The Washington Business Journal is currently running a poll asking readers whether they think DC is gentrifying in a positive way. When I clicked on the survey, 65% of respondents said yes. I think that reflects their mainly white professional class readership. If the Informer did such a poll, I doubt the results would be the same. However, I don’t think gentrification is either bad or good, it’s just a set of impersonal economic forces that have been set in motion and are almost impossible to stop.
To me, the important question is how are we as a city going to manage the process? Do we manage it in a way that benefits all residents, or do we let it push some of them out of the District? If gentrification means turning a neighborhood from black to white, I don’t think that benefits us in the end. I do think it will be difficult to keep up with things as gentrification accelerates, but we can manage the process in a way that benefits us all.
Gentrification does create economic opportunities in all quadrants of the city and in that sense it’s a net positive. But if the prosperity that creates isn’t shared by all residents, then it creates more problems than it solves. We’ve got to make sure all of our residents are prepared to capitalize on these opportunities. This is where our workforce development system plays a crucial role. Many thousands of jobs are going to be created as a result of gentrification. We need to make sure residents have the right training which will prepare them properly for the jobs to be created. If gentrification creates thousands of jobs and they all go to MD & VA residents, that benefits no one in the District.
We must also take steps to arrest the increase in the cost of housing, or even try to decrease it. The best way to do this is to increase the supply of affordable housing units. There is a zoning rewrite going on right now. I’d like to see us expedite the zoning and permitting processes to get construction projects moving more quickly. Those who oppose a particular project should be given the opportunity to object to it, but we have to find a way to streamline the appeals process so that we can ultimately get more units under construction more quickly. This will bring thousands of additional construction jobs online as well as increasing the supply of housing to mitigate some of the cost increases.