“Yet another warehouse of concentrated poverty”

Flickr: M. V. Jantzen

Shaw Metro station, at 8th & R Streets, NW

So I was reading this post from the City Paper about new, affordable housing coming to Shaw:

It’s a tentative plan, but a plan nonetheless: Lincoln Westmoreland Housing Inc. is moving forward with a 50-unit apartment complex on 7th and R Street NW, right next to the 10-story behemoth constructed right after the 1968 riots.

The new building, designed by Shalom Baranes architects, could not be more ideally located: It sits directly above the Shaw metro station (part of the land will be purchased from WMATA), and across the street from the new Shaw library. It will replace a decked-over parking lot, have retail on the ground floor, and still leave some green space for a sculpture installation.

“Affordable” is the key word here, because as Lydia DePillis reported, the units would be accessible “for people making 60 percent of the area median income”. Sounds great, right? I love neighborhoods that have a range of people from all backgrounds–it’s my favorite thing about Columbia Heights, where there is everything from affordable housing to $3,000 converted condos. The readers who commented on her piece had a different, more bitter take:

Building looks nice and hopefully they will balance income levels. 60% AMI residents will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood and attract civil servants, firefighters, police, teachers etc. But if they decide to concentrate the extremely low income/AMI residents in this building, well they might as well hand over the building to the local thugs so they can have a nice shiny new HQ from which to terrorize the rest of the neighborhood from. [wcp]

Commenter “Sally” was blunter, but on to something– another commenter referred to “yet another warehouse of concentrated poverty. Disgusting.”:

Make it actual workforce housing, not the usual poor people storage facility. [wcp]

Disgusting is right. So the people to whom Sally and other commenters are referring are objects to be stored. Storage facilities and warehouses are places for things forgotten, for the unnecessary crap we don’t have room for, which should remain out of sight. Language, people. Language.

Commenter “Q-Street” added:

I really can’t take another subsidized property in the neighborhood. I’m paying my mortgage month to month while my neighbors walk around drunk all day and talk about the ‘man’ keeping them down burning trash and peeing in public. Let Dupont or Chevy Chase take the next subsidized housing complex for f*cks sake. [wcp]

I feel for this person, I really do. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to pour all of your money, hopes and dreams in to a home of your very own only to move in and witness crimes being committed, all around you. That’s what public drunkenness, arson and public urination sound like, to me– crimes. It must be disheartening.

Having typed that, I also wonder if a lot of the gentrification-related rage in this city is born from an impatience that neighborhoods aren’t prettying up as quickly as newer, more affluent residents had hoped they would. It’s tough to be the new family on the block, but someone is always first, aren’t they? Or second, or third. I have sympathy for fed-up homeowners but only to a certain point; if the grittiness of a transitional area will be too much to bear, I’d suggest a different neighborhood. If crime-ridden neighborhoods are all someone can afford, then the real problem is access to affordable housing for all of us– not drunken neighbors, which Shaw hardly has a monopoly on…public drunks have annoyed me in Kalorama, Georgetown and even my current building. Is an inebriated sorority girl who is shoeless and screaming hysterically on Irving street less annoying than someone railing about “the man”? Or is she just prettier, less threatening, and thus more acceptable?

  • Dcarchitect10

    Drunken sorority girls don’t mug you on the street.

  • Anonymous

    True, but one did try to steal my puppy, three months ago; I wish I were kidding. On a more serious note, we don’t know that the “drunks” referred to in the comment are mugging people either– I was just responding to the very real annoyance of public drunkenness…and trying to point out that certain communities do not have a monopoly on it.

    p.s. Thank you for such a prompt comment! You set a commenting record! ;)

  • Jaleo2000

    I think we are seeing here is the very real balkanization of urban society that stymies us. I commiserate with both sides, there needs to be affordable housing in the city, and yet it comes fraught with so many problems that makes it unpleasant for the neighbors.

    I recently saw a project about The Frederick Douglass Dwellings in Anacostia, that was public housing built in the WWII boom. There were many two parent families and a community center in which the ladies who ran it really took an interest in their charges. They didn’t know they were “poor,” and there was a strong sense of community and family.

    There are so many problems here: it’s true that many urban blacks that I have encountered blame their problems on the system, “the plan”, without seeking solutions, but I find this mimicked in modern society too, where many people blame “the media” without questioning their role in propagating a media more concerned with the upcoming royal nuptials than the minutae of the tax code. People do need to start taking responsibility for themselves, their knowledge base, their support of leadership, and their desires to meet and understand their neighbors. Start community watches. Volunteer with big brothers. Don’t accept or make excuses. There will need to be a large attitude adjustment on both sides for anything to change.

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t make them any less annoying.

  • Anonymous

    It’s 2011. No one talks about “the man” keeping them down. (Believe me, I grew up in the Bronx). You can always tell the age of people who say that. That guy probably still thinks people say “groovy”.