More Than Politics: Gentrification In D.C.

Growing up in Washington, D.C. I knew my city was stereotyped for politics, news, government affairs and political scandals. And although I acknowledged that these areas of interest were prevalent where I lived; I always felt that issues affecting everyday people who lived in the city were overlooked. I decided to highlight gentrification in my final project and how it is an important project plaguing D.C. I used clips from the T.V show Scandal, about political scandal in the city, a pan-over of the monuments, and a clip from a Senate hearing to show the narrative that the city is usually aligned with. 

Poster from the T.V. show Scandal that is based in D.C.

Homelessness, failing public schools and crime are issues that have plagued many D.C communities for many years; but I decided to look into an issue that hit closer to home. Gentrification as described by the website Investopedia is the “the influx of wealthier people to an existing urban neighborhood; and what I have observed from personal experience is that this phenomena changes the culture of certain neighborhood also with rising housing prices and the cost of living in an area. In my video, Dave Chappelle, a comedian from the city discusses the changing racial demographics. I also video clip that pans over a D.C neighborhood to introduce the topic in my video.


Anti-Gentrification signs in D.C.’s Brightwood neighborhood.

Throughout the course of the semester, when doing research on the issue of gentrification I realized that it boils down to the categories; race, class and economics. In D.C., gentrification has an effect on the racial makeup of the city, public/ affordable housing, and the types of amenities and services that are entered into these newly developed neighborhoods.

Speaking in terms of class inequalities; gentrification has a huge affect on the presence of affordable housing in the city and leads to displacement of longtime residents. In an article by the Washington Post the effects of gentrification on subsidized/low-income housing in a Washington, D.C. neighborhood is explored. The article tells the tale of individual cases of eviction and lawsuits which tenants were involved in and how those situations have played out in the midst of gentrification. 

Eviction lawsuits against poor tenants ramped up

The housing complex, where residents are being evicted, will be replaced by parks, retail space and smaller, expensive apartments catered to wealthier families. At the time some of the redevelopment started there was an influx in these cases. The specific incidents showcases how gentrification has an effect on the lower-class. In my remix video, I decided to highlight this issue by showing a clip from the T.V. show Shameless, where a character of a lower socio-economic class expresses his frustration for the issue. There is also a statistic on the lack of affordable housing in D.C.. The statistic states that: 

Since 2000, DC has demolished at least nine public housing properties, which coincides with the city losing more than half its low-cost housing units in the past decade. Meanwhile, DC’s homeless population has quadrupled since 2008.

A man in my remix video discusses the displacement is his neighborhood of Anacostia, D.C. and the changes going on in the neighborhood that clip can be found here. 

The next issue I decided to highlight in my video was race. I used a clip of a man all the street yelling about how “they,” referencing white people, are taking over the neighborhoods in D.C. Then comes in clip that states how the black population has declined.

D.C. is historically known as Chocolate City for its high black population and black influence but since the advent of gentrification in the city that population, as stated in the video, has declined. An article in the New York Times and personal expereince prompted me to explore this issue in my video. Coming from a majority Black neighborhood in D.C., I realized that over the years the racial demographic was chasing and that white people had more social and political power in D.C. over time than longtime Black residents.

Logo created by D.C. designers that pays homage to D.C.’s nickname Chocolate City.

The article states that:

“Washington’s black population slipped below 50 percent this year (2015), possibly in February, about 51 years after it gained a majority, according to an estimate by William Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution.

The shift is passing without much debate, but it is leaving ripples of resentment in neighborhoods across the city, pitting some of the city’s long-term residents, often African-American, against affluent newcomers, most of whom are white, over issues as mundane as church parking and chicken wings.”

This snippet from this article puts an emphasis on the racial tensions gentrification causes and could explain why the man featured in my video was so angry about the issue

I then moved to the issue of economy in D.C. using a snippet from the T.V. show The Jefferson’s. This was symbolic for the changing economy in the city and the rising cost of living; the city is “moving on up” as the intro says.

Earlier I talked about the lack of affordable housing in the city due to gentrification and the section on economy in my video emphasizes the changes that come when unaffordable housing is taken away. In my video used this quotes on top of a picture of a Starbucks to show the changing economy in D.C.:

Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate. Starbucks fuels gentrification and so is responsible for higher housing prices.”

This rising cost of living makes D.C. only accessible to people of the upper class and changes the type of businesses in the city. There are now Whole Foods and Starbucks all over, instead of businesses and stores accessible to those of the lower class. That is why I highlighted a Starbucks in my video because it signifies the changes in economy in the city.

Starbucks in a gentrifying area

My video ends by offering three solutions. One, that black residents who have been the majority in D.C. for over half a century need to be more aware of the issue. Two, that we need more affordable housing. Lastly, that gentrification needs to be discussed more in the media. This ties right into the intro of my video. We only think of government, history and political scandal when we think see D.C. in the media. These issues are not addressed. This is why I assigned the hashtag: #LetsTalkAboutIt to my project. We need to discuss the issue amongst are communities and in the media so it can be addressed.

Throughout the semester I pulled from the articles and videos listed below for my research and video:

Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – YouTube

Gentrification in D.C.

Jefferson’s Theme




Who Do I Run To? My Twitter Spiritual Guides

Here is an aggregated list of trusted/vetted sources I follow on Twitter to stay informed and up-to-date.

  1. Jake Tapper: CNN Anchor of and and Chief Washington Correspondent for CNN

  2.  Jamilah Lemieux: African-American columnist, cultural critic, and editor based in New York City. Serves became the vice president of news and men’s programming for Interactive One, part of Radio One, Inc.

  3. The Hill: The Hill brand itself as the the premier source for policy and political news, especially in Washington D.C

  4. The Kojo Nnamdi Show: A sound magazine broadcasted on NPR’s WAMU 88.5; which highlights news, political issues and social trends of the day

  5. Ali Hamedan: BBC world service reporter

  6. Washington Post Politics: The latest political news and analysis from The Washington Post

  7. Marc Lamont Hill: Temple University Professor, Host of BET News & VH1 LIVE. CNN Commentator

  8. Wesley Lowery: National reporter at The Washington Post

  9. Ira Madison III: Culture writer

  10. Katty Kay: Anchor for BBC World News America in Washington

  11. Chuck Todd: Moderator of @meetthepress and @nbcnews political director

  12.  Soledad O’Brien: American broadcast journalist and executive producer. O’Brien is a television anchor and correspondent who has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera America, and HBO.

  13. Feminista Jones: Mental health social worker, activist, and feminist writer from New York City, as well as a large contributor to Black Twitter and a prolific blogger about black feminist issues.

  14. Jemele Hill: Co-host of the 6pm SportsCenter, aka The Six

  15. Deray Mckesson: American civil rights activist and former school administrator. Mckesson is known for his work with the the Black Lives Matter movement

Gentrification and D.C.’s Green-line Metro Stations

In a story produced by WAMU, American University’s radio station, it has been found that there is growth in both commercial and residential sectors around D.C’s green-line metro stations. WAMU is a public radio station that services the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area; making it a reliable source because of their proximity to the area and its relationship with American University which has resources for research. First, the article looks at two metro stations on D.C’s green-line; Navy Yard and Waterfront which have seen a burst in construction and population boom over the last 15 years. There two metro stops, which are close in proximity, have been met in recent years with the development of a $2 billion mixed-use center along the Southwest Waterfront (where the stations are located). From further research and personal knowledge , as of 2017 the new development has over 1,000 housing units, luxury retail, dining and grocery options, office space, and a concert hall.

The story then compares other stations along the green-line to show the differences in redevelopment in D.C. It notes that with the development of the stations mentioned above; Navy Yard and Waterfront,  black residents have been moved out and white residents in. Other stations along this metro line; Shaw, Petworth and U-Street have seen a “renewal with the people. This means these particular neighborhoods, which are historically black neighborhoods  are working to be improved, not completely gutted.

The article is important in understanding gentrification in D.C., because as mentioned before it showcases two different processes. One where residents are displaced completely and another where neighborhoods are improved or changed in harmony with their existing infrastructure and residents.

The article also adds historical context to the relationship between gentrification in the city and the city’s metro system. Metro construction, as detailed in the story has  “destroyed” and interrupted many neighborhood businesses, because of road blockages, ugly construction and loud noises. Now, the same access that metro provides because of construction also threatens to make the areas so desirable, especially to young professionals, that high rents eventually displace longtime residents. This context is important to know in relation to the topic of gentrification in D.C. because it shows how gentrification is not a new phenomena in the city.

Research #4: Is D.C. the same without Go-Go?

Keeping Go-Go Going in a Gentrifying D.C. is a documentary produced by The Atlantic that highlights the culture of D.C and the shift in that very culture while the city is undergoing gentrification. The video essentially argues that a sign or signal of gentrification is that go-go bands in the city have struggled to maintain prominence.

Backyard Band performing at the Howard Theater

I trust this documentary by the Atlantic because the publication has a reputation of going deep into overshadowed issues and is known for their culture commentary. Although the publication is not based in D.C., the video interviews and profiles those in D.C.’s go-go scene who are widely known and of the utmost important.

This piece of media is essential in analyzing the changing culture in D.C, that is a result of gentrification. The lead rapper of a D.C go-go group; Anwan “Big G” Glover, tells us that the new demographic of people coming to the city, attracted to more luxurious housing and commercialized neighborhoods, are not “go-go friendly.” It connects how culture shifts in the city while at the same time as the city’s socio-economic status changes.

The video tells us that the genre has been historically enjoyed by Black residents of the D.C., which was also known as Chocolate City for its high population of these Black residents. From the video I’ve gathered that many go-go artists in the area think there are less Black people enjoying and celebrating the genre. From my previous research, I am lead to believe this is happening as a result of gentrification. There are now less black businesses and residents have been displaced.

Big G also expresses that many clubs and venues will not book go-go artists because it will be harder for that establishment to receive an occupancy or liquor license. Overall, the video expresses go-go artists’ fears and hopes for the genre in the changing city. The video looks into one of the interesting phenomenons about communities and demographic shifts; it asks us how can people shun the culture they were seeking when they moved to an urban community?

Humanizing Gentrification

In NPR’s article ‘Old Confronts New In A Gentrifying D.C. Neighborhood’ older and longtime residents are interviewed about socio-economic changes within their neighborhood. I choose these series of interviews for my research because they were based less on statistics and tapped into the human experience of gentrification in Washington, D.C.

The article first focuses on Ernest Peterson, a current resident of the Shaw neighborhood in D.C.  The article paints him as a feeling like an outsider in his own neighborhood. Ernest expresses that newcomers in the neighborhood look and him like “Why you hear?” NPR  uses the experiences of Ernest and others to convey that residents who are affected by gentrification are trying to “negotiate a place for themselves in a neighborhood they’ve long called home.”

The article then talks to Carlos Pyatt, who moved away from the neighborhood in early 80s. We learn through the experience of his next-door neighbor how the prices of homes have jumped and that developers constantly call the neighbor to push her out of her home. The article states that “in 2017, the property’s tax assessment was more than $888,000,” a sharp contrast from $42,000 she paid to buy the house in the 80s. The decimation of Black businesses and black churches are discussed. One subject says his church, notable for its community of Black members is now viewed as a community church. The article also talks to black business owners and how they’ve seen other businesses dwindle.

Other socio-economic issues discussed is the debate on who benefits from gentrification. In a quote from the article “if you can’t spend $100 to eat, $5 or $7 for coffee, you can’t buy anything in your own neighborhood,” loosely describes who benefits from the phenomenon. I interpreted as older residents not being able to afford nicer restaurants and amenities but the neighborhood becoming nicer or more modernized.

I like this quasi-interview style because it mixes facts with human emotions. The subjects were not 100% objective but the interviews did focus on specific incidents that happened to real people. The context given is nuanced and lays out both the benefits and downfalls of gentrification. It was interesting to see how real people are feeling about and dealing with the topic of gentrification in Washington, D.C.

Gentrification: D.C. Is No Longer Chocolate City

Gentrification is more than just new apartments or the addition of a Starbucks in an underdeveloped neighborhood. It is the influx of richer, and sometimes whiter, people to an existing urban or underdeveloped area.This phenomenon is taking place in select regions, specifically urban areas across the nation. Gentrification not only changes the culture and character of a neighborhood but can play a role in increases in rents and property values. In Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, gentrification is happening  rapidly and the effects are something to take note of.

Research #2: Tactics of Gentrification; Evicting Low-Income Residents

An article by the Washington Post explores the effects of redevelopment on subsidized/low-income housing in a Washington, D.C. neighborhood. The article explores individual cases of eviction and lawsuits which tenants were involved in and how those situations have played out in the midst of gentrification. The Washington Post (WP) serves as a reputable source not only because they are a long-standing newspaper but because of their proximity to the issue. Based in Washington, D.C, the WP has utilized their location to interview tenants affected by gentrification and talk to researchers in the area who are well versed in the issue.  

The article essentially profiles the coming redevelopment and tenants of Brookland Manor, an apartment complex that houses over 1,000 majority low-income tenants in cheap units for larger families. The current complex will be replaced by parks, retail space and smaller, expensive apartments catered to wealthier families. One of the main subjects Brittany Gray in the article tells the Post “(her) apartment complex is being renovated…. and the landlord is taking legal action to evict me and other tenants so they do not have to relocate us.”

The article sites that the redevelopment of the complex started in fall of 2014, around the time Gray experienced increased lawsuits over underpaid rent. These specific finding in the article allude to some of the tactics used by landlords to push out residents of low-income housing  in order to cut costs of redevelopment. The WP’s article uses an infographic with data from the District of Columbia Courts and Zoning Commission to display the increased violations against the Manor’s low-income residents. Lawsuits filed for unpaid rent and lease violations increased after the redevelopment started which backs Gray’s claim on a basic level.

Eviction lawsuits against poor tenants ramped up
Eviction lawsuits against poor tenants ramped up

The research that backs the individual experiences of the tenants isn’t 100% parallel but it speaks to the larger process of gentrification and the loss of low income housing. Although not directly stated in the article instances like these lead to homelessness due to the fact that the tents cut costs but not relocating families during development but evicting them for petty offenses.

The article also mentions the sentiment of D.C housing attorneys who say “eviction lawsuits over small lease violations (are) one in an arsenal of quiet but aggressive pressure tactics landlords use to clear buildings before redevelopment.” Additionally, the article sites a tenant organizer, Philip Kennedy, with the Latino Economic Development Center who states from experience that it is  “cheaper to file a bogus lawsuit against someone than to get them into a new home.” These opinions are expressed from a professional standpoint and point out the correlation between gentrification and eviction of low-income residents.

Full House, Fuller House, Unaffordable House

I bet you’re wondering what a screen grab from Full House has in common with a random picture of construction? And if you guessed my first DIY project, then you hit the nail on the head!

I chose to alter a a screen-grab from the opening credits of the popular TV show Full House (pictured below) because it is iconic imagery of a neighborhood in San Francisco. I found the photo after searching ‘Full House opening’ on Google. The image is the work of J. Bruce Nielsen; the Cinematographer on  Full House.


I then decided to add the construction of a condo building over one of the existing row houses. I cut out the condo/commercial construction from an image (pictured below) by journalist Mark Boyer of YoChicago!

I chose to essentially merge the two photos to showcase the commercial construction going on in a neighborhood. The construction alludes to the gentrification that is currently underway in many American neighborhoods, especially areas where people of a lower socio-economic status reside.


The finishing touch I put on the photo was to cut out the text ‘Unaffordable House’ in the Full House font over the newly altered photo. The text came from this video (screen-grab below) that was initially altered by Al Jazeera+. The text that I added to my manipulated photo is a play on Full House‘s opening sequence. It conveys the message that because of the construction of condos, like the one I edited into the first photo, the price of housing in a particular area rises making housing unaffordable for some.


The final image (picture below) is a commentary on how gentrification changes neighborhoods and how that change can be negative. The familiarity of the Full House opening is tweaked and somewhat strange; just like gentrification or the development or luxury condos in residential areas can throw off the balance of familiarity of a neighborhood.

Essentially the new photo tells a story of a familiar neighborhood that is changing aesthetically and economically because of gentrification.