –– have some of the city’s lowest levels of household incomes, ranging from $20,000-$40,000 per year.
Anacostia, once one of Washington’s noted and historically Black communities, is also experiencing significant change. In January of 2016, the Washington Post reported that developers plan to invest $45 million dollars to turn the Anacostia river — a predominantly Black area into a park.
“Is it really gentrification though?,” asked Washington native Dante Brown, 37, a long time District resident and barber. “A lady just passed away in my neighborhood and they [the family] put up the ‘for sale’ sign. Is it the fact that everything [price] goes up? When they bought the houses, the houses were cheap. White people "keep their success level high" by preparing their kids for success. Their parents tend to buy into big life insurance policies, and when they pass away, they leave their kids with large life insurance policies, and their homes. They're able to send wealth down the family tree because they've spent the time to prepare theirs’ for success. It's the parents who provide,” said Brown.
According to Data Lens DC, the Navy Yard area, near Southeast Washington, has seen a staggering 147 percent growth from 1999-2012. Apparently, household income grew from $38,000 to over $93,000 in almost a 13-year span.
Longtime District residents can agree to a changing environment, but who is it changing for? And Is it changing for the better?
“Police are conducting routine checks for people who look “suspicious,” said Cornel Henry, 37, native D.C. resident. “In the changing areas, police harassment is ridiculous. Pulling corner boys over, checking them. I would say it's due to the influx of ‘new’ people in the community.”
Gentrification isn’t only a District problem. It is widespread countrywide now that millennials are becoming more independent and moving on their own.
“I'm from Detroit, and I came to DC in 2008 for Howard. And it was still a black city,” said, Chaun Tucker, 25 Howard Alum, and resident. “But it was becoming gentrified. It is the same thing that's happening in Detroit.