District Redevelopment Hurts Poor, Voters Say
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006; B01
As construction cranes began rising downtown six years ago,
majority of Washingtonians shared Mayor Anthony A. Williams's
vision that economic revitalization would help the city's
poorest residents by creating jobs and repairing blighted
That vision has undergone a marked reversal now that offices
and condominiums have opened, and developers have
transformed neighborhoods across the city, according to a
Washington Post poll.
Sixty-one percent of registered voters surveyed said redevelopment
is "mainly bad" for the poor, and 35 percent said redevelopment
is "mainly good," the poll showed. In 2000, however, 64 percent
said redevelopment is largely beneficial to the poor and 28 percent
said it's harmful.
Clarence Coleman, 77, a retired physician in Southeast, said
had expected the development sweeping the District to
"provide employment and economic opportunity" for the poor. But
Coleman, among those surveyed in this month's Post poll, said he
thinks the beneficiaries are developers and the middle and
"It hasn't benefited the poor," Coleman said. He
demolition of housing projects, such as East Capitol Dwellings,
as an example of the District depleting the supply of low-cost
housing. "I'm not saying housing projects are good, but I don't
think building what they have has improved the lot of poor
people," he said. "It may have benefited some, but not many."
Deputy Mayor Stanley Jackson, Williams's chief adviser for
and economic development, said he is disappointed that more
residents don't see how development has helped the poor.
The administration, he said, must better communicate the
benefits "so we can stop looking at it like it's for someone
In the telephone poll of 1,350 randomly sampled D.C. adults
conducted July 13-18, 1,030 registered voters named crime and
public education as among their top concerns. The poll has a margin
of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for questions asked
of all voters and of 4.5 percentage points for those who are
considered most likely to vote in the Democratic primary.
Sixteen percent of surveyed voters said affordable housing
a significant priority, and many said that although they
welcomed redevelopment, they worried that real estate prices and
rising property taxes are onerous for the poor.
Two years ago, voters expressed disappointment in the way
D.C. government serves poor communities east of the Anacostia River
when they unseated three incumbent D.C. Council members --
Kevin Chavous, Harold Brazil and Sandy Allen.
Angie Rodgers, a policy analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy
Institute, said the public was perhaps more supportive of
redevelopment in 2000, because the city was trying to
attract developers. "It may be the kind of situation where you're
in a drought and you need water, so water is good," she
said. "But if you're in a flood, water is bad."
Even as the cost of living in the District has risen, Rodgers
said there isn't enough available data to know whether redevelopment
has forced large numbers of poor residents from the city.
The tax revenue generated by the economic boom, she said, does
not appear to have bolstered city services for the poor. A 2004
Fiscal Policy Institute study showed that city spending on
everything from social services to parks and recreation had
declined from the early 1990s. More District funds are being
spent on affordable housing, Rodgers said, but it is unclear
whether "that touches the need in this city."
Jackson said the construction of low-cost housing is only one
of redevelopment's benefits. Citing examples in Southeast, he
said boarded-up buildings that were a bastion for "prostitution,
drugs and stolen cars" have been reborn as townhouses "that
are available to low income and working class residents." He
defined affordable units as costing between $200,000 and
Jackson attributed the negative view of redevelopment to a
legacy of large-scale changes in neighborhoods decades ago, when
the poor and working class were forced to leave for areas on the
city's eastern side.
"Their descendants were part of the Georgetown experience
or the original Southwest experience, and what they see is the
last bastion of the city undergoing a renaissance," he said. "They
ask, 'Does this mean I'm going to be displaced?' And I say that's
not necessarily the end result."
Residents focused largely on the present rather than the past
explain why they consider redevelopment harmful to the poor.
Constance Laine, 61, of Northwest said the condominiums replacing
rental apartments leave the poor and senior citizens with fewer
housing options. An increase in commercial property taxes also
makes it difficult for small businesses to survive and provide
jobs, she said.
"They hire the marginal people, and they end up having
up shop because they can't afford the rent increases," Laine
Jamie Rivers, 38, a Filene's Basement stock clerk who lives
in Southeast, said he never expected that he would benefit from
the development boom. Although he learned bricklaying, he said,
he has not been able to land a construction job.
"It's for the rich folks," he said of the renaissance.
Erica Lindquist, 32, a planning consultant who lives in Shaw,
is among residents who believe that the economic boom can aid
the poor. One of her neighbors, she said, recently put her house
up for sale and moved to Florida.
"She was happy to see the value of her property go up,"
said. "She didn't have much money until she sold."
Assistant polling director Claudia Deane contributed to this