How Do You Preserve a Neighborhood as It Changes? Very Carefully

How Do You Preserve a Neighborhood as It Changes? Very Carefully
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Why you should care

Because affordable neighborhoods should stay affordable.

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If you were to judge Washington D.C. by the numbers, it appears to be booming. It is one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, with a population that is increasing by one thousand people per month. That type of growth has impacted property value, making D.C. one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. According to online real estate database Zillow:

The median home value in D.C. tripled between 2000 and 2016 and grew by 4.7% over the last year.

However, there is a problem: The growth is uneven. The Anacostia River is the natural boundary that defines the disparity of growth in D.C. West of the river, the median home price is $812,000, and the average household income is $140,000. East of the river, the median home price drops to $300,000, and household incomes average approximately $48,000. Not surprisingly, prospective home buyers have started to flock east.

Many residents feel we deserve some of the amenities that come with development, but not at the expense of pushing people out.

Sheldon Clark, Douglass Community Land Trust

Take Sheldon Clark’s experience, for example. When the licensed architect was ready to buy a place, he looked to Ward 8, east of the Anacostia because “there were not a lot of affordable options available,” he says. Though some residents are proponents of development east of the river, many worry about the impact it will have on the community.

“There are food deserts here, and many residents feel we deserve some of the amenities that come with development,” notes Clark, “but not at the expense of pushing people out.”

A new project, however, is designed to bridge the divide between the east and west — literally. The 11th Street Bridge Park is a $50 million project that will be built atop the piers of a traffic span that was replaced by I-695. The planned design of the elevated space calls for a café, an environmental center, an amphitheater, a marina, a “hammock grove” — even river-viewing nets that will extend over the water. One thousand feet long and 120 feet wide, the park will serve as a recreational destination, a center for commerce and will also connect the communities on both banks. Completion is slated for the Summer of 2019.

But the 11th Street Bridge Park will be more than a riverline retreat in the heart of the city. Owned by The District of Columbia, the project will be operated by the nonprofit, Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR), which has led extensive efforts to ensure the park enables current residents to share in the economic opportunities the bridge will create.

There’s also the Douglass Community Land Trust, which Clark is on the board of. The trust received $3 million from JPMorgan Chase to acquire properties and will partner with local developers to build affordable homes in the project’s impact area. Additionally, JPMorgan Chase is investing $25 million to drive inclusive growth in Greater Washington’s underserved neighborhoods, including Anacostia and other parts of Wards 7 and 8, over the course of three years. Part of that commitment has been awarded to help local and minority-owned small businesses — offering training, technical assistance and access to capital through a Washington, D.C.–based collaborative of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).

Harold Pettigrew, the director of the Washington Area Community Investment Fund — a nonprofit that supports the city’s low-income and minority entrepreneurs — realizes the importance of taking a multisector approach.

“You can’t offer someone a path to entrepreneurship if they don’t have housing, can’t build savings and can’t pay their bills,” he says. “That’s what’s great about the collaborative. It brings together organizations that may not have worked together previously but have a shared vision and can amplify each other’s impact through complementary work.”