D.C.: Less Black, More Green

In the second of a three-part series profiling the nation's capital, The Root takes a look at who really holds the purse strings in the rapidly gentrifying (and not-so) Chocolate City.

Future President of BET Debra Lee and BET founder Robert Johnson at 2005 BETAwards. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

But it was clear from the start that the flood of money pouring into the city wouldn’t just cleanse the grime and remove the dirt; it would wash away some people as well. Until Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the District led the nation in the number of its schoolchildren attending privately managed charter schools, which, generally speaking, have not produced any better educational outcomes than public schools.

Giddings Elementary School in northwest D.C. was converted into a private health club where memberships start at $100 per month. William Syphax Elementary School in southwest D.C., built in 1910 and named for a Reconstruction-era educator renowned for his efforts to improve the District’s African-American public schools, reopened as Syphax Village — where condos and town houses sold for upwards of $400,000 at the peak of the housing bubble. The nearly 150-year-old schoolhouse in Logan Circle, Berret Elementary, is now the Berret School Lofts, offering high ceilings, cityscape views and as many as 1,700 square feet for $385,000 and up.

Bulldozers demolished more than 1,100 public housing units in southeast Washington to clear the way for a taxpayer-financed, $611 million major-league baseball stadium. Corridors plunged into darkness by seething mobs 42 years ago are now neon-lit pathways lined with bars, nightclubs and restaurants serving fusion cuisine to K Street lawyers and Hill staffers. Menacing, boarded-up husks have given way to loft apartments, Starbucks and Whole Foods. The new convention center opened in 2003, a new sports arena in neighboring Chinatown a few months later.

The District’s fire sale helped fuel what former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan once referred to as the market’s “irrational exuberance,” which pushed home values up to record highs, and the poor and working class out. Between 1999 to 2007, the average home price in the District more than doubled, from $189,000 to $469,000, while median household income fell 8 percent for blacks and 2 percent overall.

Over that same period, property-tax bills increased by an average of 30 percent each year from 1999 to 2007. At Ann’s Beauty Supply and Wigs in southeast D.C., not far from the Washington Nationals’ new, 42,000-seat baseball stadium, the yearly assessment skyrocketed to $16,000 from $600 in just three years’ time. A nearby foster-care agency contracted by the city to care for abused and disabled kids saw its tax bill increase from $9,000 in 2005 to $83,699 in 2007. At the Market Deli at First and L Streets NW, property taxes soared to $22,000; its assessment was $1,500 in 2004.

Not surprisingly, Washington’s poorest — and darkest — residents have abandoned the city in droves. Between 2000 and 2006, the District lost more than 21,000, almost 10 percent, of its African-American residents — while the city’s overall population grew by more than 30,000 to 572,000. (Many of the city’s black residents defected to nearby Prince George’s County in Maryland.) The Chocolate City’s black majority dropped from 56 percent to 51 percent between 2000 and 2008. Of the jobs in the city that don’t require college degrees, nearly two-thirds are filled by suburbanites, according to a 2008 report by the local Chamber of Commerce.