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Lydia DePillis has put together a map of all of the vacant properties in the city—-a number of which are exempt from the higher taxes because they’re under renovation.
From earlier this year, when I was reporting my Washington City Paper cover story, “Confessions of a Black Gentrifier,” I remember a conversation I had with one of the subjects of the piece, Chris Wallace, a black Washington native who was in the process of renovating a house in Columbia Heights owned by a family member. The house was one of several in the family that had fallen into disrepair because the owner was older and couldn’t keep up with property management. After kicking out squatters, Wallace was able to begin renovating. Though it didn’t make it into the story, Wallace told me it is fairly common for older black residents who own vacant homes that have been designated as “blighted” to lose those properties due to the much higher taxes they have to pay. He and his family had a long battle with the city to get the house designated as exempt from the higher taxes because it was being renovated, and eventually succeeded.
I agree with Lydia that it’s important to make good use of the properties the city already has. There are some really beautiful buildings in town, and despite what density hawks say, the single-family-home neighborhoods are pretty great in a lot of ways. Still, it’s perhaps just as important to be careful not to give up on longtime owners who might be encouraged to improve their properties with a little help, rather than a steep penalty for not doing so.
At any rate, go play with the map.