In his July 25 Close to Home piece, Joseph L. Paul worried about the lack of affordable housing in the District. He seemed to think that the gentrification of the Georgia Avenue corridor would increase eviction rates and intensify the exodus of low- and middle-income households from the District because of higher property taxes.
First, some older citizens have protection against higher property taxes in neighborhoods that are being gentrified. The Senior Citizens Real Property Tax Relief Act reduces an owner's property tax by 50 percent if the owner is 65 or older, has an adjusted gross income of less than $100,000, and meets the homestead deduction requirements.
Also, the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue caps the increase in property taxes paid by households at 12 percent a year, even in years in which property tax assessments increase by more than that amount. These policies help prevent high turnover in periods of extreme increases in property values and promote the neighborhood stability that is provided by older, active residents.
Second, gentrification is a product of supply and demand. When housing stocks in the District do not increase at the same rate as the demand for housing, market prices increase. But the new residents who move in and can afford D.C. housing often are disappointed by the local amenities (exceptions being Logan Circle, Dupont Circle and the U Street corridor). That means that economic assistance for existing businesses, as Paul suggested, in many cases would support establishments that residents don't want.
In my community of Brightwood, which abuts Georgia Avenue between Aspen and Kennedy streets NW, unattractive facades and the selection of retail outlets available prompt local residents to shop elsewhere. If gentrification means that the undesirable establishments -- even some mom-and-pop places -- are replaced with more desired establishments, most Brightwood residents would be for it. Housing prices in Brightwood reflect supply and demand, not necessarily the quality of the shopping and business opportunities present there. Without consulting residents who live in the Georgia Avenue corridor, it is likely that land and density controls imposed by the D.C. Office of Planning will reinforce the kinds of businesses not much in demand by local residents.
Third, my experience with urban planners is that they use a certain tool kit to produce the land-use designations that they believe will encourage pedestrian traffic and multipurpose shopping trips (to reduce traffic congestion). But they need to acknowledge that it takes a combination of national and local establishments to build a stable commercial corridor.
D.C. neighborhoods that have followed this recipe with success include the U Street corridor and Logan Circle, the latter anchored by Whole Foods, CVS, Caribou Coffee and several locally owned boutiques. Given high gasoline prices and parking limitations, what neighborhood would not want easy walking access to bookstores, supermarkets, good restaurants and shopping?
Economists know how valuable it can be to a retail establishment to be near a residential neighborhood, but this works only if the local residents like the retail establishment. Fostering more "barbershops, salons [and] mom-and-pop stores" in a neighborhood already saturated with such establishments does not promote the diversity that is a hallmark of prized areas such as Dupont Circle.
A cookie-cutter approach to neighborhood redevelopment in the Georgia Avenue corridor won't work. Planners should address the wishes of residents in each neighborhood along the avenue and devise individualized land-use plans.
D.C. planning officials must recognize that an economic development strategy can fail if it doesn't include the kinds of amenities appropriate to the people they wish to attract to a neighborhood.
-- Clifford Lipscomb
is a member of the Brightwood Community Association's Economic and Community Development Committee.