Washington, DC, Is Being Sued for Gentrification

Illustration for article titled Washington, DC, Is Being Sued for Gentrification
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A civil rights lawyer is suing Washington, D.C., for what he claims are the city’s discriminatory housing and urban-renewal policies that favor white millennial renters over long-standing black residents, according to DCist.


Aristotle Theresa out of nearby Anacostia is representing three native Washingtonians and community group CARE. The lawsuit claims that the policies of the previous mayoral administrations of Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray were designed to attract “creative” workers who tend to come in fields like journalism, technology, the arts and science. Theresa claims that D.C.’s success in attracting these types of workers has come at the expense of low- and middle-income African-American families who can no longer afford housing in the city.

“The city is intentionally trying to lighten black neighborhoods, and the way they have primarily been doing it is through construction of high density, luxury buildings, that primarily only offer studios and one bedrooms,” the suit reads.

The suit is seeking more than $1 billion in damages. The city hasn’t responded to the filing so far.

Here is more on how Washington’s urban-renewal policies work, from DCist:

Many of D.C.’s policies—like the policies of large cities across the country in the mid-aughts—were based on the work of Richard Florida, an influential urban theorist who wrote the seminal text on the “creative class.” His 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class describes a specific kind of worker, often young and working in fields like technology, science, art and journalism. According to his theory, the key to a successful city economy lies in the hands of these workers, who have very particular ideas about where and how they want to live.

“Creatives prefer indigenous street level culture—a teeming blend of cafes and sidewalk musicians and small galleries and bistros, where it is hard to draw the line between performers and spectators,” Florida once wrote.

According to the complaint, former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration set about creating such an environment to attract these workers, and the two administrations since have kept it going. Theresa says these policies have been directly discriminatory on the basis of age and source of income, as well as having a disparate impact on the city’s African-American communities.

Will the suit stand a chance in court? It is hard to say because it depends on how it will be argued in court. One thing for sure is that D.C. has lost a lot of black residents over the past five decades. In 1970, 71 percent of the city’s residents were black; today, less than 50 percent of residents are African American.

If this suit actually wins in court, it could set a precedent for other cities in the U.S. that are dealing with gentrification.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.



What pisses me off so much is that gentrification doesn’t have to be a bad word. Bringing a solid tax base back to struggling areas is a good thing, if investment is made in the communities, people, and cultures that are already there, instead of just throwing up a couple of Starbucks, a “vintage” clothing store, a restaurant that only sells grilled cheese, and a Whole Foods and declaring it the new domain of wypipo. Unfortunately, the gnawing flood of the Wasichu consumes everything in its path.