We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
South Capitol Street creates a stark divide before you hit the Anacostia River. Navy Yard is on the east side, with towering apartments and condos, some of which rent studios for $2,000 a month. These high rises loom over the modest homes and apartments on the west side of Capitol Street. The area is a lower income, largely Black community.
Near this border is a D.C. fire truck maintenance shop. The city plans to move the Half Street SW shop within the next three years and is putting the land up for sale for development. Local advocates are eyeing this land to test a novel concept for housing affordability.
“Southwest has been bombarded with a lot of development and a lot of that development has been majority market rate,” Coy McKinney says, referring to the neighboring high rises.
McKinney is a local high school teacher who joined SW DC Action, an advocacy organization that pushes for an “environmentally sustainable neighborhood.” The site says it’s built on two pillars. One is equity, which is suffering. Numbers this week from Apartment List show rent in D.C. has risen 11 percent since January and the city’s vacancy rate sits at only 5 percent. It’s hard to find a place to live. The other pillar is combating racism which, McKinney says, is prevalent in Southwest’s housing fight.
“We’ve seen the price of homes increase 55 percent. We’ve seen the Black population go down almost 40 percentage points,” he says. Demographics show D.C.’s Black population has been declining since 1970—going from 71.1 percent in 1970 to 45.4 percent in 2019.
He adds: “That to me is not exemplary of equity or inclusion—especially when we have an affordable housing crisis that has disproportionately affected Black people.”
That’s why McKinney and other Southwest advocates are pushing for the fire truck maintenance shop to be purchased in a novel way. McKinney sits on the board of the Douglass Community Land Trust. The CLT would operate as a non-profit and buy up the land and construct residential, commercial, or mixed-used land space. Members of the Trust would determine what the land is used for and be kept at an “affordable” price. McKinney says the people who would oversee the property would include “low-income Black folks” who have been left out of D.C.’s development boom and resulting wealth.
“We’re trying to get their interest put front and center because we’ve seen that that hasn’t happened in previous developments,” he says. “In my understanding of justice is that those who have been historically and intentionally underserved, their interests, their needs should be put first. That’s justice. It’s not ‘build a bunch of expensive units then hopefully, sometime in the future, it becomes affordable.’”
McKinney says this maintenance garage for fire trucks is the first potential property to test this idea, and it’s picking up steam. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a partnership with the Douglass CLT in April and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, in whose ward the property is located, wrote a letter to the Office of the Deputy Mayor asking for it to examine the idea’s feasibility.
In the letter, Allen said the Navy Yard area has created an “enormous increase in economic development” but that “these benefits have not accrued to all.”
“That makes the [Fire and Emergency Medical Services] site a good candidate for a CLT: This is an area where Black residents increasingly cannot afford to stay in the neighborhood that they have called home,” he wrote. “The District should be looking to creative solutions to … preserve permanently affordable housing.”
In a statement from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, they said: “DMPED recently awarded the redevelopment of the Langston & Slater Schools in Ward 5 to the Douglass Community Land Trust after they competed for the project. We anticipate them to compete again if the property becomes available.”
The burden of expensive housing is not new to Southwest. The Waterfront has become a high-end area filled with experiences many longtime residents cannot afford. The green space surrounding the exit to the Waterfront Metro has had nearly two decades of drama regarding its development. SW DC Action has filed lawsuits to keep it public space. It currently operates as a public park. While units in these locations have been slated to be kept at affordable rates, McKinney says it isn’t enough and plans like the CLT need to be put into place and said it could be a “transformative” model on how to address an affordable housing crisis.
“It puts the power back into the community. The community has a voice in it. We have permanently affordable housing. We got permanently affordable retail space,” he lays out. “To me, it makes perfect sense.”
McKinney says the next step is getting both councilmembers and local community members on board. He adds D.C. needs to make addressing the housing crisis a priority and think past selling land to developers who create market-rate units with karaoke machines.
“I think it’s an example for how we can actually address the affordable housing crisis in a way that’s rooted in racial justice,” he says.
“We’re running out of land, we’re running out of space,” he says, “We’ve got to try something else.”
This story has been updated with a statement from DMPED and added context regarding McKinney’s statistic about the demographic changes of D.C.’s Black community. A misquote of McKinney was also corrected. We regret the error.
—Bailey Vogt (tips? email@example.com)
- To see today’s coronavirus cases and more information, visit our coronavirus dashboard.
- Ida exits D.C. after two days of battering weather and deadly flash floods; crews’ and residents’ clean-up efforts happen under sunshine. Frederick County Public Schools are closed today after 10 schoolchildren and a bus driver were stuck in high water in the county. [WTOP, NBC4]
- The relative of a D.C. man shot by police after he was found asleep in a car is pushing for answers about why the police saw the man as a threat as he drove away, why an officer shot at his vehicle 10 times, and why he did not receive immediate medical attention after being shot. [Post]
- 14-year-old boy arrested as a suspect involved in the six armed kidnappings that took place across D.C. last week. [NBC4]
By Ambar Castillo and Bailey Vogt (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)
- Mayor Bowser declared an emergency over the Medicaid contracting debacle. Councilmembers are asking the AG to investigate. [Twitter, WTOP]
- Eviction letters to rapid rehousing tenants contradict DHS Director Laura Zeilinger’s previous statements. [DC Line]
- Federal bill that would give Bowser control of the D.C. National Guard was approved by a House committee. [DCist]
By Mitch Ryals (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
A Pilot Program at the Mount Pleasant Library Lets You Check Out Seeds
You’ll soon be able to check out seeds from the Mount Pleasant Seed Library. And […]
- Sweetgreen CEO shames fat Americans, pushes salad as better way to fight COVID-19 over masks and vaccines. [VICE]
- You’ll be able to buy Le Diplomate bread out of an alley bakery near Union Market. [Washingtonian]
- What to try at Rosslyn’s new food hall. [DCist]
- Why Eater is getting rid of starred restaurant reviews. [Eater]
By Laura Hayes (tips? email@example.com)
Hardboiled Noir? Genre Caper? The Gateway Has a Hard Time Choosing
When you close your eyes and imagine a social worker, who do you see? Maybe […]
City Lights: Turn Wine Into Watercolors at Shop Made in DC
Get imaginative—and perhaps inebriated—with Wine and Watercolors! One of Shop Made in DC’s many craft […]
By Emma Sarappo (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Nationals vice president Bob Boone will resign from the organization he has been a part of since 2005 instead of complying with the team’s vaccine mandate for all non-uniformed employees. [ESPN]
- With the 53-man roster now set, the Washington Football Team prepares for Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers at FedExField this Sunday at 1 p.m. [Hogs Haven]
- The new-look Wizards roster should help Bradley Beal, writes NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes. [NBC Sports Washington]
By Kelyn Soong (tips? email@example.com)