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In the (mercifully short) audience question section of last night’s at-large Council debate, someone launched into a sermon on social justice, and ended with this awkward double query: How would you ‘stop gentrification,’ and what’s your plan to push for statehood for Washington D.C.?
Given only 30 seconds, the candidates either took one of the questions and ignored the other, or weighed in briefly on each. And granted, it was a pretty random pairing that needn’t have been taken together. But the thing is, gentrification and statehood are correlated—positively. Here’s how I wish a candidate had answered:
“Thanks for your question. First of all, ‘gentrification’ is a really complicated term that people throw around like it’s an entirely negative phenomenon. But that’s too simplistic: How can you tell a neighborhood that it shouldn’t have higher quality retail, better parks, and nicer houses? That may attract higher-income residents, but there are tools to keep housing affordable for those who might otherwise be pushed out, like inclusionary zoning, low-income housing tax credits, tenant purchase, and simply increasing the supply of new units.
I’m not sure if you meant to imply that demographic change and the fight for statehood are related. But they are: As people return to the city, invest in neighborhoods, and see D.C. as a place they might stay for a long time and maybe raise a family—rather than doing their five years on the Hill and then high-tailing it to Montgomery County—they start to understand and care about the ways in which disenfranchisement has a real effect on their quality of life. When you’ve put money down on a house and gotten your kid into a public school she likes, you’re much more willing to fight for the future of the place where you live. Often, these new residents are less willing to let things stay the way they’ve always been—and are connected to the powerbrokers who will ultimately have to be convinced. If they can make common cause with the people who’ve lived here forever, then D.C. has a chance.”
You can movement-build all you want, but it helps if economic and social trends are on your side.