For James Governeau Banks, the distance between the Anacostia home of his youth and his current residence in a neighborhood of the Northwest palisades is not as great as it seems. His basic philosphy, he says, remains the same, only his perspective has changed.
That philosophy is one of middle-of-the-road conservatism tinged with a liberal conscience. It fits the man who has just become executive vice-president of the 1,500-member Washington Board of Realtors.
That Banks is the first black man to fill the post seems almost incidental now. A few years ago, it might have been a front-page, headline-grabbing event. The subject did not even surface in a recent hour-long interview with the realtors' new chief executive.
What emerged instead was a picture of a man who, at the age of 57, after more than three decades in government housing posts, has made a confident and comfortable transition to the private sector.
He is no longer embattled Jim Banks, his basic Calvinist nature at odds with the poor demanding more from their government. He was often visibly uncomfortable in those encounters, his conservative dress and reserved manner out of step, it seemed, with the times.
Through it all, he talked about things like "tenant responsibilty" and "balanced communities," notions that ran counter to what many saw as the top priority - providing housing for the poor. He is still talking about the same things, and emphasizing private involvement about housing the poor - or at least the less affluent - as well.
"I'm convinced it's impossible for government to be outstandingly efficient in building and maintaining housing" Banks said." . . . There's a lot of good-will, talent, and resources in the private sector which could be used much more imaginatively to help the city achieve its housing objectives."
Banks began applying his philosophy inside the Board of Realtors when he became its vice president for community development three years ago, six months after he resigned as Mayor Walter E. Washington's housing chief to make an unsuccessful, independent run against D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy. "To have the kind of respect and image they want," Banks said the realtors "have to get involved in public concerns. That was my assignment."
It's still his assignment in his new post, he said, while another vice-president under him oversees the board's 11-member staff.
The three projects in which he has been involved for the realtors share a common feature: they're all designed to promote moderate-income home owner-ship - in Shaw, in the Northwest. One urban renewal area and in Anacostia.
The Shaw project consists of 35 renovated town houses acquired from the city's redevelopment agency and sold without further subsidies, in the low-to-middle $30,000s. New owners include 11 displaces from elsewhere in Shaw. They are basically moderate-income families in houses formerly rented to the poor.
Banks' role, he said, was to bring together various trade associations into the non-profit D.C. Housing Industries Corp., of which he is vice-president. "We urge our participating builders and sales persons to reduce their profits margins as a public service," Banks said.
The reductions have brought sales prices within reach of some families but still beyond that of many others. In the process, the poorest have been displaced, a phenomenon that has become widely known as "reverse block-busting."
The real estate industry Banks represents has been roundly ciritized for its role in the buying, renovating and reselling of homes that once housed the poor. It is a development Banks views as "inevitable" and with more approval than alarm.
"I still feel balanced communities are required in order to have a stable social and economic condition in the city, and there has been a lot of progress toward that end," he said. "You right one wrong, you run into other problems. Overall, however, what's been done has been good."
The only answer, Banks said, is "an aggressive public program to return a reasonable number of houses to the low-and moderate-income." Government funds should be used to acquire some properties and, under HUD's Section 8 program, to lease others, he said, "but do it methodically, not hit or miss."
"I really think we have to look for some almost revolutionary ways to provide housing," he added, but his ideas hardly qualify as such. Among them, tenants learning how to change washers, cutting landlord costs, and, thereby, rents.
Not surprisingly, Banks is opposed to rent control. Filling out the forms is an "enormous task" for the small operator, he said. Futher, "I've always found it difficult to see how you can control one major sector of the economy without controlling others." The result has been a shortage of rental housing. Banks said.
Banks takes a similar laissez-faire approach to quick-profit housing turnover, seeing the City Council's proposed tax on housing speculators as "a negative way of going about it, not the way to achieve positive results."
As a result of present real estate trends. Banks predicted, the District will see an increase in white population without a decrease in the number of black residents.