Derek K. Miller / Flickr
Expensive rents can be a byproduct of gentrification and rising property values. So isn’t rent control one way to keep housing affordable?
Turns out that it’s not always that simple.
This week’s Washington City Paper Housing Complex column explores how one developer’s approach to purchasing and renovating old apartment buildings in D.C. has become a double-edged sword for renters. When landlords wants to sell their buildings, a D.C. law requires that they offer tenants the first right to buy. Urban Investment Partners buys old buildings, but they get the tenants to waive their right to purchase by striking deals that include keeping rents relatively stable for original tenants. Those old buildings need major renovations, and the company pays for them by substantially increasing rents for newcomers to the building. The result: rent-controlled, low rates for those who remain, but the number of affordable apartments in the building — and the city– declines.
But what other options exist? The pot of money intended to preserve affordable housing in the District is dwindling. For-profit developers want to make money, and it’s difficult to massively renovate a building without charging people more to live there.
These issues disproportionately affect people of color in the District. About twice as many African Americans, Asians and Latinos rent rather than own homes in D.C. Meanwhile, nearly the same number of whites own homes as rent them in D.C. About 55 percent of people who live in D.C. rent.
Adrian Murphy / Flickr
What does it really mean to be “African American?” Does the term refer to people with slaves as ancestors, or is it just as applicable to recent African immigrants?
It’s a conversation we’ve previously explored, and it’s front and center in an ongoing legal dispute involving a jazz club near Howard University.
Here’s the gist, according to the Washington City Paper: The Enterprise Theater & Jazz Lounge was opened by Charletta Lewis, who is now suing her landlord. She claims that landlord Michael Ressom racially discriminated against her by leasing her a building that wasn’t up to code, and therefore, she couldn’t legally open for business. Lewis is black, Ressom is an Ethiopian immigrant. Her complaint states that Ressom “is a non-African-American man.” Ressom and his lawyer declined to comment to the City Paper, while Lewis’ lawyer Jimmy Bell explained:
“He’s not African-American!” Bell says, when asked if Ressom’s ethnicity damages his case. “African-American means you are a descendant of a slave! This guy’s an Ethiopian immigrant, who wasn’t naturalized as a citizen until November 2010.”
General discrimination claims of this sort aren’t that all uncommon. Some taxicab complaints were officially filed with the D.C. Taxicab Commission by people who write they are black and claiming they were racially discriminated against by African cabbies. But for every story about animosity between D.C.’s black and Ethiopian communities, there is another about good will and unity between the groups.
Still, our question remains: is lumping everyone together as “African American” really the most accurate racial identifier?