Making D.C. Black Again: Addressing the Effects of Gentrification in the District

Gentrification is defined as the process by which neglected, low-income, underdeveloped urban communities start to see a rapid influx in their communities’ development, resulting in a new community. This community becomes unaffordable to its current residents, further resulting in the displacement of its community members who are replaced by wealthy newcomers who can afford such high costs. This is a narrative or experience that former and current Washingtonians are familiar with a Politico report pointed out the sharp decline of Black District residents between the years 2000-2020, falling from 340,061 to 282,066 .

New development may sound good when being applied to consistently neglected communities. But, as Landis Masnor, a graduate of the Master’s in Urban & Regional Planning Program, states in a recent report, “without an anti-displacement or community development strategy, these amenities become risks for the low-income, renter majority population.” Many wonder how the continued lack of resources, affordable housing opportunities, and an overall exclusion and neglect of low-income individuals and people of color–all as a result of gentrification–can ever be reversed.  

What can we do to realistically make D.C. Black again? Let’s explore.

Utilizing the Remaining Elements of D.C. Culture: GoGo’s Effects on Community

Despite the neglect heavily felt by the displaced and those that face displacement, there are still elements that remaining residents can hold on to, to continue to make their voices heard and their presence felt within their communities. GoGo’s strong impact since the 1970s has not only created a pathway for Washingtonians to enjoy themselves and celebrate their culture, but it continues to be used to evoke congregation and protest. 

Long Live GoGo “is a member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in displacement inflicted on our communities by the government and its constituents.” The organization puts on events that allow local Washingtonians to celebrate GoGo and D.C. culture, while also providing opportunities for locals to connect and network with one another during events. It also provides a forum for locals to protest against the inequalities felt within their communities.

One of the organization’s most recent events at Art All Night was yet another demonstration of the positive congregation the organization generates. After taking a look at their socials, Long Live GoGo adds another important element to their cause, informing their community. The organization’s posts mostly consist of news about important information that District community members should be informed about, such as potential policy changes, positive news stories of Black success, and overall news stories discussing information affecting the community. 

Staying Informed: Tapping Into Local News

Another important element that may be beneficial to incorporate into your daily regime is continuing to stay informed about the important events and information happening around and affecting your community. One aspect of this is figuring out which news sources to tap into. Specifically, which news sources intricately provide information that greatly impacts the community you live in. Consistently staying informed about new policies, daily events, crime rates, new building developments, and any foreseeable changes in your community keeps you educated and able to speak on those particular changes that are important to you.

The poetic artist Tupac is an example of staying informed and being vocal about community disparities and disappointments. Angered by his community’s neglect, Tupac spoke profusely about the violence and poverty Black communities faced. He shared that his mother always made him read the newspaper, which greatly intensified his attentive and deep focus on the challenges the Black community faced. 

Simply put: if you don’t know about the challenges your community faces, how on earth will you be able to speak up, let alone try to change them? 

Supporting Community: Supporting Black Businesses

Luckily, there is still a plethora of Black businesses all around the District. Places like Grindstone Universal by designer Darel Dawson, up-and-coming boutiques like Lil Sto, Conceptual Consumerism by designer Nasrani, Versa Studios by designer Hamza, and more, are just a few of the thriving and up-and-coming Black businesses around the D.C. area. Helping to support or, quite frankly, put money in the pockets of local Black creatives is a way of ensuring that we keep our city…well, a little more chocolate. These designers are our neighbors and these businesses are our Black businesses so keeping them here in our community helps to lessen the amount of residents that have to face displacement.

On another note, these entrepreneurs create more opportunities for other residents to stay in the District through employment. And if that isn’t convincing enough, Grindstone Universal is one of the many Black businesses that has a hand in creating events for residents to congregate and network. This, of course, leads to more opportunities to not only celebrate Black culture, but also opportunity to further create it. 

Know Your Rights!

Lastly, and maybe even most importantly, learning and knowing your rights about things like housing can be a great way of resisting displacement. In a WETA, Neighborhood Guide article “Understanding Gentrification in D.C.,” the author points out the importance of residents being aware of a particularly important District law. The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act states that “District law requires building owners to offer tenants the first opportunity to purchase a building when it goes up for sale.” There are exceptions to the law, for example, single-family dwellings are exempt, except if they are occupied by a disabled or elderly resident.

The article further discusses the fact that many residents aren’t always aware of tenant protection. Luckily organizations like One DC, a District-based organization fighting to combat gentrification, swoops in to help spread awareness. The organization shared, “If we find out that a building is up for sale, we might start knocking on people’s doors and saying, ‘Hey, if you get a couple of other tenants of this building and form a tenants association, you can become the entity that buys this building’.”

All the news over the years about gentrification, displacement, and its overall effect on our communities can be extremely disheartening to face, to say the least. It can make people feel like they lack a voice or a space to positively contribute to changing ongoing narratives within their communities. But with proper knowledge and congregation–just as our thick-skinned Civil Rights leaders and activists implemented over the centuries–we can bring about change and take control of the narratives in the communities we hold so dear. And with this mindset, we can gradually step closer to the Chocolate City we will never forget.

Article featured image/photo by Omri D. Cohen on Unsplash.

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