Just One Mile: Gentrification in Congress Heights, DC

Is This a Sign?

In the one mile stretch that the kids and I photographed, there are six schools. All underperforming, all black, all under renovation, and all right next to new homes priced at $300K and over.

Malcolm X Elementary

100% Black

244 Students

34% of the students are BELOW basic level in reading and math. 47% are at the basic level in reading. 40% are at the basic level in math. 19% are proficient in reading. None are advanced. So out of 6 children, 2 are read at below the basic level, 3 read at basic, and one is proficient. 14% of the students are in special education. (Stats from DCPS website)

This sign made me laugh. In case you cannot read the sign…

That’s the new Giant shopping center in the background. In case you still can’t read the sign, the homes start at the low 400’s. http://www.ryanhomes.com/find-your-home/our-communities/washington-dc/washington-dc/ashefordcourt To afford that, with stellar credit, one would have to make upwards of $86,000 per year. (Bankrate.com) When one in three Ward 8 residents lives below the poverty line, we have to ask – who are these homes for?

Looking at this chart, it isn’t likely that someone from Ward 8 will be able to afford a home here. For the most part, the incomes in other wards have been increasing at a much faster rate than they have in Ward 8. Ward 8’s income actually dropped. If education is a priority for families when searching for a home (it is) and we can assume that these homes are for families since the models boast from 3 to 5 bedrooms and upwards of 3,000 square feet, why would anyone spend this much money to live here? Why would anyone move? Even with homes like these? Will this be another Prince Georges county full of well educated black people with high incomes and big houses living near terrible schools? Will there be a mass exodus from these other wards or other states into Ward 8 allowing for gentrification like we’ve seen in other communities around DC that were once poor and black or Hispanic?

Would you sacrifice a good school system to move here to have a DC address, DC taxes, and walk to the metro?

Remember, Ward 8 has the highest unemployment rate in the city, the worst schools in the city, and the lowest income in the city. But state of the art schools and facilities are being renovated/newly constructed. There are no coffee shops yet, mainly because the area, which was mainly farmland, turned residential, has very little commercial property. There is one grocery store, Giant, which was built within the last 5 years or so – here are some statistics about the commercial spaces in Ward 8, and a surprising (or not) declaration by a new Congress Heights resident who may want to “open a café.” http://www.elevationdcmedia.com/features/congressheights_100714.aspx

In class, I wondered, and asked the question, “What are the things to look out for in the steps in the gentrification process that serve as signals to the rest of us that we could get pushed out?”

At another school within walking distance of my house that has been newly renovated is Eagle Academy. It is now a charter school.

98% Black

1% Hispanic

80% economically disadvantaged

(from DCPCSB website)

This is a sign that is in the parking lot. There’s barely any other parking, and in order for you to drop off your kids close to the school, you must have an fuel efficient vehicle. That’s right. I would see all of these people trekking up the hill to the back of the school pick up their kids, and I’m thinking there was no other way to get them – that the back door is the only way. Apparently, the pick up lane in front of the school is for fuel efficient cars only. So you have to have a new car to pick up your kids from school… in Congress Heights… across from the nastiest liquor store you’ll ever see. People here barely have jobs. Right.

By “us” I don’t necessarily mean myself and my family. I mean us as in people of color who are part of the current makeup of Congress Heights – those who moved here because they had to move here when there was nowhere else to go. I can’t include myself, because unlike many of the families who lived here for decades through crime and drug wars, I chose to live here when I could have lived elsewhere. Maybe I am a gentrifier who just happens to be black? Maybe organic produce?

Some say the signal is the coffee shop. If that is the case, gentrification hasn’t arrived yet unless you count the IHOP, which I believe is the only restaurant where you can sit and have a meal in Congress Heights. Some say it is white women pushing strollers and walking dogs, or white guys on bikes. But are all gentrifiers white or any race with money? If they are any race then maybe the warning shots already happened and it was missed. I have seen people walking dogs (and picking up after them) around here for a while now.