Hous­ing in cri­sis

Poll: Dis­trict gen­tri­fiers blame them­selves for driv­ing up costs

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY SCOTT CLE­MENT AND RACHEL CHA­SON

A sur­pris­ing con­stituency agrees with crit­ics of Wash­ing­ton’s gen­tri­fi­ca­tion that wealthy new­com­ers are driv­ing hous­ing prices through the roof: wealthy new­com­ers.

A new Wash­ing­ton Post poll finds 78 per­cent of peo­ple who moved to Wash­ing­ton in the past 15 years with in­comes of at least $150,000 per year say that new high-in­come res­i­dents are a ma­jor rea­son for the short­age of af­ford­able hous­ing in the city.

Con­cern is wide­spread across racial and in­come groups, as well as those who have both lost and ben­e­fited amid the city’s rapid devel­op­ment in the past few decades.

Nearly 1 in 5 D.C. res­i­dents named hous­ing as the big­gest prob­lem fac­ing the Dis­trict, out­pac­ing crime, ed­u­ca­tion and even the oft-lamented Metro­rail sys­tem.

While Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) earns a 67 per­cent over­all ap­proval rat­ing, 55 per­cent of re­spon­dents say she has done a “not so good” or “poor” job cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing af­ford­able hous­ing.

“There’s a lot of new bridges they’ve built you can live un­der.” Robert Woods, 68, res­i­dent of Culpep­per Gar­den, when asked what he’d do if he lost his sub­si­dized apart­ment there

Be­yond wealthy new­com­ers, ma­jori­ties of Dis­trict res­i­dents blame the city gov­ern­ment for not spend­ing enough to cre­ate and main­tain af­ford­able hous­ing, fail­ing to en­sure ben­e­fits go to res­i­dents who need it most and cater­ing too much to the needs of de­vel­op­ers.

“The city has done a de­cent job of de­vel­op­ing ar­eas that needed it, but that’s pushed a lot of lower-in­come fam­i­lies out,” said Daniel Nilsen, a 35-year-old gov­ern­ment worker who moved to the Dis­trict in 2005. Nilsen rents an apart­ment near Lo­gan Cir­cle, but when he lived in Bloom­ing­dale, he watched as gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and the in­creased rents that came with it forced out long-term res­i­dents. “The city needs to fig­ure out a way to bal­ance be­ing good for the econ­omy and pre­serv­ing th­ese ar­eas.”

Daniel Pe­draza, a 35-year-old diplo­mat from Colom­bia, said devel­op­ment is good for the city but comes at the cost of the “dis­place­ment of com­mu­ni­ties that don’t have good-pay­ing jobs or don’t have jobs at all.”

“In terms of poli­cies that cre­ate more af­ford­able hous­ing, the city should do more,” said Pe­draza, who added that he sup­ports Bowser. In Bo­gota, the Colom­bian cap­i­tal, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 8 mil­lion that dwarfs the Dis­trict, the gov­ern­ment sub­si­dizes hous­ing for low-in­come res­i­dents, Pe­draza said.

The rise in D.C. hous­ing costs has been stark, with the me­dian home value tripling from $136,200 in 2000 to $484,000 last year, and rents ris­ing in par­al­lel. Bowser added $100 mil­lion an­nu­ally to­ward af­ford­able hous­ing pro­grams, an am­bi­tious ap­proach com­pared to other ma­jor cities. Yet a re­cent city au­dit claimed a ma­jor pro­gram was be­set by mis­man­age­ment, and a Wash­ing­ton Post in­ves­ti­ga­tion found the city for­feited mil­lions in fed­eral hous­ing aid be­cause it missed key dead­lines.

While three-quar­ters of res­i­dents polled say wealthy new­com­ers are a ma­jor fac­tor be­hind the dearth of af­ford­able hous­ing, 64 per­cent fault the Dis­trict gov­ern­ment for not spend­ing enough to cre­ate and main­tain that hous- ing. The same per­cent­age say the city gov­ern­ment caters too much to the needs of de­vel­op­ers. And 54 per­cent blame the city for not en­sur­ing help for those who need hous­ing as­sis­tance the most, while 30 per­cent say a ma­jor cause is peo­ple seek­ing hous­ing aid they don’t need.

Jacque Perry, 62, said she doesn’t think the city is do­ing enough to make sure re­de­vel­op­ment ben­e­fits all res­i­dents.

“As an African Amer­i­can, it’s been painful to watch the exit of other African Amer­i­cans,” said Perry, who has seen re­de­vel­op­ment fun­da­men­tally al­ter the racial and eco­nomic makeup of the Capi­tol Hill neigh­bor­hood where she grew up.

She’s watched as friends and neigh­bors have left the Dis­trict, many for less-ex­pen­sive Prince Ge­orge’s County. “It’s quickly be­com­ing Ward 9, to be flip,” she added.

While not be­ing priced out of the city, ris­ing hous­ing costs have driven some res­i­dents with above-av­er­age in­comes to live else­where. Sandy Ab­dal­lah, 32, said she is mov­ing to San Diego this week af­ter three years in Wash­ing­ton be­cause of the cost of liv­ing.

“It wasn’t so much about the rent — it was more that we could get twice as much in San Diego as we can in D.C.,” where she and her hus­band have paid $2,300 monthly for a 650-square-foot, one-bed­room apart­ment be­tween Columbia Heights and Adams Mor­gan with her hus­band.

“Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is one of those words that can be good, or it can mean los­ing di­ver­sity and cul­ture,” said Ab­dal­lah, who is white and makes more than $100,000 an­nu­ally as a con­sul­tant. As higher-in­come res­i­dents move in, they should “get to know the com­mu­ni­ties, and dig into what is here rather than build over it,” she said.

The Post poll finds 67 per­cent of city res­i­dents say­ing Dis­trict re­de­vel­op­ment ef­forts to at­tract new busi­nesses and res­i­dents have been “mainly good” for peo­ple like them, higher than 61 per­cent who said so in 2015.

Just over half of African Amer­i­can res­i­dents sur­veyed say re­de­vel­op­ment has ben­e­fited peo­ple like them, com­pared with nearly 9 in 10 whites. Pos­i­tive rat­ings of re­de­vel­op­ment dip to 47 per­cent among those who say they are “fall­ing be­hind” fi­nan­cially, ris­ing to 62 per­cent among those who are mak­ing just enough to main­tain their stan­dard of liv­ing and 86 per­cent of those who say they are get­ting ahead.

Other res­i­dents are sharper in their crit­i­cism.

“I feel bad about it,” said David Sanchez, 35, who lives near the rapidly chang­ing South­west water­front area. “The city is bring­ing in a lot of hous­ing that is out­side of the amount of money that most peo­ple can . . . af­ford.”

Sanchez, who grew up out­side Dal­las, earns $75,000 a year at a non­profit but says he finds it “vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble” to af­ford to buy a house in the Dis­trict. In­stead, he rents an apart­ment where wa­ter pres­sure is poor and the lights some­times break, but at least the rent is low — $900 a month — by D.C. stan­dards.

New­com­ers to the Dis­trict — like him­self — have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to un­der­stand the im­pact of their ar­rival on long-term res­i­dents, he said.

Homelessness is a vis­i­ble prob­lem, and the city should be sure it is sup­port­ing men­tal health pro­grams as it fights homelessness, he said.

“You would ex­pect the na­tion’s cap­i­tal to be on top of homelessness,” Sanchez said.

The num­ber of home­less peo­ple in the Dis­trict dropped 11 per­cent since last year, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased in May. But there are still 7,473 peo­ple in the city who are home­less, which is higher than the to­tal in 2015, when Bowser took of­fice.

The poll finds res­i­dents sense lit­tle im­prove­ment when it comes to homelessness, with al­most 4 in 10 Wash­ing­to­ni­ans say­ing the prob­lem is get­ting worse, while just un­der 1 in 10 think it’s get­ting bet­ter. Half say it’s stay­ing the same — a judg­ment that’s not nec­es­sar­ily good or bad — though over 6 in 10 rate Mayor Bowser neg­a­tively for her man­age­ment of the is­sue.

Con­cerns about homelessness peak among those who are more fi­nan­cially stressed. Nearly 6 in 10 of those who say they’re fall­ing be­hind fi­nan­cially think homelessness is get­ting worse, com­pared with just un­der 3 in 10 who say they’re get­ting ahead fi­nan­cially.

There are also stark dif­fer­ences along racial lines, with al­most half of African Amer­i­can Wash­ing­to­ni­ans, 47 per­cent, say­ing homelessness is get­ting worse in the Dis­trict, com­pared with 27 per­cent of white Wash­ing­to­ni­ans.

The Wash­ing­ton Post poll was con­ducted June 15-18 among a ran­dom sam­ple of 901 adults liv­ing in the Dis­trict, reached on cel­lu­lar and land­line phones. The mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror for over­all re­sults is plus or mi­nus four per­cent­age points.

“As an African Amer­i­can, it’s been painful to watch the exit of other African Amer­i­cans.” Jacque Perry, Capi­tol Hill res­i­dent

BON­NIE JO MOUNT/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Davin­dar Gre­wal in her apart­ment at Culpep­per Gar­den, a non­profit af­ford­able-liv­ing com­mu­nity in Ar­ling­ton, Va., which is fac­ing fi­nan­cial cuts.

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