Gentrification, Schools and Affordable Housing: What Does the Community Think?

by Shilpi Paul

Big Bear Cafe

“What gentrification often comes down to is that people don’t know that they weren’t supposed to sell their homes,” declared Milan Griffin, one of the panelists at a discussion on Thursday night at Jackie Lee’s Uptown Lounge, a bar in Brightwood.

The discussion, dubbed “The Rent is Too Damn High! Gentrification’s Impact on Affordable Housing and Quality Schools,” was part of a series organized by the Humanities Council of DC in an effort to create real conversations about the impact that gentrification can have on a community. Griffin, the Director of HomeFree-USA, an organization that teaches working class families how to build wealth and increase their self-sufficiency, was joined by civil rights attorney Allison Brown and Empower DC’s Daniel del Pielago.

“We can’t blame the gentrifier,” explained Griffin, a native Washingtonian who nonetheless considers herself a gentrifier in her new neighborhood. She encouraged the group instead to think about how to educate the community about financial health.

Not blaming the gentrifier was a theme that emerged several times, though Griffin warned that new residents who move into neighborhoods but don’t meet their neighbors and “say hi” may be outcasting themselves from the community. An Eckington resident (and native Washingtonian) talked about the Bloomingdale-Eckington divide. “Eckington is full of long-time residents, while Bloomingdale is the new Soho,” she said. New Bloomingdale residents pay a premium to move in and then demand certain things immediately, like a safe neighborhood, ample retail and good schools. Eckington residents, she felt, also wanted those things, and should not blame the new residents for making them happen.

Charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately run — were also a big topic of discussion. “It’s a tale of two cities in DC: the rise of the charter, and the decline of local schools,” said Del Piegalo. “The city has not done any planning to determine how the two systems can coexist.”

Del Pielago mourned the loss of resources funneling into neighborhood schools with the rise of charter schools. “We’re seeing the loss of the local school as the community gathering place,” said Del Pielago, a concern that was echoed by the panelists. Griffin wondered if the city was simply frustrated by their inability to fix the education system, and was eager to “outsource” the problem to charters.

Charter schools are also lottery based, and the panelists cautioned against the loss of “by-right” schools that a child is entitled to attend by virtue of their residence.

Audience members with children spoke up; one Ward 5 resident who wasn’t yet comfortable sending his daughter to a local school asked what he could do. The panelists encouraged parents in that situation to send their child to whatever school is best for the family, but to continue working to make the local schools better (much like Evelyn Boyd Simmons, the mom we wrote about recently who, though she is the Vice President of the Garrison Elementary PTA, sends her kids to Oyster-Adams Bilingual).

Ultimately, Griffin and other panelists felt that the rising tide of DC was a good thing. “When I was in fifth grade, my teacher did not even show up,” said Griffin. “The current school system is better than it’s ever been. I’m just very concerned that those who have lived here for generations will not take advantage of the improvements.”

The next discussion in the series is this coming Thursday, the 27th, at Tabaq Bistro on U Street. Entitled “Is it Renaissance or Gentrification? Examining the role of Public Policy and Economic Development,” panelists will include former Mayor Anthony Williams and Washington Post reporter Jonathan O’Connell.

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/gentrification_schools_and_affordable_housing_what_does_the_community_think/6059

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