While efforts to "revitalize" parts of the District are welcomed by developers and affluent would-be citydwellers, major projects for renewing a neighborhood or renovating an inner-city building have a nether side. For each middle- or upper-income person moving into a newly refurbished apartment or recently converted condominium in the District, more than one lower-income person may be displaced.
Just where the lower-income families are going is more difficult to determine than who has replaced them, but local and federal housing officials say most move to outlying suburbs such as Prince George's County, double up in already-crowded low-income areas of the city or leave the region entirely.
In addition, many federal and local programs designed to improve the nation's housing has the ironic side effect of exacerbating the displacement problem, according to a new report by the District of Columbia Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Since the period of the study, 1977 to 1979, the city has instituted a program of owner and tenant aid that housing officials say already has prevented the displacement of thousands of families. Some of these programs are just getting started, making it difficult to determine any impact yet, however.
In releasing the advisory committee's report, the Rev. Ernest Gibson, head of the committee, acknowledged the city's efforts but said he "has not seen evidence to suggest that the city's poor have experienced much relief from the constant search for decent housing and the accompanying disappointments."
The advisory commission studied three District neighborhoods -- Capitol Hill, Mount Pleasant, and Adams Morgan -- and found that lower-income black and Hispanic families were being replaced by younger, one and two-person white households.
In a 1979 study, the city pinpointed the three neighborhoods, as well as Dupont Circle, as areas in which displacement was "nearly complete." Displacement is "substantially under way" in Logan Circle, portions of the Shaw neighborhood, Stanton Park, Lincoln Park and the Southeast, the city found.
"Displacement from some neighborhoods may have produced overcrowding and strained services in other already-weak neighborhoods," the advisory committee concluded. "Disappointment and frustration may have led to explosive conditions."
James Wolfork, District administrator for housing and business resources administration, also speculates that the displaced families are doubling up in other parts of the city. He said there is really no way to track the trend, however.
The advisory committee study, which makes no recommendations to the Civil Rights Commission, also noted the difficulty in finding displaced families but chronicled the experiences of a few of them.
For example, on Seaton Street NW at the southern edge of Adams Morgan, the committee found that in 1976, 26 families were given eviction notices by a real estate company that -- bought several properties. After a year of legal struggle, 10 families remained. The developers then offered to sell the houses to their occupants, but at prices 75 percent to 100 percent higher than the developers had paid.
In addition, to evictions, however, new developments in older neighborhoods have led to property tax increases that have forced older residents out, the committee said. Near Beekman Place NW on the eastern edge of Adams Morgan, for example, a homeowner reported that of 25 or 26 families that once lived in homes behind the new project only five remained. 2
Construction of the new town house had a profound effect on some of her neighbors, she told the committee:
"On the street where I live, there are nine or 10 widows facing these high taxes," she said. "They have had to . . . not remodel their houses, but they had to do things to bring them up to the standards of . . . Beekman Hill." Several of the low-income owners have sold out because they couldn't afford the increased property taxes, she said.
Wolfork contends that many such displacements now will be avoided because of the policy adopted recently by the District government. These programs have already become models for other cities across the country because of their success, he said in an interview.
One program started just this year, the apartment improvement program, is a joint effort of the federal and city governments and local lenders and property owners. This program is designed to use so-called "creative" refinancing techniques to help maintain rental housing.
The city also has programs to provide grants of up to $16,000 for a down payments to tenant groups wanting to buy their apartment buildings when faced with condominium conversions, he said, and there are similar programs for those wanting to form cooperatives.
The advisory committee pinpointed a variety of federal and local policies as major factors in displacement, and its report was critical of government attempts to deal with the problem.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development often becomes an evictor when it wants to tear down or rehabilitate buildings it owns, the report said. In addition, federal urban renewal projects, historic preservation attempts and public housing construction has led to displacements, it added.
"Although the Uniform Relocation Act was intended to cover displacement by urban renewal, HUD has interpreted that coverage as narrowly as possible and has refused to extend it to the successor programs," the study concludes.
For its part, actions by the District government has encouraged the affluent to move into the city to strengthen its tax base, the report claims. For example, the designation of 14 historic districts made those areas more desirable to the affluent, it said.
At the same time, the city grossly underestimated its needs for federal grants to help displaced tenants, did not enforce antispeculation laws and gave spotty assistance to the displaced, the study charges.
"Those who received relocation support from the city stood a good chance of having an unpleasant, confusing experience," the committee said.
"Although federal regulations stipulated that displaced families were to be relocated in up-to-code, permanent housing within a year, many families displaced by the District were lodged in dilapidated 'temporary' housing for periods of two years and longer," it found.
Wolfork says, however, that the city is making inroads into the displacement problem. At the same time, in some areas -- such as Capitol Hill -- it is too late to deal with the issue effectively because the neighborhood's transformation is almost complete, he said.