If you live in the District you are more than likely aware of the hoopla surrounding the latest census stats. If you don’t live here chances are you might have heard through some pundit or through the media outlets of the shift in demographic in DC.
Opinions and viewpoints are quite varied; from Marion Barry’s diatribe about forcing government workers to be DC residents to the voices of the alleged gentrifiers who refute and wrongdoing. While I typically wouldn’t blog about this issue nor cite “Da Mayor” (see Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” if you missed that reference), I do feel that many people are viewing the rapid shift in demographics of DC out of context.
When you go to areas such as Columbia Heights and see the million dollar condos rising up as quickly as they can push out the poor it is not so much an issue of poor Black DC residents leaving the city. Similar to many urban (and suburban) areas what DC is experiencing is the flight of the middle class, which in DC has been historically comprised of mostly Blacks. In areas that have not been hit by developers and are deemed untenable to both upperclass whites and Blacks (i.e. East of the Anacostia River) DC looks 95% Black. Riding the bus from Southeast there is a clear line of demarcation where the city begins to diversify (namely Eastern Market).
The issue, therefore, is less about race and more about class. DC has become an unaffordable housing market to the middle class and rather than going broke to live in neighborhoods with good schools, grocery stores and other amenities that are considered luxuries East of the river, they have decided to seek more affordable housing in Prince George’s County. Upperclass DC residents and newcomers have therefore easily taken over the housing market leaving DCs middle class fleeing and slowly, but surely pushing the remaining underclass into the underdeveloped part of the city.
As unfair and unfortunate as this may seem DC is not the only place where the middle class has felt the squeeze. For the past 4 years the dialogue on the plight of the middle class could be witnessed on liberal and conservative media outlets alike. When you look at urban areas that have traditionally been meccas of Black culture such as Brooklyn, Harlem, Atlanta, cities in the Bay Area, etc. I am sure you will find similar economic trends, which are also displayed through racial trends and housing trends.
As a DC renter (and hopeful home owner one day) I can attest to the wide disparity in renting prices. While in my neighborhood, a 1 bedroom apartment can be found for under $1000 if you look at any of the more desirable neighborhoods 1 bedrooms can range from $1000-$1500+. Yes, in some of these more desirable neighborhoods there is section 8 housing, however DC similar to many cities has long ago closed off the list for section 8. This housing crisis has thus begun shifting DC into a city of socioeconomic extremes where only the very affluent and very poor can afford to live. I am constantly looking for apartments to move as I despise my current apartment for a variety of reasons, but even when I am employed I will most likely end up in a similar apartment complex in Southeast. However, as an educator and someone who will do everything to see my child in a good school I will most likely be forced into PG County like many other Blacks who have the income for mobility.