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The residents of Columbia Heights shouldn’t be surprised that the city ignored their wishes in making its decision on the future development of their neighborhood—angered, yes, but not surprised. After all, this is just part of a larger pattern that’s been emerging for some time in D.C., wherein commercial developers with deep pockets are favored over the people who actually live here.
We in Shaw have already gone through the same process with the new convention center: lots of meetings under the phony pretense of soliciting “community input”; design charrettes in which residents make recommendations that mysteriously never make it to the final plan; empty promises of jobs, development grants, and other perks for the community that end up diluted or completely lost in the shuffle; and so on. The results have been a hugely disruptive construction project, escalating housing prices, and the accompanying threat of massive displacement when longtime residents suddenly find their community transformed into an upscale tourist trap in which they can no longer afford to live.
Now, Councilmember Jack Evans is spearheading a drive to expand the intrusion of his convention center through the funding of adjacent hotel construction with tax-increment financing (TIF), an ill-conceived scam whereby the public fronts money for private development with the “promise” of reimbursement from future commercial revenues. If sufficient revenues are not forthcoming, guess who picks up the tab? The Columbia Heights redevelopment, by the way, was the primary motivation behind former Councilmember Frank Smith’s push for the original TIF legislation.
People in D.C.’s long-neglected neighborhoods need to realize that the current real estate boom, along with our government’s conciliatory attitude toward commercial interests, means that developers are now falling all over themselves to get to the feeding trough, even if it means trampling on residents in the process. If we really want affordable, safe, and walkable communities with locally controlled economies, the proper response is not shock and indignation, but informed outrage and, most important, organizing across communities to demand resident-friendly development.