Gentrification Dashboard

Gentrification is defined as the influx of higher income, generally more White populations into a geographic area while lower-income, generally minority residents are forced out due to increasing costs of living.

Chapter 1: Sources of Gentrification

Chapter 2: Black Displacement

Chapter 3: Declining Affordability

Chapter 4: Poverty Concentration

Chapter 5: Health and Development

Chapter 1: Sources of Gentrification: The Government is Leading the Gentrifying

Gentrification and the declining housing affordability in Southwest have many origins. Developments can be roughly characterized into one of three types. The most common type in SW is government-led involving properties such as the Wharf, Randall School, and the SW Towncenter. The traditional market-driven type mostly occurs in the active industrial sites and brownfields that make up Buzzard Point. SW churches with mostly white congregations have overwhelmingly produced luxury, market housing. Affordable housing remains a major challenge in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood.

(Most common) Government-led - involves the direct role of government through the selling or leasing of public land. Southwest has three major "catalyzing projects" (i.e. the Wharf, Audi Field, and Randall School) that required unprecedented public investment though direct cash infusion, heavily subsidized construction, land remediation support, and generous tax relief. These types of projects are major direct and indirect sources of gentrification. Not only is luxury housing overwhelmingly unaffordable to low and moderate-income households, which tend to be more minority, but also because they put pressure on or "catalyze" the private market to activate their land. These public-backed projects established new highs. Audi Field is the "most expensive Major League Soccer stadium ever constructed." The Wharf received the "biggest loan in DC history." "No land deal is receiving more public subsidies than the “Wharf.” The new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge is the "city’s largest infrastructure project in history, valued at $480 million."

In total, seven properties fall under this classification: the Wharf, 4th St Towncenter** (Waterfront Station I (next to Safeway and across 4th), Eliot, and Waterfront Station II (lot next to CVS)**), Engine Co. 13 project (400 E Street and 555 E Street), Audi Field and Parcel B (currently undeveloped), and Randall School Redevelopment.

Approximately, public projects are seeking to produce 3,516 units - constructed or approved not-constructed. Of the 738 "affordable" units, only 503 or 14% have produced actual affordable housing at 60% AMI or below. The remaining "affordable" housing exceeds 60% AMI and can be upwards of 120% of AMI, as with examples at the Wharf. 14% barely exceeds inclusionary zoning (IZ) requirements between 8% - 11%, meaning that these developments would have only performed slightly worse (3%-5%) as market-based developments.

The District approved $300 million in public subsidies for the Wharf project, which used former public land valued at $95 million but was sold to Paramount Development Corporation for a laughable $1. "Paramount is run by Ben Soto, the campaign treasurer for both former Mayor Adrian Fenty and incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser." DC Council rolled-back Wharf commitment for housing for low- and moderate incomes. In lieu of paying property taxes like other property owners in the District, those on the Wharf make an "annual PILOT in an amount equal to the real property taxes". These taxes do not go into the general fund to support schools, city services, and other neighborhood assets.

The Randall School redevelopment received a 20-year tax abatement, which the Office of the Chief Financial Officer considered "excessive" in a letter to DC Council, as a 10-year abatement would have been sufficient.

The DC government was central to catalyzing development in Buzzard Point when it exercised eminent domain for development of the soccer stadium, in excess of $100 million. Now that DC has turned over the property to DC United, it can redevelop the remaining property for mixed-use development. However, the site of the stadium and some undeveloped surrounding property remain public land. It is not clear what stipulations on affordability govern development of Parcel B, immediately adjacent to the stadium. DC United is leasing the land for $1 per year up to 45 years. When DC Council released an independent economic evaluation of the stadium in 2014, its impact on the Southwest community, catalyzing gentrification, Black residents, or moderate income earners is never addressed.

Because properties are owned "by right" in much of Buzzard Point, inclusionary zoning will not generally apply, hardening gentrification. Given racial disparities in income, the effect will be a "not welcome" sign to DC Black residents. The soccer stadium deal involved a land swap in which DC gave 1000 1st St. NW - a 2.17 vacant lot - to Pepco to build a substation in a mostly minority community.

**Approved, not built

Traditional Market-driven - involves development in the traditional sense of free-market economics where government plays very little role, but "free-market" economic development is illusory. Government policy including tax subsidies disrupt normal market functioning and create conditions for the housing market to build in excess and to not address housing affordability needs. When a property is designated "by right," this means that it is not asking for exemptions to the type of zoning for that land. Launched in 2009, "D.C.'s current inclusionary zoning standards require that any development with at least 10 units set aside between 8% and 11% of the building's residential floor area as affordable to renters making less than 60% of the area median income." The Office of Planning is scheduled to appear in November 2020 before the Zoning Commission to increase IZ. However, this will not impact developed or imminently developing properties and is likely to have little impact. "(An increase) may not amount to a huge increase in affordable units — inclusionary zoning produced about 198 units last year."

The major traditional market projects have produced or are seeking to produce approximately 273 (8.7%) affordable units out of a total of 3,155 in Southwest (Table 2). Buzzard Point developments, as well as 1319 South Capitol St, qualify for tax deferment or exemption because of the Opportunity Zones initiative as part of the Republican tax overhaul in 2017. "In many cases it’s just a hefty tax break for a project that was already going to happen," meaning that projects produce minimal affordable housing due to inadequate IZ requirements and can take advantage of tax breaks.

Church-led - involves a church selling a fraction or entire property to a developer. Since churches are tax-exempt, churches' contribution to Black displacement and an affordability crises raises concerns about ethics and tax policy. Since these developments involved planned unit developments ("PUDs"), it casts serious doubt on the PUD process to produce affordable housing, which has come under scrutiny. Affordable housing production was only recently added as a high-priority public benefit in the Comprehensive Plan (Source).

Two PUD developments - St. Matthews Lutheran Church and Riverside Baptist Church - have contributed roughly 390 rental units. Only 42 (11%) of these are "affordable". At Riverside Baptist/The Banks, actual affordable housing (<60% AMI) is 8 units and workforce housing (>60% AMI) is 12 units. As of October 2020, the average rental prices based on Apartments.com are:

Studio: $2,010 | 1-Bedroom: $2,920 | Two bedroom: $3,988

The third development at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church produced condominiums. Of the 107 units, only 11 (10%) are "affordable".

Redfin Estimated Sale Price: $791,000 - $874,000

Table 1: Approximate Estimates of Affordable Output from Public Projects in SW

Source: DC Project Pipeline Database (PPD) Public Access Dashboard Ward 6

Current Planning Area

Proposed Planning Area - below (Notice how the South Capitol side is taken out of the "SW neighborhood" to make way for more luxury, gentrifying projects.)

Table 2: Traditional Market Affordable Housing Production

Correction? While we have tried our best to provide the most accurate information, please email corrections to info@southwestvoicedc.com.

The District owns the site of Audi Field and Parcel B. As part of the leasing agreement, DC is allowing DC United to redevelop Parcel B for mixed-use. The affordability requirements are not clear. The central role of the District in Buzzard Point redevelopment is a prime example of the government leading gentrification in SW DC.

Church-led gentrification raise serious questions about tax-exemption policies and ethics.

CHAPTER 2: Black Displacement and Demographic Shift

More than 20,000 African American residents in Washington, DC were displaced from 2000-2013, the most "intense" form of gentrification in the US. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition studied gentrification patterns again for 2013-2017 and found that DC "still has a high intensity of gentrification, with a total of 14 (16%) of eligible neighborhoods gentrifying." “It’s primarily racial … Racism is profoundly implicated in all of this,” said Sabihya Prince.

Within the 20024 zip code between 2010 and 2014-2018, Blacks' population percentage declined from 55% to 43% while Whites' percentage increased from 34% to 48% (US Census/Policy Map). Since the total population increased from 11,510 to 13,354 during this period, Blacks decreased in total population - from 6,331 to 5,742. With exception of the southeast tract that contains public housing properties, all census tracts showed a decline in the overall Black population.

The median household income difference for Whites and Blacks in SW is $43,480 ($115,261 v $71,781) and is $83,422 greater for the DC overall ($142,423 v $59,001) (US Census/Policy Map). Roughly, the Black DC median household income is roughly 50%-60% maximum annual income (MFI) while the White MD median income is over 120% MFI (Source). The historical stark difference in Black and White income persists with support of direct and indirect government support. The recent housing equity report states, "In addition, housing production has consisted mostly of small rental units targeted to households earning more than 120 percent of the MFI." Based on the dearth of affordable housing in the pipeline, few policy actions appear to address the structural racial inequity in income.

Blacks' median income in SW had historically been lower than the Black citywide average. Despite the preponderance of public and low-income housing in SW, this trend reversed around 2016, suggesting that SW is increasingly attractive to high income Black earners as well. Blacks are contributing to gentrification in SW - though to a lesser extent that traditional forms of gentrification.

Blacks with higher incomes comprise some of the incoming higher income, gentrifying population. As the table on the right shows, higher incomes among Black households have shown the greatest change from 2010-2020 (US Census/Simply Analytics). The number of Black households with an income under $75,000 increased only by 6 households while those making over this amount increased by 1,158.

It is a falsehood to argue that Black displacement is purely free-market economics. As the argument goes, Blacks tend to have less wealth, so they are more vulnerable to displacement. Black displacement is a function of the interplay between exploitative economic and political systems that ignore the social costs of unchecked capitalism. Often, Blacks are subsidizing their own displacement through tax subsidies (e.g. Opporuntities Zones, New Markets Tax Credit Program, etc.) and land giveaways at the District and federal levels. Often, developments take advantage of laws intended to "targets debt and equity capital to businesses or organizations situated in low-income, economically distressed communities". For example, millions in tax relief were given to rehabilitate the Boilermaker Building, which is situated in Navy Yard - the most gentrified neighborhood in the US.

A 2013 NPR report showed that DC Council had approved "$1 billion in tax breaks and other subsidies to developers over the past decade. At the same time, these developers donated millions of dollars in campaign cash." Despite dozens of missed opportunities to obtain more affordable units from developments involving public land, DC Council wants to again subsidize developers through a new local-income housing tax credit program.

Designated in 2017 to encourage investment in area of dire need, "Opportunity zones" policy has catalyzed gentrification while providing tax deferment or abatement. "Almost 69% of the neighborhoods identified as gentrifying in the 2013-2017 data were either within or adjacent to an OZ." Most of Southwest is within Opportunity Zones, which the law does not require that affordable housing is prioritized.

Chapter 3: Increasing Rent Burden and Declining Affordability

There are citywide and nationwide calls to address the affordability housing crisis. DC recently ranked as the fourth most expensive US city.

  • Revised Comprehensive Plan Framework - "The rising cost of housing is one of the most pressing and critical issues facing the District and the region. To achieve our goal of an inclusive city, we must meet the challenge of providing housing for a variety of household types.."

  • Proposed Changes to Housing Element - "However, as Washington, DC remains attractive to and retains higher income households, rising demand and competition will put upward pressure on rents and a greater number of lower-income households will experience greater pressure from rising housing costs.

  • Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments - calls for three-quarters of the new units should be affordable to low-to-moderate income levels, which means a monthly housing cost of $2,500 or less

Dozens of opportunities to attenuate this crisis have been missed as with the lax affordability requirements for developments involving public land (e.g. Randall School redevelopment, the Wharf, SW towncenter). The average percentage change in median gross rent between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018 in SW was 33% (US Census/Policy Map). It varies by census tract: SW tract (27%), NW tract (27%), NE tract (18%), and SE tract (61%). The average percentage change across all census tracts in the District for this period was 24%. The SE tract comprises most of the public housing development in SW, meaning that rising rent in public housing and turnover in adjacent private rent occupants are likely contributing factors.

WUSA9 analyzed Zillow data on median rent in the District and found that Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront grew by more than 12 percent in a single year - more than 3x faster than the rest of DC. Based on Zillow data by unit type, the SW-Waterfront neighborhood ranked high among roughly 50 neighborhoods for median rent: studio or one bedrooms (#9), two bedrooms (#16), and three bedrooms (#16).

SW census tracts rank 33 (NW tract), 48 (SW tract), 52 (NE tract) for highest median rents for studios among 96 tracts in 2014-2018 (US Census/Policy Map). Two tracts rank 27 and 31 out of 163 tracts for highest median one bedroom. For two-bedrooms, two tracts placed 23 and 34 out of 161 ranked tracts.

According to the Philadelphia Federal Reserve, renters are more vulnerable to displacement as their communities gentrify, and unlike owners, they reap none of the rewards that rising home prices and rents can bestow." Data comparing two four-year periods show that three of four census tracts in Southwest have a higher percentage of renters who are cost burdened (US Census/Policy Map). Affordable rentals remain out of reach mostly for household under 60% maximum annual income (MFI). Because Black households' median income falls under 60% MFI, the burden of constructing developments without substantial investment in affordable housing will fall disproportionately on Black residents.

Based on October 2018, maximum annual income by AMI for two-person household. Assuming between 1-2 persons per household, the Black median household income is roughly between 50% - 60% AMI while the White median household income is >120% AMI.

  • 30% MFI - $28,120

  • 50% MFI - $46,900

  • 60% MFI - $56,250

  • 80% MFI - $75,000

Rental rates for Whites increased by 3% and remained the same for Blacks between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018. A much greater share of Blacks rent in compared to Whites (73% v 50%). The % difference is nearly 2x higher in the SW tract. The ratio of Black:White rental population rate is 1.2 for the 20024 zip code, meaning that a greater share of the Black population make up the Black and White total rental population. The change in Whites' number (last row) indicates the gentrifying effect of neighborhood change. The number of White renters increased in the 20024 zip code significantly, ranging in percentage from 28% - 864% - with the NE tract the only exception (-25%). The NE tract experienced a decline in the number of White renters, but an increase in the number of White homeowners. The % change in Black renters was 8%-10% for two census tracts and -25% in a third tract.

Despite the Southwest's history as a minority-majority district, homeownership rates heavily bias toward White residents. Overall for the 20024 zip code, Whites have a 2.2 homeownership ratio to Blacks. This trend holds for two census tracts while the NE tract is 4x higher in favor of Whites and approximately .6 for the SE tract. The SE tract had a majority % of Black owners, but the white-black ratio narrowed between 2009-2018. Homeownership rates either declined (Whites) or remained unchanged (Blacks) during the study period. The number of White homeowners increased by 14% while only 5% for Blacks in the 20024 zip code. Relative changes in percentage varied by census tract, but the overall White-Black homeownership ratios persist overall by zip code and by census tract.

Cost burden is also shown among homeowners in Southwest. 50% of census tracts in SW exceed the DC average of 23% (US Census/Policy Map). Burden is highest in the two tracts experiencing the high levels of development (e.g. Buzzard Point and the Wharf). Across three of the four census tracts in SW, the percentage of White homeownership has declined.

The percentage of vacant units that are for rent or sale in SW is much lower than the citywide average (34% v 41%) in 2014-2018 and (25% v 39%). This amounts to 218 units that are vacant and not for sale or rent. There are several explanations for this: holding for investment without major concern about loss of rental income, waiting for quick sale, poor condition of unit, or short-term renting. There is not known why the rental or sale rate of total vacancies is lower. However, AirBNB data show that Southwest ranks 16th out of 39 DC neighborhoods for the number of reservations (Source: Inside AirBNB). 72% of reservations in SW are entire homes or apartments. With increasing attractions in and around SW (e.g. Wharf, Nats Stadium, and Audi Field), it may mean an uptick in short-term rentals even though DC Council recently passed legislation on short-term rentals (e.g. AirBNB) that"impose some of the tightest limits in the nation." First, it is not clear that enforcement is occurring given the zoning map and a map of "recently and frequently booked" entire homes/apartments. DCRA data on STRs is not readily available. A Yelp review from a renter in February 2020 confirmed AirBNB at Modern on M, "There are also units in this complex that are used as AirBnBs. I know for sure the one next to me is because every weekend, someone new is coming in and out of the unit with huge pieces of luggage and making a whole lot of noise."


Demographic Shift in SW from 2010-2018

Changes in Black Population in Census Tracts in Southwest between 2010-2018

Median Income by Race for 20024 Zipcode and DC Overall

Income Shift Among Black Households from 2010-2020.

Most of Southwest is within "Opportunity Zones" (grey) which was passed under the Trump administration and widely spurs gentrification throughout the District and nation.

Proposed Planning Area (Notice how the South Capitol side is taken out of the "SW neighborhood" to make way for more luxury, gentrifying projects.)

% of Renters who are Cost Burdened (US Census/Policy Map)

% Affordability of Studios and One-Bedrooms by AMI for two-person family.

% of Homeowners who are cost burdened for DC, 20024 Zipcode, and by SW census tracts (US Census/Policy Map)

Rental Rates by Race in Southwest DC (% within group percentage homeownership and total number)

Homeownership by Race in Southwest DC (% within group percentage homeownership and total number)

Vacant Units for Sale or Rent

Zoning Map and "Recent and frequently booked" "entire homes/apartments"

Chapter 4: Racial Spatial Polarization

Index of Concentration at the Extremes (ICE) is a measure of spatial polarization by assessing concentrations of privilege and deprivation. "A value of −1 means that 100% of the population is concentrated in the most deprived group and a value of 1 means that 100% of the population is concentrated into the most privileged group." The map shows the extremes for white, high income vs. black low income. The lighter orange means that Black, low income ("deprivation") population is concentrated in a zip code. The lighter the blue means the more high income Whites are concentrated. The concentration of low-income Blacks follow historic maps of cotton production, suggesting the lingering effect of US slavery. Similar regional patterns have also been associated with the "Stroke Belt" and other public health trends.

Washington, DC follow similar patterns as the US South. Light orange appears in Ward 7 and 8 unlike in other parts of DC. It is a current illustration of the legacy of highly potent racist systems. The average ICE score for Wards 7 and 8 is -0.33. One census tract in Southwest (-6400, -0.65) is worst off than the East of the River average. This means that there is a greater concentration of low-income Black residents than overall for Wards 7 and 8. Patterns of Black low-income concentration and chronic poverty are associated with adverse impacts: educational achievement, especially multi-generational effects, hyper low-income concentration relative to similarly situated racial groups, lack of access to social and financial capital, depression and psychological distress, cognitive impairment, mental health, and crime.

The census tract with a greater concentration of low-income African Americans than the average of Wards 7 and 8 contains all of the public housing in SW: Greenleaf Apartments, James Creek Apartments, and Syphax Apartments. These properties were erected around the same time in the late 1950s and early 1960s during urban renewal in Southwest. Southwest experienced two forms of urban renewal. One led by the DC Redevelopment Land Agency. Much smaller in scope, the other form involved the Housing Authority using federal funding to purchase private property for construction of these three densely concentrated public housing developments.

The concentration of these low-income communities has had immeasurable damage to physical and mental health, life prospects, and other ways not measured to date. Policies changing the landscape of neighborhood and social networks should warrant strict scrutiny and holistic assessment of adverse impacts because planning has typically ignored social costs both short-term (e.g. displacement) and long-term (e.g. effects of concentrated poverty). The impact of poor planning outlives planners, governments, and residents. The DC Office of Planning acknowledges, "We recognize our city and the practice of planning have inherited approaches that were built around systems of racism. Not only was our city run by segregationists through the mid-twentieth century, but the planning profession itself is implicated in furthering racism, often even by “enlightened professionals.” Assumptions, “best practices,” inherited wisdom, and laws or regulations come from a default white (heterosexual, cisgender, upper/middle class, male, able-bodied) perspective." Approval of new developments do not generally undergo a social cost assessment. DC Council passed the Racial Equity Achieves Results Act of 2020, which requires a "racial equity impact assessment for Council legislation," but several drawbacks are apparent. Because the new Office of Racial Equity will reside under the auspicious of the Executive, the impact assessment is vulnerable to politics. Second, the law does not impact the Zoning Commission, which approves "by right" gentrifying projects. Third, it does not compel action on account of findings. As discussed, the government has mostly led gentrification in SW, meaning that political determinants of disparate racial impact are not adequately mitigated. Further, the August 2016 Buzzard Point Community Health and Safety Study (CHASS) report assessed the impact of the stadium construction and made several recommendation on health mitigation and community engagement. "None of the recommendations have been implemented by DOEE."

Further, development does not attenuate the effects of concentrated poverty in Southwest. Although this remains a severely understudied area of local research, there is abundant situational evidence that development has reduced community assets or exacerbated poor air quality. For example, city-led development at Delaware Ave and I St resulted in the loss of the Southwest Unity clinic - a safety-net and charity hospital. Although it relocated on the other side of South Capitol, there are ongoing challenges to connect residents to care. Only recently were mental health services established within public housing. It is worth noting that developers' final pitches to the community in December 2019 emphasized the importance of new health and support resources. Yet, it is unclear why addressing the chronic lack of resources, unmet health needs, and proliferation of new health threats are future - not present - priorities.

Besides development, the chronic lack of resources to offset the effects of concentrated poverty has been perpetuated. Access to healthy food is limited for the Buzzard Point community. In the immediate area is a liquor store and two convenience stores. The closest fresh produce is at the Safeway about a 15-20 minute walk away. No Black owned business are present in the area, which might be more open to use as social spaces and building community ties. During the COVID pandemic, food distributions popped up at nearby James Creek Apartments. During normal times, fresh produce is scare in the immediate neighborhood. The closest clinical care is in Navy Yard. Unity Health Clinic moved from SW to Navy Yard several years ago. On account of Navy Yard's gentrifying reputation, many residents may feel that this location is not as welcoming and community-based. Community leaders have shared that many challenges continue on educating residents on the new location of the Unity Clinic that used to be located at Delaware Avenue and I St. A mental health service recently moved into the community, but is restrictive to certain resident populations.

There are major areas of inequity across park space in the Buzzard Point community versus whiter areas that are closer to gentrification hotspots. As illustrated, the single outdoor park in Buzzard Point - Greenleaf Park - is basically a barren field. While the space in front of King-Greenleaf Recreation Center does provide a spacious playground, it lacks the social space and amenities seen in other parks in Southwest. It is a common scene to see residents throughout the Buzzard Point community using home furniture to create their own social spaces near locations such as Channel Square, Syphax courtyard, and Greenleaf Senior Apartments. The latter spot is known as the "Living Room" because so many folding chairs are present to allow for social gathering. The new Waterfront Park benefited from development of the Wharf, as it was part of the community benefits that the developers offered. Its generous seating and scenic views stands in stark contrast to the Greenleaf Park. SWBID manages the SW Duck Pond and plans major renovations for three parks - Duck Pond, Southwest Library Park, and Lansburgh Park near centers of gentrifying population growth - with funding from the Southwest Community Foundation.

Inequity between historically white areas of DC and other areas sharply contrast. Rock Creek has long-thwarted efforts to increase inclusiveness. Primarily, it has done so through zoning, "neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, which are zoned nearly entirely for single-family homes, don’t allow duplexes, fourplexes, or other, denser types of homes by default." The result of preserving these neighborhoods has a clear implication for Southwest. "Other parts of the city, like the Wharf and NoMa, have seen cataclysmic changes, in part because development is pushed to them by the restrictiveness of neighborhoods where little is built at all." Based on a map from the Office of Planning, Ward 7 and Ward 8 - African American communities - are seeking the greatest increases in affordable housing. This suggests that racial and economic residential segregation are further hardening.

Exposure to poverty during childhood based on parents' income percentile is correlated with incarceration rates. They are higher for people who are raised in very low income households versus low income in SW. For those from low income backgrounds and live in the SW census tract mostly containing public housing, the incarceration rate is high, suggesting compounding inter-generational effects of poverty exposure. The District should be focused on interventions that seek to attenuate the effects of lifetime poverty.

Spatial Polarization in the US, the South, and DC. - Index of Concentration at the Extremes is a measure of deprivation and privilege. The lighter orange means that Black, low income ("deprivation") population is concentrated in a zip code. The lighter the blue means the more high income Whites are concentrated.

Maps 1-2 (zip code level): United States, US South, Washington, DC

Cotton Production 1860

Affordable Housing Pipeline: Historically white neighborhoods in DC have erected barriers to allow affordable housing construction. The effect is that low-income concentration is bottled up in its historic areas and creates market conditions for de jure housing discrimination. Source: Curbed DC

Historically White Neighborhoods in Rock Creek Exclude Affordable Hosing Like the Rest of DC. The greatest levels of affordability are seen in Ward 7 and 8, worsening racial residential segregation. (Source: Office of Planning)

SW has a lack of equity in park space. The space near Buzzard Point is underdeveloped in the case of Greenleaf Park. No public seating appear in this vacant lot. The nearby King-Greenleaf Recreation Center has limited space for gathering, socializing, and relaxation. The park is largely centered around children recreation.

Parks in whiter areas of SW have plenty of outdoor seating, more aesthetically pleasing amenities, and multi-use. Young Black males utilize a utility box for seating because Greenleaf public housing provides no outdoor social spaces in contrast to parks near gentrifying areas such as the Duck Pond and Waterfront Park (below). Images from Curbed DC and Cultural Landscape Foundation

Led by SWBID, the park system including the Duck Pond, Southwest Library Park, and Lansburgh will undergo major renovations in late 2020/early 2021. These areas are near the gentrification hotspots and whiter areas in SW. Greenleaf Park (the bare field above) is not expecting any upgrades.

Internet access is vital to access resources to maintain good health, employment, social support, wellness, educational, and other fundamental aspects of daily life. Map is % of households with

Chapter 5: Health and Environmental Injustices

The residents in and around Buzzard face major environmental injustices. Buzzard Point residents have had longstanding opposition to industrial activity in their backyard. Poor community health has been attributed to polluters in the area, combined with increased construction activity and traffic-related pollution. Lead remediation in the home also remains an ongoing concern. Lead exposure risk for census tracts in SW containing public housing properties has the second-highest assessed risk level. As the DC Housing Authority acknowledge, "Nearly all residential buildings (publicly and privately) owned that were built before 1978 contain lead-based paint." In 2018, the Housing Authority conducted a city-wide review of its 56 properties, but this report has yet to be publicly released. Although residents received a letter on lead exposure, this gave residents little relief.

Gentrification and land redevelopment exacerbate the health of residents in and around Buzzard Point. Given the longstanding industrial activity in Buzzard Point, contaminated soil and air remain concerns. Development along South Capitol and Buzzard Point (e.g. Audi Field, 1319 South Capitol) often involve excavation of contaminated land. These often require "voluntary cleanup plans."

Part of the area encompassing Audi Field held DC's last salvage yard until 2015 after being allowed to operate for more than 60 years close to a minority, public housing community. Other parts of Southwest had electricity production - including oil and coal-reliant energy. During excavation, concerns about air quality reach a crescendo, as with the field now occupied by the soccer stadium and large-scale building construction. In 2015, DC United submitted to a "voluntary cleanup program". Under this plan, DOEE was responsible for ensuring that the cleanup plan was carried out and for making "unannounced visits to the site to ensure that all rules are being followed." No documents exist in the public domain showing that DOEE undertook any of these oversight responsibilities, including unannounced visits. As has been noted by ANC6D Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton, residents have been "left behind" as development in Buzzard Point accelerates forward.

In July 2020, the ANC6D requested that the Office of Attorney General initiate an investigation of longstanding environmental injustices for Buzzard Point.

"For years now, the residents of Southwest DC have been dealing with environmental pollution in Buzzard Point. Residents who live in Old Southwest have been exposed daily to the industrial hazards and toxic chemicals that come with living alongside many of the area’s historic buildings. During the build-out of Audi Field, disruption of contaminated soil released particulate matter into the air. Immediate remediation was needed which halted construction of the soccer stadium however it had already begun to shown signs of causing and exasperated health issues of many of our residents" ...Read full letter

Medically Underserved Area - Despite the preponderance of new developments in SW, much of SW is in a medically underserved area. With the close of Unity Health clinic, Southwest lost a major health asset. A new dentist office opened on 4th Street, but neighborhood-serving medical services are absent. Given Southwest's vulnerability with its large public housing and older populations, these are acute public health concerns.

Industrial Use - Buzzard Point has historically been a site of industrial activity. Image 1 shows the coal reserves for Pepco in the 1940s. A savage yard operated in Buzzard Point, mere blocks from public housing, for nearly 60 years (photo credit: Darrow Montgomery).

Ms. Michaels and neighbors protesting against industrial polluters in SW. (Image credit: Kari Fulton)

In addition to the other environmental health injustices, Superior Concrete and Vulcan Materials were permitted to moved adjacent to public housing communities between 2007-2009. Air quality greatly deteriorated.

Chapter 6: False and Misguided Policies

Governmental development decisions often rely on so-called experts, economic theories and evidence-based research to guide decisions on investments and land use, but these frequently prove misguided and wrong. The social costs, including gentrification, Black displacement, and rising costs, are vastly underestimated, if assessed at all. Recommendations are followed through in a selective or piecemeal fashion. Those that tend to favor subsidies to developers such as a local Low Income Housing Tax Credit programs have been implemented. Those favoring renters have not - such as Recommendation 4 - support extremely low income renters by establishing a local rent supplement program and Recommendation 2 - preserve 30,000 existing affordable units including all federally assisted housing. The New Communities Initiative, which is seeking to replace certain public housing developments, has displaced residents (e.g. Barry Farm, Northwest One). In the case of Barry Farm, the court reversed a Housing Authority decision to build 100 fewer units that had original existed.


  • Bridges to Opportunity - Former DC Mayor Vincent Gray appointed a thirty-six member panel in 2012 to "help city leaders ensure the creation of more affordable housing for residents in the District of Columbia." Task force members heavily skewed toward real estate and developers. A recipient of public land at 4th and M St SW, Forest City co-chaired it. The city adopted this report and used it to justify projects - usually market-unit properties - for Zoning Commission decisions. The Commission did not make any independent assessment of major dubious claims in the document.

False claim #1: Market rate housing does not lead to gentrification. The task force strongly imply that future market-unit development will not lead to gentrification, which subsequent data proved incorrect. "Additionally, the recent increase in market rate housing does not appear to have led to significant gentrification, by which we mean displacement of lower income residents. In fact, over the past two years of the city’s population growth, the number of people filing income taxes has increased across all income levels citywide. Market rate housing starts are essential to the improving the city’s continuum of housing as are public-private investments in affordable housing development." It is noteworthy that the document avoids the future tense ("market projects will or may cause gentrification"). It relies only on data until that point, but never clarifies what data it analyzed or whether that data was current to the time of the report. It also never provides a forecast. The Commission also never asked for one. Yet, the Commission has adopted the government's position that gentrification is not a major concern for developments which critics and residents say will spur gentrification. As discussed, the evidence shows that DC remains one of the most gentrifying cities in the US for least the last eight years.

Unaddressed Claim #1 - The report does not address the most obvious pathway to increase affordable housing - increase Inclusionary Zoning. By requiring developments on the private market to increase the percentage of square footage dedicated to affordable housing, it would immediately combat the affordability crisis. None of its seven action items address a policy that the government is, in fact, pursuing.

Unaddressed Claim #2 - The report never addresses another obvious pathway for affordable housing production - require higher affordable percentages from public land redevelopment. Again, the recommendations largely encourage greater subsidies to developers rather than the most straightforward and cost-efficient option. Yet, the Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Amendment Act of 2014 set higher affordability requirements for public land disposition shortly after the report's release. The requirements for when public land is being leased are less clear.

  • Creative Class Economy Debunked -