Stereotyping NIMBYs

I don’t want to get into the whole gentrification debate right now–in no small part because what is often described as gentrification isn’t. But one of the stereotypes of the NIMBY (‘not in my backyward’) is that it’s a person who is upper middle class (or gentry class), often white, who is pulling up the ladder behind him.

But the thing I’ve noticed over the years in D.C.–and this very well might a D.C. specific observation–is that the NIMBYs are often lower-middle class black people who stuck it out through the bad times (and there were some really bad times in many parts of this city) and now think they’ll and the things they’re used to (e.g., stores) will be displaced (boldface mine):

In a city where the demand for affordable housing continues to exceed the supply, a legal battle to block the redevelopment of 680 Rhode Island Avenue NE in Ward 5 highlights a struggle unfolding across the District between advocates of “smart growth” and those who believe such developments accelerate gentrification…

Ari Theresa, a zoning attorney hired by the neighborhood opponents to block the Rhode Island Avenue project, takes issue even with the idea of “smart growth.”

“I object to the term smart growth. You always have to ask: ‘Affordable for whom? Smart growth for whom?’” Theresa said. Theresa is involved in a number of similar legal challenges, including the effort to stop the redevelopment of the McMillan Sand Filtration site.

In his view, MRP Realty’s proposal for Edgewood is wrong for the community.

“A lot of African Americans live there and it’s going to change the nature of the community. It’s going to destabilize it. You can’t place that number of individuals there and it not have it affect the businesses that serve the community, not have an effect on taxes, on rental values,” he said…

Businesses that they rely on now — low-income, working class families rely on now in that area — will be completely and utterly displaced by this project,” Otten said, adding that the majority of new apartments will be “unaffordable studios, not for families, not for working class families for sure.”

Local residents echo Theresa and Otten’s views.

Brenda Brown, who was waiting for a bus outside the Metrorail station on a recent afternoon, said she became suspicious of the project when she heard the term “affordable housing” used in the context of the planned redevelopment of 680 Rhode Island Avenue.

Define affordable. ‘Affordable’ I don’t think is going to cover a lot of people, because there are a lot of people who don’t have an income level to even afford the ‘affordable,’” Brown said.

I don’t have an opinion on this particular development project, but the YIMBY side of things needs to deal much more honestly with the sense of ownership–one that has been earned–that many displaced communities will lose.

Added: After I wrote this, I found this story about redevelopment in Anacostia (boldface mine):

With home prices across the city continuing to rise, east-of-the-river neighborhoods such as Anacostia and Congress Heights, which the District housing boom had largely passed over, are becoming increasingly desirable — and expensive.

As more investors and homeowners look east in the hopes of riding the wave of development, there are also worries that residents will be priced out of what has historically been a low- and moderate-income part of the city, forced to move further out, beyond the boundaries of the District. Homeownership can provide a needed hedge against skyrocketing rents.

This is where Lydia’s House, which helped the Waddys become homeowners, comes in. The nonprofit group is one of a handful of local organizations that offer guidance to first-time, low- and moderate-income home buyers looking to purchase property in the District. Other groups that offer similar services include MANNA, the Latino Economic Development Center and Housing Counseling Services.

Lydia’s House in particular works with residents of Wards 7 and 8, helping them “obtain, maintain, and retain homeownership,” said Cliff Beckford, the organization’s deputy director….

“We recognize that with the cost of living increasing, and the lack of affordable housing, residents in our communities are being forced out of the city,” he said. “We want people who have been longtime residents and who have been part of the city to stay in the city.

Homeownership also helps to stabilize neighborhoods and gives constituents a stronger voice on how the city develops, said Yulonda Queen, a housing counselor for Lydia’s House.

For their part, the mostly minority clients that Lydia House helps believe that they can play a vital role in maintaining the character of neighborhoods undergoing rapid change with large influxes of affluent white newcomers seeking urban amenities. They say that they, as longtime D.C. residents, hold many of the jobs that help the city run

Lydia’s House helped the ­Chases buy their four-bedroom home for $416,000 by connecting them with two D.C.-funded loan programs — the Home Purchase Assistance Program and the Employer Assisted Housing Program — and one of six affordable dwelling units at Asheford Court, the community of single-family homes where their house is located.

“Without their help, this would not be our dream,” said Tiffany Chase, who works as a visual stylist for Gap. The Chases had previously rented near Marshall Heights, also in Southeast Washington.

While buying this home has made her dream of homeownership come true, it also means making a statement: “That you can’t run all the black people out of the District.”

There are moderate-income workers — including firefighters, police officers and teachers — who are essential to making the city work, she said…

Lydia’s House helped the ­Chases buy their four-bedroom home for $416,000 by connecting them with two D.C.-funded loan programs — the Home Purchase Assistance Program and the Employer Assisted Housing Program — and one of six affordable dwelling units at Asheford Court, the community of single-family homes where their house is located…

She shops at the local grocery store and supports the small businesses in the neighborhood. It’s all part of empowering the community and making sure that her voice as an African American homeowner is heard, she said.

“We do things that say, ‘This is a viable neighborhood, and we don’t need you to change us’ ” through gentrification, she said. “That’s what I choose to do: saying that there’s so much we can do to uplift this neighborhood, and pour our dollars here, so you see that we’re making it work.”

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