Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
The District is a city in flux, and nowhere are the changes more dramatic than North Capitol Street, NE, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Luxury condos and trendy restaurants are transforming parking lots and factories and drawing new residents to the area. At the same time, many low income residents who’ve lived here for decades are feeling squeezed out. A panel of guests joins a live studio audience at NPR’s headquarters for this “Kojo In Your Community” to discuss how both longtime residents and newcomers see the changes.
- Parisa Norouzi Executive Director, Empower DC
- Kalfani Ture Cultural Anthropologist
- Robin-Eve Jasper President, NoMa Business Improvement District
- Patricia Zingsheim Associate Director of Revitalization and Design Division (RAD), DC Office of Planning
10 Highlights From KIYC: The Changing Face Of North Capitol Street
Panelists from D.C. planning, advocacy and business improvement offices, along with audience members, discussed who’s moving in to the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, who’s moving out and what’s next for the fast-changing district.
- 1. Who coined the moniker NoMa? Large cities like San Francisco and New York City had invented neighborhood names by abbreviating street boundaries. “It caught on,” said Patricia Zingsheim of the D.C. Office of Planning.
- 2. NoMa is named for its location North of Massachusetts Avenue in Northeast D.C. It used to refer to a larger area that stretched from Mt. Vernon Square where the Convention Center sits over to Union Station, north of Capitol Hill. Now it’s considered the area just north of the U.S. Capitol and Union Station. According to the NoMA BID, it’s bounded generally by Massachusetts Avenue to the south, New Jersey and North Capitol Street to the west, and Q and R Streets to the north.
- 3. “There was an interest in having a community rather than an office park,” said Zingsheim. Developers thought NoMa would be an office district. But the planning office envisioned an area that’s 50 percent residential, with retail and cultural uses.
- 4. NoMa is an example of developer-driven development, rather than a community-driven approach, Empower DC executive director Parisa Norouzi said. “It’s backwards.”
- 5. Norouzi said development has eliminated the legacy of existing communities. By renaming the area NoMa, we are “literally calling them new communities,” which she says is disrespectful.
- 6. “NoMa is a stone’s throw from the Capitol and is a playground for capitalists,” said Kalfani Ture, a cultural anthropologist.
- 7. An audience member who has lived in Rwanda, Dubai and India said he has seen the same conversations about dealing with gentrification everywhere he’s lived. He said affordable housing rarely works, or if it does, it’s short lived and poorer residents move out after 10 years. He asked the panel if there are any innovative solutions that haven’t been put forth yet.
- 8. Sursum Corda is an example of a low-income housing neighborhood that works, according to Norouzi. She said it’s a great model because a cooperative owns the property, offering stable homes for residents.
- 9. “D.C. is becoming more chocolate chip than a chocolate city,” said Ture. He noted the economic inequality in NoMa tends to be divided by race.
- 10. A listener asked whether encouraging and helping lower-income D.C. residents to vote might help affordable housing ideas come together. Ture said low-income residents came out to vote for President Barack Obama, so he’s not convinced disenfranchisement is the problem.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, welcome to "Kojo in Your Community." I'm Kojo Nnamdi. We're broadcasting tonight from NPR's headquarters on North Capitol Street in the area of the District known as NoMa. The District is a city in flux, and nowhere are the changes more dramatic than right here in NoMa, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. What were once parking lots and factories are now high-rise condos, office buildings and restaurants. The transformation is drawing businesses and residents to the area, including the new NPR studios, where we are broadcasting from.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd now that NoMa, north of Massachusetts Avenue, is on the map, those who live and work here are working to build the neighborhood's identity. And to let people know exactly what NoMa is and what goes on here, we have a studio audience on hand, who will, in fact, be leading this conversation. But here to help us facilitate it is Robin-Eve Jasper, president of the NoMa Business Improvement District. Robin-Eve, thank you very much for joining us.
MS. ROBIN-EVE JASPERThank you for inviting me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Patricia Zingsheim, associate director of the Revitalization and Design Division with the DC Office of Planning. Patricia Zingsheim, thank you for joining us.
MS. PATRICIA ZINGSHEIMThank you, Kojo. Happy to be here.
NNAMDIPatricia, could you start off with a little bit of the history of this area? What used to be here? I know that when I lived in Ward 2 and my belongings began to overrun my house, I used to come over here because there were a lot of storage places over here that I used to store my things at. But I don't remember much else about what was over here.
ZINGSHEIMWell, very few of them are still here. It was largely vacant, as you described, some warehouses, parking, but definitely an area that was off the radar screen. At the time, Mayor Williams was in office and Andy Altman was planning director, and there was pressure -- there was recognition that the downtown part of D.C. was moving toward a livable place. And there was also recognition that it was largely built out and that there would be areas around the downtown, where the development would be shifting. And one of those areas was NoMa.
ZINGSHEIMSo in 2005, we started a planning effort in this area, what's called the small-area plan. And at that same time, just to put it in a little bit of context, the Metro station had come online in 2003 -- the Metro station here, which was the first station built between two existing stations. And so that represented not only a major investment, but the recognition that a much higher intensity of development could be supported. So we embarked on a process to develop a plan for the area. Robin-Eve was actually part of that process. There was a group of property owners, called NoMa Corridor Stakeholders Coalition.
ZINGSHEIMAnd those are the folks that we worked with. This was pre-bid and we worked with them to put together a plan. And that's been the roadmap that the District has used for transportation investments and other investments since then. It was adopted by the City Council.
NNAMDIWho decided to call it NoMa?
ZINGSHEIMThere was a, that's pre...
NNAMDII've always been curious about that.
ZINGSHEIM...that's before my time. But there is a much larger area that was originally referred to as NoMa that went all the way to Mount Vernon Square. And it stands for North of Massachusetts Avenue. So that entire area North of Mass., from Mount Vernon Square, where the convention center is today, all the way over to here, to Union Station, was, you know -- New York has -- and then San Francisco and all these cities have their acronym, and this joined those. And it caught on. And eventually, the area closest to the triangle was called Mount Vernon Triangle, and this area became known as NoMa.
NNAMDIAs I mentioned, we have a studio on hand here. I'd like to ask them a question. Do you live or work in NoMa? What do you like about this area? What would you like to see? If you'd just like to raise your hand, someone will be happy to come over to you. But before we do that, Robin-Eve Jasper, what are your memories about this area, oh, a decade or more ago?
JASPERA decade ago is basically when the Metro opened. And my memories about the area are pretty similar to my -- in some ways, similar to my experience today, which is you had good planning that enabled people to build with some certainty as to what they were going to build. And you also had a development community that was willing to do things like put $35 million, along with the city and the federal government, into building that Metro station. And I think -- I think one of this neighborhood's great strengths is the continued over the 10 years track record of public-private partnerships to invest to make this a great community.
JASPERBeyond that, in 2004, there was really no -- if you can imagine it -- there were no office buildings that were north of K Street. There was none of the residential. It was really mostly just surface parking and a few warehouses.
NNAMDIOh, surface parking. I don't remember the circus parking that was in this neighborhood.
JASPERThat would be fun.
NNAMDIWe do have a member of the audience who has a question. Go ahead, please. Or comment.
BARBARABarbara, I've lived in NoMa for the last three or four years. And I think we've done a great job and it's great having NoMa bid here, Robin, you know, to help us build it and change it. But I just think that the descriptions of what NoMa used to be before what it is today are being very kind, because when you take a taxi over here, I still get; are you sure you want to go there? And when I was here last, there -- it was full of drugs on the streets. And there was actually a show on NPR about how it was the clearest shot.
BARBARAAnd you could see where the cops were coming so that the drug dealers could do their thing because they knew where they could hide fast. So I think it's a very, you know, nice description you've given of NoMa a long time ago. But certainly the public perception is still building on what it is and what's here now. It's great to be here now.
NNAMDIAre there any taxi drivers in the audience? Do you actually say that to people; are you sure you want to go there, when they say they want to come here? You, sir. Would you identify yourself, please?
MARKSure. I'm Mark Anderson and I've worshipped at St. Aloysius Church just about half a block from here. And I work in the neighborhood -- worked here for 20-plus years through We Are Family, particularly with senior citizens. And I guess my -- I have a brief comment and then a question. As someone who's worked and worshipped here for decades, it seems strange for me to hear the name NoMa given to this neighborhood. I don't have my seniors here right now, but my guess is that the seniors, the folks who lived here through all of the hard times that people talk about, would never call this NoMa.
MARKAnd so it's important to know that it's a name that is not -- I would not say is indigenous to the long-term, low income residents of the community here. It's also say that when we talk about what was here, that we don't mention, for example, directly across the street, 211 families used to live at Temple Courts.
MARKBecause, to me, one of the founders of We Are Family lived there. She was displaced by this. Hundreds of other people were displaced by this. The entire New Communities program, which folks at St. Aloysius Church, including myself, worked on with the Williams administration, which had this glorious aim -- largely, New Communities is a story of broken promises now -- particularly that they would build first and not displace people. There are 211 families who have been displaced. And we must not forget them when we talk about this, or the folks over at Museum Square, who are losing their Section 8.
MARKThat's just a couple blocks further. So I guess I would ask you if you could talk a bit more about how you have engaged the long-term low income residents in the planning process and in the NoMa bid and any of these things. Thank you.
NNAMDIYou just stole my next question. But that's something that we're going to be including in the discussion. In the latter part of this discussion, we'll be talking about development in general around the city and the affect that that has had on communities in general and this community in particular. But I wanted to get back to a specific point. Do you think longtime residents object to the use of the term, NoMa?
MARKI never hear them use it. I don't know if they object, because they've got more serious things to worry about. But it does -- it does not seem -- it seems alien. And it certainly does to me, and I'm -- I'm just a kid from Montana who came here and had my life changed by working up the street at So Others Might Eat and going to church at St. Aloysius.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much. But, as I said, you stole my next question, which is, when an area is named in the way that this one is named -- when there's a great deal of new development taking place -- how does one develop a sense of community in this relatively new neighborhood?
ZINGSHEIMWell, I can give a...
ZINGSHEIM...government answer from the planning perspective. Real short, and because I think NoMa's -- Robin-Eve is engaged now in doing that. But in the plan, one of the very most fundamental elements was the mix of uses. So, at the time, there was the perception that this was going to be entirely an office district, because that's where the market was headed and there was no mechanism to mandate any housing. So it was a big, big move for the district and the planning director at the time to say, no, we're envisioning an area that would have at least 50 percent residential and 50 percent housing and a lot of retail, and some social uses and some cultural uses in addition to that.
ZINGSHEIMSo that was a big move. And that was the start of, I guess, what we have today. There was an interest in having a community rather than an office park.
NNAMDIIt's just -- go ahead, please, Robin.
JASPEROkay, thanks. I wanted to answer the question about where the name NoMa came from, because people often direct questions at me, like; okay, the bid named this area NoMa. And that isn't the case. The area was called NoMa in a planning document that came out of the Plan for the Economic Resurgence of Washington D.C. in the late 1990s. And that was where the name NoMa was coined and adopted. And so the truth is that -- I don't know who gives the right to rename a place, but sitting here on this panel, I can't explain.
JASPERI can only say that what's happened is that actually, over time, the name's been adopted. And we find people renaming -- on the development side -- projects from, you know, it used to be that everybody tried to pretend that NoMa was Capitol Hill, but it's, you know, it's not. It's its own unique place. And so, it used to be that it was NoMa Capitol Hill North. And now people have just said, okay, well they're happy to in NoMa and they're renaming projects NoMa.
NNAMDIAs you pointed out, it -- the Capitol -- is just steps from the Capitol. It's near booming H-Street. But some people complain that even though there's a big new luxury condo and office buildings, there's not much sense of place or community. How does one build that?
JASPERWell, so we do that in a number of ways. We have a very active program of events, for example. We both sponsor and put on -- more than 80 last year -- free public events. And they range from everything from family film night at Sursum Corda, which we put on three or four nights a year; to July 4th Party; to NoMa Summer Screen, which attracts somewhere between 800 and 1,200 people; to, you know, Nerds and NoMa lectures. And all of it's free and all of it's open to the community. And we have had -- last year we had more than 17,000 attendants -- in attendance at our events.
JASPERSo that's one way we do it. Another, well -- I'll just...
NNAMDIGo ahead, please.
JASPER...I'll just go through a quick list. Another way we do it is through our parks planning effort, which is very much focused on connecting neighborhoods east and west and north and south. So we're looking at pedestrian improvements, bike ability, and making the whole neighborhood feel like a place where you want to walk through, including improving the walk under the tracks between, you know, the east side -- the far east side of NoMa -- and the core of NoMa on First Street. So...
NNAMDIWe've got another member of the audience here.
TOMHi, I'm Tom Howarth. I'm the director of the Father McKenna Center. We operate out of the basement of St. Aloysius Church. I'm from southern New England so NoMa to me is the former -- name of the former Red Sox shortstop. We are sitting in a census track here that has an area median income of 80,000 and rising. You know, all you have to do is go out the front door of NPR and go across the street and you'll be standing in the census track that has an area median income of 27,000.
TOM HOWARTHThe same thing is true down near Nationals Park. If you sit in the left field stands you'll be in an area median income of 90,000. If you look to the west from there you'll see an area median income of 22,000. So one of the things we have to talk about if we want to talk about community is poverty and those things that stem from poverty like crime and violence.
TOM HOWARTHAnd the problem is here that what is happening is that Mount Vernon Square is developing, got a nice Safeway. NoMa's developing, got a nice Whole Foods. And in between are poor people who are being squeezed out of the neighborhood. When I worked on the redevelopment plan with Yancey William's administration I asked then Robert Bobb who was the city administrator, what provision is being made for homeless people, I mean, the people that come to the McKenna Center day after day?
TOM HOWARTHAnd the answer was, nothing. Nothing was done for them. If you were lucky enough to have a roof over your head even in a bad building, you might be taken care of. But if you were homeless the message was loud and clear. We don't want you in this neighborhood. Please go away. The farther away you go the better.
NNAMDIWhat do you say would be the answer to the question of how does one bridge the gap between longtime residents and the newer occupants of this area?
HOWARTHMy answer to that would be you create a mixed income community with very poor people, with workforce housing for teachers and firefighters and others who want to -- need to live in the city and can't. And then you add the third layer, as we did in the Williams plan, of market rate housing for people that can afford it, the husband and wife working on Capitol Hill who don't want to drive in from Fairfax County anymore.
HOWARTHAnd when you have that situation you don't only get Starbucks, but you have to get someplace to get coffee when you can't afford $3 for a cup of coffee. You also have to have...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to put that question to Patrician Zingsheim. How do you build a mixed income community? What examples can city planners look at around the country or in the general region to understand how one builds mixed income communities?
ZINGSHEIMWell, certainly the new communities effort was aimed at doing that. I think we could debate a long time how successful it's been if you look across the city. But it's still in progress so it's not a finished book yet. One way that the district is trying to do it is when the district owns a piece of land, they do offer it for development with the stipulation that a certain percentage of it be affordable housing.
ZINGSHEIMAnd the project where the Safeway is, just to cite one example, in the Triangle is a project that had 30 percent affordable requirement on the developer at the outset. So that has a lot of different levels of affordability built into it. There's other sites like that that the district has developed where the district actually owned the land and could mandate a certain mix of uses.
ZINGSHEIMNow the mayor recently -- well, a year ago the comprehensive housing taskforce report made a commitment to affordability across the city. And I'm out of my area of expertise but that was a two-year commitment of $187 million and 10,000 affordable units by 2020. So those are a couple ways -- I could go on but I think those are a couple ways. We've got inclusionary zoning which requires every market rate development to include a certain amount of affordability.
NNAMDIGot another member of our studio audience here.
OMARIMy name is Omari. I live at 2nd and K Northeast. And there's a large vacant lot next to my apartment building. That's actually where you have your Summer Screen and it's sort of become a informal dog park. You know, people walk their dog there a lot. But I also notice that recently there are no trespassing signs surrounding the lot. And I'm wondering what's going to happen to that lot? And also are there plans for more park space in the area because I think that's a big shortage right now.
MS. ROBIN EVE-JASPERSo the good news from our perspective is that lot is owned by a private developer and we'll be having Summer Screen there again this year. So they're not starting development. It recently changed hands and I think that may be why there are new signs up. And in terms of parks, we're working very hard. We got a $50 million grant from the District of Columbia. We're still working out the grant terms right now but it's all about finding places for people to -- for recreation, for permanent Summer Screen and events and for civic engagements, so public plazas where people can gather, which we think are very important to building community here.
MS. ROBIN EVE-JASPERI'd also like to point out that we actually welcomed just recently Central Union Mission, which is a shelter into NoMa with a 175 beds. We literally welcomed them. I was at the groundbreaking. We were there over last week. I mean, we find them -- we agree they're a very important component in the neighborhood.
MELVIN JUDDMelvin Judd, (unintelligible) 606E. I lived around here -- my family lived around here since 1950.
NNAMDIYour mother was very active, still is.
JUDDRight, exactly. And...
NNAMDIGot to give her a shout out.
JUDDYeah, got to give her a shout out. And I grew up on the 50 yard line at (unintelligible) I knew Father Halls McKenna. I used to work with them so I grew up -- those are row houses. And back to the circus days, the circus did used to come to town over here at the coliseum. Used to go over there every day.
NNAMDIIt used to be the U Line Arena.
JUDDYeah, roller derbies. Anyway I grew up in this neighborhood. I've been a star activist for this neighborhood and the people in the neighborhood. And I've seen this neighborhood change. I went to the old Dunbar, the castle, played football for Dunbar as quarterback. And since that time I've seen a lot of changes from this earlier, from the gas station that used to be there before -- when the riots of '69. You know, everything was going on in this area. It was a busy little area.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about the changes that are taking place now?
JUDDThe changes taken place now is -- like I heard is -- change is good but when you not getting with the people and talking to the people and bringing them with the change and this whole area is changing -- like I say, the middle area from K Street (unintelligible) Plaza, all those places, nothing changed. We don't get streetlights. We asked to get that. Sidewalks, everything hasn't changed for our area. Everything is developing around it.
JUDDAnd people not coming in and talking to the community and sitting with the people because a lot of people are concerned and a lot of people have been misplaced and still being misplaced because of the affordable housing. And it's not affordable for them because of the jobs not there for them, either. So there's a lot of things going on in this community that's not...
NNAMDIYou'd like to see more community engagement.
JUDDWe have to. That's the only way we're going to grow as a family. Because back in the days in the '60s and the '70s we had mixed community. We had people from all different ethnic groups making different types of money. We used to go to the Kennedy mansion in the summertime. That was our summer camp. So we was invited to all that stuff. So...
NNAMDIAnd that's the challenge that's facing you. Does that fall under your bailiwick, Patricia Zingsheim, trying to get -- develop a sense of community involvement, that the community has to feel a sense of ownership in what's taking place here?
ZINGSHEIMIt does. When we do a planning effort, we try very hard to get folks to come out. And maybe a year from now we'll have a show like this, or two years from now, about the area that you're talking about. Because we are starting an effort now where we will -- it's called east end area. And maybe somebody will give it a different name but it's looking at the area between the Triangle and between NoMa. And the conversation needs to include everyone.
ZINGSHEIMAs this NoMa process tried to include -- the first meeting, I know, we had 300 people. It was up at McKinley Tech High. And there were a lot of people there that were not property owners and not business people. So that's the goal.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking about development and how it affects residents of communities, especially poor residents of communities. We're coming to you from the headquarters of NPR on North Capitol Street in the district that some people call NoMa. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're coming to you from the headquarters of NPR on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about development that has been taking place in this area. And we're now going to go a little beyond this district that some people call NoMa, to talk about some other issues that come with development. As rents hit an all time high and new developments break ground across the district, a lot of low-income residents who've lived here for decades are feeling squeezed out.
NNAMDIAnd joining us now to have that conversation is Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower D.C. And that's a grassroots advocacy organization focused on low- and moderate-income D.C. residents. Parisa, thank you for joining us.
MS. PARISA NOROUZIThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Kalfani Ture. He is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses on issues of urban renewal and public housing in D.C. Kalfani Ture, thank you for joining us.
MR. KALFANI TURESure. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Patricia Zingsheim is still with us. How do you feel about the development taking place around the district? Too much, too fast, not fast enough? Parisa, I'll start with you. Talk about this district as you see it as a microcosm, if you will, of the rapid development that's taking place across the city.
NOROUZISure. This area represents what's happening citywide. It's a developer-driven development. The starting place is not, what does the community need, what does the community want or even what's the community's identity or its story. Instead it's the powerful, politically-connected developers presenting their glossy plans to the office of planning and others and the elected officials facilitating that.
NOROUZIIt is extremely frustrating for low-income residents in particular to try to engage in these processes because they attend the meetings and supposedly, you know, there's community input. But in the end their voices are ignored and the plans do not reflect their priorities whatsoever.
NNAMDIKalfani Ture, what do you say to people who say, look this is a capitalist society. When you talk about developer-driven development, that's how things get built under capitalism. People who have money decide to build things. What is the appropriate rule for government and community in these situations?
TUREWell, in fact, I would say to those who are interested in the development of Washington D.C. is this. If the development is intended to be inclusionary then how come on average 44,000 African Americans have left the city over the past five to ten years? And why don't the voices of those who are being impacted matter? And so I'll just say that, as one resident once told me when I mentioned the word NoMa, she said, what is NoMa? She said, that sounds like a new opportunity to move African Americans out.
NNAMDIBut the fact is, is it's here. So what, at this point, do we do about it? Eric Sheptauk (sp?) , tell us who you are.
ERIC SHEPTAUKI'm Eric Sheptauk. I a relatively well-known homeless advocate here in Washington, D.C. And there are comments that have been made thus far -- I've really got my mind going around a number of different things. So there is mandatory inclusionary zoning. That law was passed, oh what, seven years ago, there about? And it only applies to new developments. They have to be about 10 percent affordable. The term affordable is a really ambiguous term. A lot of the homeless advocates really hate the use of that term because you have to specify the income bracket that you're talking about.
ERIC SHEPTAUKD.C. government makes -- gives assistance to people making as high as 60,000 or $80,000 a year. They're making the housing affordable for people in those high income brackets. But when it comes to involving the homeless, well, there's a ginormous shelter which is actually outside of the NoMa area but it's not very far away. It's just a stone throw from NoMa called the Federal City Shelter, also called CCNV. And that...
NNAMDII used to go to school there when it was Federal City College.
SHEPTAUKYeah, that building holds 1,350 homeless people. And it's big enough for an ANC commissioner, you know. They don't have an ANC representative in that building. So if you want to include the community, put an ANC person, you know, for the Federal City Shelter. But also, you know, we should stop going for the okey-doke.
SHEPTAUKThe city officials always tell us how that -- they're going to move people out, they're going to rebuild. You can come back at the same rent levels. It never happens. You know, you have Temple Court, you have a bunch of other places where that okeydoke's been pulled on us. We got to stop going for the okeydoke. And like Mark said a while ago, we need to have a build-first policy. And after you build then we'll move from the old building into the new building.
NNAMDIAnd, you know, Patricia Zingsheim, on one of the broadcasts we talked about how so many of these contracts for development include a specification for 10, 25 or 35 percent quote unquote "affordable housing." But they often don't have enforcement mechanisms so that if the developer does not, in fact, do that, the developers, it would appear, do not get punished. Is there a way to remedy that?
ZINGSHEIMI don't know. That's out of my -- that's a surprise question. It's a concern that people have is the enforcement that I've heard voiced a lot. And I don't know the answers to that.
MAGGIE RYDENMy name is Maggie Ryden and I'm the executive director of the D.C. Alliance of Youth Advocates. And, hi Eric. It's good to see you. I...
NNAMDIWait a minute. This is not a meet-and-greet.
RYDENI had to give him a shout out. But, you know, building off of all of those points, I guess here is my question. We know that the AMI, the average median income that determines affordable housing is based on an area percent. That includes a number of very wealthy counties in Maryland and Virginia. To me that seems fatally flawed. A., I guess to Patricia, can we get beyond that at a legislative level? And B. if we can't, what's the solution to mixed income housing?
ZINGSHEIMWell, this afternoon before I came over I talked to the -- there's actually a housing planner in my office that's far more knowledgeable on these issues than I am. But I talked to him and I asked him that question. And he said that it is a problem and it's been a concern that's been voiced. But he didn't say if there was a specific policy strategy underway now at the executive level to address it.
ZINGSHEIMSo I'm sorry, again, I really can't provide the specifics. I can look into it further. And if you want to contact me and see if I can find whether there's anything in the works to address the issue, but people are definitely aware of it.
NNAMDIGentleman in the rear.
AUDIENCE MEMBERYeah, I just want to echo some of the sentiments that I heard today. I've actually lived in a multitude of continents. I was in Rwanda for a while, Dubai for a bit in India and actually grew up in D.C. And I see the same problems happening over and over and the same conversations happening where we can't figure out how to stop what we see happening, which is kind of the shoving out of the lower-income class, however you have -- affordable housing rarely works. When it does work, ten years later those people are usually displaced because they can't find a community.
AUDIENCE MEMBERSo are there any new innovative thinkings or attempts that, you know, the panelists or maybe the audience members have that might remedy this ongoing situation?
TUREYeah, I think that's a great question. I mean, new communities and choice neighborhoods, which was intended to improve Hope VI, which has successfully so displaced millions of African Americans around the country was intended to sort of improve it by building onsite one-for-one replacement, not just of unit but also bedroom size the right to return. In fact, you wouldn't have to be displaced in order to have redevelopment. The development would happen simultaneous while you were there.
TUREBut I think there's something else that we should talk about, two things. One, when we talk about development of African American and Latino areas, we're often now honest and sincere in our conversation. The destruction of public housing is not in fact a result of just bad people with bad culture. In fact, it is deliberate neglect of capital infrastructure, with the intended purposes of down the line to redevelop. Right? So that's one thing.
TUREThe second thing is that our country decided that in the mid-20th century we would no longer put federal dollars and state dollars and local government dollars behind discriminatory policies. Hope 6, and I imagine that new communities -- because many of the people from the planning office say, well, new communities -- you can't really conclude anything on it because it isn't done yet.
TUREChoice Neighborhood isn't done yet, so we can't really talk about it. But in fact, our country decided mid-20th century that we would not engage in discriminatory policies with the Brown v. Board of Ed. And here you have a policy that has almost exclusively displaced and harmed a single demographic group around the country and also in Washington, D.C.
MR. LONNIE DURENThank you for inviting me. My name is Lonnie. I'm the chairperson of Sursum Corda, right across the street. And my concerns are don't nobody really know what affordable means. What is affordable? Everybody throw it around. But you have to remember a lot of people are going to move to the city that didn't live here. When they moving here, they moving here with good jobs that's paying high salaries, compared to the people that been here all their life, never really made $50,000 in a salary.
MR. LONNIE DURENAnd then you have the process of paying rent and the other utilities, water, electric and taking care of three or four kids. So I've been sitting back listening to everybody. Sursum Corda is now in the process of getting a developer to develop. And I have one of the associates that represent me, Mr. Yeoman, him and I went to school together at Georgetown. So everybody in these low-rate places have good minds and want to work.
MR. LONNIE DURENBut if they never had the opportunity -- because I remember one time you can go get a job and you didn't have to take 20 tests to get a job to sweep a floor. So there's a lot that we're going to have to look at. And Sursum Corda, we have our issues, but it took over seven years for us to get where we're at where the city actually recognizes us as owner and not renters. And that is what is not being recognized.
MR. LONNIE DURENWhen you say Sursum Corda, you think it's the projects. We own the property. And owning the property -- when we talk about misplacement, we can't misplace ourselves -- not unless everybody agrees to it. And then you have to look at the changes from NoMa, Mt. Vernon. This right here is really called Central City, total. So my thing, all this was planned before we even took safe to it. So my thing and I don't want to sound astute or anything, this has got to back to the city to come up with a law that protects us.
MR. LONNIE DURENJust like you grandfather somebody in, these low-poverty families need to have something to grandfather us in to make sure if developers want to build and do what he need in their area, he's not going to -- and hurt the low-poverty. Because you know they took rent control away. So they're taking all the controls away. And one more thing. And my thing now is for…
NNAMDIWe're getting ready to take a break. Finish that thought for me, please, Lonnie Duren.
NNAMDIOkay. You finished that?
DURENNot really. I was going…
NNAMDINo, go ahead.
DURENNo, you got me. Okay. But the whole thing in a nutshell, when you get to a point where you're making progress, it seemed like everybody want to get in the way and start using their opinions of how to help you. But five and six years ago they was talking about taking Sursum Corda. Then nobody come to the table. Now, we're back at the table and we dealt with NoMa, we got a partnership in which they come and do the films and plant trees and all that.
DURENSo my concern now is that even with the inclusionary zoning or for affordable, we have to really define what is affordable. If we don't define that, we're going to be doing this for a minute.
NNAMDIGot to take that short break now. We're coming to you from the headquarters of NPR, on North Capitol Street, in Washington, with "Kojo in Your Community." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're coming to you from the headquarters of NPR, on North Capitol Streets, in Washington, having a conversation about the changing face of this neighborhood and other neighborhoods in the city. We got a tweet from Jessica, who said, "After listening to this conversation, it occurs to me that NoMa was created for people like me. A 20-something working on First Street Northeast."
NNAMDII suspect there are a lot of people who may agree with that, but they'll also point out to you that there was a community that existed here long before this community that is being referred to as NoMa came into existence. And there's another hand up. Mark Anderson?
MR. MARK ANDERSONYeah, I just wanted to note two things very quickly, and then hopefully the panel can respond. The first thing is that unfortunately at this point our city government has very little credibility with the residents that I know here in the North Capitol corridor. If you go back to new communities -- and I think it's really important to talk about what was actually promised in new communities. Because it was promised that they would build first. They were going to build first here and so people would not have to be displaced.
MR. MARK ANDERSONNow, clearly that's a promise that's been broken. They also said that it was going to be 30 percent deeply subsidized, meaning affordable for the people who live here, actually live here. And then workforce and then market rate, 30 percentage. That's been abandoned. Even the human capital part, which kind of limps on, where you were going, you know, the poetry of this was we're building the new capital.
NNAMDIHow do we make the city government accountable? You're talking about a mayor, you're talking about a city council and you're talking about a large bureaucracy.
ANDERSONWell, I mean essentially you have to do what the people did to get Sibley Plaza there in the first place. When the Sibley Hospital was knocked down it was a vacant lot. People went there and built it a tent city. And they would not leave until the city would give them something that served the community. And that's what we have to do. Now, the one thing I have to say -- I have to say beyond that, is that I don't want this to sound terribly oppositional. Like, I don't think a lot of the -- I think a lot of low-income long-term residents are happy for a lot of the changes.
ANDERSONIt's certainly safer here. There's certainly more stores. As long as they can stay here, there's a lot of good in that. But the thing we have to do is we have to create a way for the new arrivals to get to know the long-term residents and build that community. And that's actually what We Are Family tries to do by drawing new arrivals and other volunteers out into the community to learn from the seniors, to serve them and not just ignore them and think that the history that came before is just something to push away and forget about because it was bad. It was not bad. There was much beauty and glory and many wonderful people. And they're here. We need to respect to them.
NNAMDIWe're down to the last seven minutes or so. Please try to make your comments as brief as possible.
MR. LEON PEACEAll right. Thank you. Leon Peace. I work in the area. I'm a realtor here. And I participated in the original planning meetings when the name NoMa first was put out. My concern then, and still is now, as I hear you talk about the concern about the low-income and moderate-income affordable housing -- I raised it then at those meetings. They were very well attended by the law firms and the downtown developers.
MR. LEON PEACEAnd I do not recall seeing anyone else there concerned about how this area would develop and maintain, not rental affordable housing, but ownership affordable housing for the residents and for new residents who want to come in, who are not necessarily making those upper incomes. And I think your initial question was what would we like to see addressed as we go forward. I would like for the panelists to address how we can, at this point, go forward and address this issue to make sure that there is affordable housing, ownership housing.
NNAMDIParisa, can you take that?
NOROUZISure. We need community development. It's backwards. So we need community-led development. And I think Sursum Corda is a great model in the sense that it is a cooperative. They own the property. Cooperatives are a great model. Limited equity cooperatives. It's not always about oh, this idea that we're all going to get rich off of our real estate ownership. The idea is we're going to have a stable home for our families and for the next generation as well. A lot of the housing that the city is subsidizing right now, the affordability is only in place for 5 to 15 years. And then what? It's very short term.
MEMBERThere's been a lot of discussion of the economic plan and its impact on housing. I actually have a question on job creation. It seems that in the U.S. the West and the South are the only regions, according to the Census Bureau, that are creating jobs. Kind of net jobs. As we compete as a region, as a city, with other locales in the country, how do we balance? How do we think about balancing the economic development, the incentives to create jobs for folks with kind of the needs of the community that you're describing? And what's the compromise?
NNAMDIKalfani Ture, what role does jobs play in this?
TUREYeah, I agree with Parisa. I think that economic development should start with the people. That there are a lot of entrepreneurs in these communities that are being bulldozed. But they're not given the capital to begin something, to begin an enterprise. And I think you're right. I mean the economic inequality in Washington, D.C., hasn't been this great between those who have and those who do not since 1979.
TUREI mean the wages are dropping for lower-income wage earners. And they're increasing for middle to upper-income wage earners in the District. And increasingly, the District is becoming, as a colleague of mine pointed out, more of a chocolate chip than a chocolate city. But I think you have to start with economic investment in people. Not this phony human architecture, as described in a new communities plan. You know, we have to rebuild people.
TUREBecause I don't subscribe to the argument that people are necessarily bad. People just need an opportunity. And there's no better place to example the kind of investment in human capital, investment in local and economic entrepreneurship than Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. By the way, most African Americans came to the District of Columbia for that purpose, to seek shelter, to seek economic opportunity.
TUREAnd as long as they could be exploited, I guess they were great. But now, sort of the logic and the orientation to economic development is different. And they're expendable.
NNAMDIYou, sir, in the rear.
GABEI wanted to say that -- my name's Gabe. I've lived in NoMa for about three and a half years. I want to say I think a lot of people are dancing around this, but more affluent people are more likely to vote. And poor people certainly aren't giving money to as political contributions. And the lack of these programs that many people are working on and mentioning come from a lack of political will. And if we could increase the franchise of the lower-income people and decrease the influence of the campaign contributions that are coming from developers, I think a lot of the great ideas in this room could come to pass.
NNAMDITo which you say what, Parisa?
NOROUZII agree with that, but what we see is that a lot of the newer residents are taking advantage of that political capital. They're hosting neighborhood living room chats with candidates and not making it their purpose to identify who lives beside them, whose housing is at risk, uniting with them and then using their political capital in that way. So, again, I just put that challenge back to the new residents.
TUREAnd I would also add that poor people vote.
TUREPoor people voted in mass for President Obama. Poor people voted in mass for our current and elected mayor. So the problem is that once elected the base doesn't no longer become the people who voted for you, the base becomes those with capital interests. And so this is really about the dispossession of wealth from the poor and the accumulation of wealth for the elite.
NNAMDIBut doesn't that speak to the issue of community organization. I hate to use that term. But doesn't that speak to that issue that, in fact, if elected officials are to be held accountable after they have been voted into office, that there has to be ongoing pressure from all levels of the community, especially from those people in the community who are poor or those whose represent people who are poor?
NNAMDIOh, wait a minute. I think I have an answer.
MEMBERI would just like say that we go down there, we testify, we go to their offices, we email, we call, we are ignored. So it's not like there is no political willness (sic) in low-income communities. We are just ignored. We ask for things. We ask for things. We do our demands. We do our requests. We do everything the way that we're supposed to do it, and we are still ignored. And the question you asked about how can the city council be held accountable, it's about priorities.
MEMBERAnd I see the budget where so much money is put into everything but low-income housing. I hear about affordable housing. It's not affordable for anybody I know, anybody in my community. And then these replacement units for the new communities, they attach credit checks to them, you've got to take some old stupid class about this and that. That should not be attached to qualify for your housing, because housing is a human right. So we do ask for these things. We do everything we're told to do and were ignored by our politicians who come knock on our door around election time.
NNAMDIThank you very much. You, sir, in the rear.
JOHNHi, I'm John. I live over near H Street. The way that NoMa's kind of developed, I've noticed that because there wasn't much in a way of kind of lower-density development, that it seems like everything is mostly high-density development. As where, when you look at H Street, it was primarily low-density development and they've kind of added it in. Does that make it harder to orient things around here because it's primarily a high-density area and it has to be a high-density area? Or is it easier to go from a low-density area and make it even for everyone if you go up to a high-density area?
ZINGSHEIMThis area was rezoned to the highest zoning category at the time the Metro -- this is all before my time -- but at the time the Metro Station was planned for this area, it was rezoned a C3C. Now, some of the areas east of the tracks that were established row-house neighborhoods or north of New York Avenue -- and those areas were protected. And those people were at the table during the planning and actually were the group and the constituent that pressured for this to be adopted by the city council, because they wanted the protection that said this density is there and we're something else, and we're a conservation area.
ZINGSHEIMSo that's what's in the plan. But yes, it is the highest zoning category, C3C. And it's also a transfer of development rights area, which means that rights to develop to the maximum zoning envelope can be purchased. So that's right. The die has been cast for a very high density area. The price of the land is established by that. And once that was done the land gained a tremendous value. You may justify it based on the fact that it's close to a Metro, but it really didn't -- and it was vacant. So there weren't -- it wasn't taking away homes and leading to a lot of demolition. It's had other impacts.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Patricia Zingsheim is associate director of the Revitalization and Design Division with the D.C. Office of Planning. Robin-Eve Jasper is president of the NoMa Business Improvement District. Parisa Norouzi is executive director of Empower D.C., a grassroots advocacy organization focused on low and moderate-income D.C. residents. That's Parisa Norouzi. And Kalfani Ture is a cultural anthropologist whose work focuses on issues of urban renewal and public housing in D.C. Thank you all so much for joining us.
NNAMDIWe've been broadcasting from the headquarters of NPR, on North Capitol Street, in Washington. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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