Gentrification in Washington, DC is One Piece of a National Puzzle

Gentrification in Washington, DC has been a hot button issue for native Washingtonians. Although gentrification is the process of conforming to an upper- or middle-class lifestyle, or of making a product, activity, etc., appealing to those with more affluent tastes, the popular buzz word causes many to recoil as the word has negative connotations. While new developments sprout up and property values increase, the demographic continues to change and housing opportunities for minorities decrease.

Washington, DC (July 20, 2019) , photo by Patricia Medina

Washington, DC (July 20, 2019) , photo by Patricia Medina

Once affectionately known as “Chocolate City”, Washington, DC became the first predominantly Black major city with an African American population of over 50 percent. Over the next several decades the Black population continued to increase and reached a peak of 70 percent in the 1970’s. Thereafter, the population was steady throughout the 1980’s with a slight decrease in the 90’s. As of 2019, the Black population is under 50 percent, the lowest it’s been in 60 years. Many contribute this low percentage to gentrification.

As the climate rapidly changes in DC, the increased property values strain the financial means of many minorities. The effects of gentrification impact retirees on fixed incomes who rely on a set income to cover all expenses. It also impacts low income families who earn just enough to cover their living expenses. Housing is no longer affordable as many federal housing developments have been demolished to make way for mixed income housing.

 Mixed income housing does not always mean affordable and in some instances, there is no unit for unit replacement for the homes that were torn down. In these cases, residents are displaced and may not be able to return to the new developments as there are simply not enough low-income units.

Gentrification is a national issue as major cities such as Harlem, Atlanta and Chicago face the same impasse as DC. Statistical data shows a decline of African Americans in major cities as these cities are redeveloped. The effects of redevelopment in these metropolises is greater than just displacement of African American communities. The culture and history of many of these cities is lost along with the housing. Minorities are forced into suburban areas with fewer job opportunities and limited public transit. Although urban renewal may be necessary for many cities, consideration for the poorest of these communities must be made to prevent displacement and erasure.   

Washington, DC has the highest concentration of gentrification of any U.S. city. The impact is significant as residents can no longer afford to own homes nor can they afford the basic cost of living in the city. The occurrences in DC are reflective of the nation as whole. It is imperative to pay attention to the redevelopment occurring in Washington, DC as it is but a small glimpse of what’s happening to major cities nationwide.