A development meeting at Barry Farm last year drew protests.
A development meeting at Barry Farm last year drew protests.

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The Washington Business Journal reported yesterday on a new study of 18 “gentrifying” neighborhoods—-areas “whose median property value and federal adjusted gross income fell below the citywide average in 2001, and rose above it 10 years later.” The paper writes, “Many are not what, or where, you’d think.”

No, they’re not. Columbia Heights? Petworth? Sure, I’ll believe it. But Barry Farm? Congress Heights? The former is a public housing complex with a median household income of $18,500 as of 2011; the latter comprises much of the poorest ZIP code in the city and is the poorest Metro station area in D.C. Something seemed wrong.

So let’s take a look at the wording of the actual study, by LaTanya Brown-Robertson of Bowie State University, Daniel Muhammad and Marvin Ward of the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and Michael Bell of George Washington University:

The method employed the following criteria:
1. In 2001, if the neighborhood has a median property and federal adjusted gross income values below the respective citywide medians.
2. And from this subset of neighborhoods, identify which of these grew faster (in median property and income values) than the relative income and home values in the city.

This appears to indicate that these 18 neighborhoods didn’t necessarily rise above the median property values and income levels, but rather saw their property values and income levels rise faster than the citywide average. I spoke with Muhammad, and he confirmed my interpretation. This means that Barry Farm residents, for instance, saw their fortunes rise faster over the period from 2001 to 2011 than the median Washingtonian, but from a very low baseline—-the neighborhood is, by any measure, still poorer than the city average.

The study itself does not use the word “gentrifying,” and for good reason: Most of the neighborhoods on this list simply don’t meet the standard definitions of “gentrifying.” They’re enjoying higher incomes and property values—but they’re a long way from the displacement, racial inversion, retail and construction booms, and skyrocketing prices of the truly gentrifying parts of the city.

Update 2 p.m.: The Washington Business Journal‘s Michael Neibauer corrects his earlier error but still maintains these neighborhoods are gentrifying. We’ll have to agree to disagree. What do you think?

Photo by Aaron Wiener