For the last two years, we have been implementing our Equitable Development Plan – 19 community driven strategies to ensure nearby residents can thrive in place. This includes standing up a Community Land Trust with City First Homes, leading workforce training with Skyland Workforce Center to ensure local residents build this future civic space, supporting local small businesses with WACIF and funding a Ward 8 Home Buyers Club with MANNA allowing East of the River residents to build generational wealth. Next month, we will formally add a series of cultural equity strategies to honor and amplify voices of the local community.
These actions are critically important and have become a central part of our work. But to successfully build an equitable and inclusive city, we need to understand how we arrived at a point where white households in D.C. have a net worth 81 times greater than black households: $284,00 versus $3,500 according to a recent Georgetown University report.
Over the last year, several powerful books tackle these issues head on. I thought I’d share a few of our favorites.
Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital by Chris Myers Asch & George Derek Musgrove
This book documents race in the nation’s capital from its founding to the present and should be required reading for every District resident. Readers quickly understand that the city has been struggling with displacement and gentrification for two hundred + years. And so goes D.C., so goes the nation. What happens here impacts the rest of the country. The District holds a special place in America’s history not only as the Capital, but it was also the first majority-black major city in the U.S. Race has always played a central role and the authors conclude that race “has proven to be the most significant explanation for social, economic, and political divisions in the city.”
A central theme of the book is that access to the ballot and political power was not a straight line towards progress. The book covers voting rights post-Civil War and then the long slide backwards post Reconstruction. (Even in 2018 we don’t have a voting representation in Congress.) Redlining – the discriminatory practice by which banks, insurance companies, real estate agents and especially the government denied access to white neighborhoods – continue to shape this city. Perhaps most importantly, the book explains why racial mistrust is so deeply embedded in D.C. and the U.S. The first step to building trust is to understand how we got here in the first place and this book puts us on that journey.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
This powerful book explodes the myth that U.S. cities are divided by race by chance. This segregation that continues to impact where people live today was intentional, deliberate and wide spread with public and private forces at work. Rothstein describes how zoning laws, home owners associations and the courts actively enforced racial covenants across the U.S. In Detroit, the Federal Housing Administration actually required a developer to build a wall separating whites-only housing from nearby African American residences. Stymying people of color owning homes – the most valuable asset for most people – systematically denied wealth creation for generations. This was especially true post World Ward II where white families were able to leverage appreciating home prices to send their children to college, open a small business and pass along inheritances to their children. This is why our Ward 8 Home Buyers Club in partnership with MANNA is so critical. Over the last two years, fifty-three participants have purchased or are in the process of purchasing their own homes, building wealth for themselves and their family.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.
This Pulitzer Prize winning book focuses on neighborhoods in Milwaukee, not Washington D.C., but is an important documentation of under-resourced individuals teetering on the brink of homelessness. Throughout the book, Desmond draws from national statistics demonstrating the impact of the Great Recession. He shares the stories of four individuals who spend everything that they have on rent (sometimes up to 70% of their monthly income) – and it’s often still not enough. When residents are evicted, it destabilizes not only the immediate family impacted, but multiple city blocks. And these properties are often in terrible shape. For the landlord, it was “cheaper to deal with the expense of eviction than to maintain their properties.” Here in D.C. we are fortunate to have a unique law called the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act or TOPA. We are actively working with the amazing non-profit Housing Counseling Services to lead monthly tenant rights workshop and proactively building tenant associations. A special note: the National Building Museum is opening an exhibition based on the book in April that can start a wider discussion about creative solutions moving forward.
Have you read a book that you’d like to recommend? Let us know! Shoot me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps this is the first step to starting a Bridge Park book club…
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Consider purchasing these books at Mahogany Books in historic Anacostia or Capitol Hill’s East City Bookshop.