The Washington Post had two stories today evaluating the economic impact of the Washington Convention Center on the city and its impact on Shaw. The Post reports that attendance at the convention center is flat and with an annual operating cost to taxpayers of roughly $20 million is generally not performing as well as supporters had hoped. A companion article by Paul Schwartzman describes how Shaw remains a “renaissance thwarted.” While discussing some of the causes of the blight, including property speculation and negligent institutions like Shiloh Baptist Church, the article omits mention of a major contributing factor: the neighborhood is home to almost 1,400 housing units of subsidized Section 8 public housing.
As I illustrated in July 2006, these projects line 7th, 9th, and 14th streets like a massive Maginot Line against gentrification across the District.
The high concentration of these projects and very low income of their tenants can make the neighborhoods look less appealing to businesses conducting research. According to data from the Washington, DC Economic partnership the median income of the population in Shaw is $25,000, as opposed to $31,000 for H Street NE or $69,000 for Dupont Circle. Secondly, although it generally goes undiscussed, these properties can share some of the problems associated with government-owned large public housing buildings, such as concentrations of crime. One of the murders earlier this year in Shaw occurred in the stairwell of a Section 8 building, and last year a man was murdered just steps from a Metro entrance, which happens to be adjacent a cluster of four Section 8 buildings. (The man police arrested for the murder lived in a nearby Section 8 building.) Police response to a recent jump in crime in the neighborhood has been focused on these buildings — including the decision to station patrol cars 24 hours a day at the 8th Street Metro station exit and patrol the troublesome Kelsey Gardens heavily with cars, a “light tower” of floodlights, and even a horse patrol.
My point here is not to dwell on the crime, but instead invite a dialogue about the connections between revitalization, crime, and housing. Crime is a complex problem, but de-concentrating the affordable units and investing in social programs — not horses and floodlights — seem like logical first steps.
(As a side note, D.C. passed an inclusionary zoning ordinance last year, which am planning to examine later.)
Also see these related posts:
> Where is the Convention Center’s Retail?
> Mapping Shiloh Baptist Church’s Properties
> D.C. Gentrification and Section 8 Subsidized Housing