Will DC’s future include the poor?

September 16, 2013

Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine asks the question, “What kind of city does DC want to be?” Unfortunately, it doesn’t get at a core issue that is determining what kind of city the District is: the question of who is able to live and flourish there.

Through a series of articles, the magazine considers the issues surrounding how DC is built, connected, and moved. The articles talk about the history of divestment and decay in the District. Starting in the 1970’s, DC faced falling population, loss of retail, and rising crime.

As the magazine highlights, DC is clearly at a turning point: retail is returning to downtown, over 1,000 people are moving into DC every month, and people who are homeless are no longer highly visible downtown. What it misses is how the changes that have happened over the last decade have made DC a more difficult place to be poor.

For tens of thousands who lived through the bad times in DC, the good times are not looking much better. DC is one of the most difficult places to afford rent in the nation, so for many long-time residents, DC’s boom means having to leave.

Since 2010, DC has lost half of its low-cost housing and the cost of homeownership has risen steeply. At the same time, services for homeless and low income people have been pushed out of easy-to-access areas like Franklin Shelter, and moved to cheaper, far-flung areas. The shelter and its legacy in serving people who are homeless, some of whom still congregate at Franklin Park, was not even mentioned in the article about the park’s current and future use.

As the cost of housing rises, it is crucial that the District focus as much on making housing available to all as it does on transportation, green spaces, and retail. Talking about the District without raising the issue of where people will live is to forget that DC’s pupusas, half-smokes, and jumbo slices are made by people who also want to live where they work and are vital to the District’s success.

The kind of city DC will be rests on a core unexplored question: will we be the kind of city that keeps low income residents in the city, or will become a city solely for those who can afford to pay for it?

This article also appears on Greater Greater Washington

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