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  • Lelena Fissehazion

Gentrification and the Displacement of Black and Low-Income People in D.C.

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

For the past 17 years in my life, I have lived in the same neighborhood, gone to the same park, and visited the same neighborhood corner store. However, some things have changed. Everywhere I turn, I see the police.

This sentiment relates to the fact that areas that are changing economically often draw more police, meaning that an increase in police surveillance in a particular neighborhood is the direct result of gentrification.

From 2013 to 2017, D.C. was ranked 13 on the list of “most intensely gentrified” cities across the country in a study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). According to a map done by the NCRC, some of the areas that were gentrified from 2013 to 2017 include Columbia Heights, Petworth, NoMa, Navy Yard, Anacostia, and other neighborhoods.

As hundreds of thousands of new residents came to D.C. after the financial crisis of the late 1990s, the incomes increased while the percentage of African American residents decreased from 60 percent in 2000 to less than 47 percent 20 years later.

Gentrification in D.C. results in black and low income people being pushed out of economic hotspots. According to a study done by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, since 2000, the white population growth has been observed to be 202 percent in particular D.C. neighborhoods that have had a decrease in population of African Americans.

The study found that District neighborhoods that experienced economic growth also dealt with a loss of low-income people. Meanwhile, some neighborhoods that have seen an increase in low-income residents are defined as low-income concentration zones because they are not experiencing economic growth.

Meanwhile, the very heart of African American life and culture in D.C. is being dragged out. For instance, in 2019, Shaw’s Metro PCS store was forced to turn off its go-go music, a popular music genre associated with funk and soul.

This happened after the store was threatened with a lawsuit. This noise complaint is emblematic of the encroachment of African American culture as a result of gentrification. In neighborhoods like Shaw, low-income populations have decreased by nearly 57 percent.

An increase in development, like shopping centers and eateries, should not result in an increase of rent in particular neighborhoods. This pushes black people out of homes that they have lived in their entire lives resulting in a complete revamping of said neighborhood.

Some argue that the concept of gentrification is good because it improves education systems, increases the number of shops nearby, all while making sure that the increase in police presence does not result in police brutality, however, this is not the case.

Some believe that increasing police presence keeps neighborhoods safe from crimes. But in reality, law enforcement targets black people and continuously makes them feel uncomfortable in a neighborhood that they have lived in for over 20 years.

Gentrification directly results in the criminalization of communities of color. Take what happened at Shaw's Metro PCS store for example. African American residents become mixed up in "city of life" crimes, like noise violations.

One cannot better a community by kicking out the community itself. Gentrification is an ongoing cycle of despair for people in low income communities, where people get removed from their homes and sent to low-income concentration zones that will be gentrified again in another decade or two. This cycle will never stop unless we acknowledge the consequences of pushing low-income people out of their neighborhoods.

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