"There Goes the Neighborhood": Gentrification, Displacement, and Homelessness in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., city officials value gentrification, according to Williams, because it reverses urban decay and boosts the tax base. Banking and real estate interests value it for the profit generated from speculation. However, gentrification destroys traditional, largely African-American communities, because rising house costs force them to move. Family structure becomes more nucleated; single men move to public shelters; people split up, double-up, improvise; and some move into the street. Williams recommends firmer regulation of land use, speculation, access to credit, tenant protection, and tax reform.
This chapter explores gentrification, displacement, and homelessness in Washington, D.C.1 In the neighborhood of Mount Pleasant, the African-American population has plummeted in the last twenty years, from 75 percent of the residents in 1970, to 29 percent in 1990. Over two thousand African Americans have apparently been "vaporized," and they continue to go. Despite the "feel" of science fiction, real social relations are at work here. Tracking where these residents go clarifies two processes: (1) the ways people cope with displacement, as they split up, double-up, improvise, find precarious housing, and move into shelters or onto the street; and (2) the linkages between gentrification and other real estate activities, such as speculation, abandonment, and fraud. In this chapter, I examine the interaction between gentrification and other forces that make low-income housing more besieged.
Gentrification refers to the process whereby new residents--disproportionately young, white, well-educated, salaried, and professional--move into urban neigh-