by Max Walker, Fall Advocacy Intern, MANNA
The Mount Pleasant neighborhood, situated in Northwest DC, has been my home for over 21 years. Throughout my time living here, I’ve seen many people come and go. My neighbors have changed countless times, and so too has the scenery.
In 2006, I was a 5th grade student doing a class project on my neighborhood. I was tasked with describing what my neighborhood was like, as well as talking to my neighbors about how they’ve seen or felt the neighborhood change since they’ve lived there. The first person I talked to was Mr. Eddie. Mr. Eddie, one of my favorite neighbors growing up, was an elderly black man who used to sit out on his porch every day. His response to my question was “I’m scared”. He told me that with the rapidly changing neighborhood, he was afraid that he would no longer be able to afford to live in the place he’d called home for the past 30 years. Two years later, Mr. Eddie moved out of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest DC.
Also in 2006, The Washington Post published an article titled “Un-pleasant Gentrification”. This article revolved around the ongoing battle between Mount Pleasant’s new residents, and long-time local business owners. Minority storeowners feared being bought out by developers, and restaurant-owners feared that the changing community would lead to lack of business.
Alberto Ferrufino, the owner of Don Juan’s, a popular restaurant in Mount Pleasant, agreed with the neighborhood alliance to make some aesthetic changes to his restaurant in order to cater to newer clientele. He banned live music, and even re-painted the outside from blue and red to a dull gray. Although voluntary agreements, Mr. Ferrufino said that he feared that the neighborhood would want him out should he not agree.
Other minority community members spoke out as well, voicing their concern over their changing neighborhood. In Mount Pleasant, a place that at the time was predominately Hispanic, the Hispanic community seemed to be on the sidelines in issues over their own neighborhood. Arturo Griffiths, a community activist and Panamanian immigrant who had lived in Mount Pleasant for over 40 years, had this to say: “We built this community in many ways. We are the flavor of this community, and now we are getting kicked out.”
Mount Pleasant was once a cultural hub. The streets were lined with Central American restaurants, bodegas, and family-owned shops and eateries. But over the past ten years, things have been changing.
In an article published by the American Observer in 2016, the authors shine light on just how much the Mount Pleasant neighborhood has changed over the years:
“According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the zip code encompassing Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, 20010, is among those across the country that have seen the highest increase in white residents over the last decade, jumping by 24.7 percent.”
Immigrants that were once from El Salvador have turned into immigrants from the Midwestern United States. Families have become younger, whiter, and more affluent. Condos have replaced homeless shelters. Chain coffee shops and restaurants have replaced locally owned businesses.
It is hard to combat gentrification and displacement, but a few of the District’s community leaders got together at the end of the summer to talk about how they would tackle gentrification. An article by Greater Greater Washington brilliantly summed up the panel discussion hosted by the Washington Post and these community leaders.
The conversation boiled down to the government’s role in creating, and combating, the displacement of long-time community residents. The main point was that “better public policy can shape the outcomes of economic gentrification.” The article also highlighted several ways in which the government can have an impact on gentrification:
“Communities are marginalized when they are displaced from their homes, so if housing could be more affordable, the level of displacement would decrease.”
“In an attempt to level the playing field, government needs to be held accountable for ensuring that all residents can afford to live in D.C., while balancing the power of developers and special interest groups.”
As so many people are forced to leave the neighborhood they’ve called home for many years, it is ultimately up to the government to combat the displacement of these people.
At the beginning of the summer, I took a walk around my neighborhood and remembered the conversation I had with Mr. Eddie. To this day, his fears are still relevant. I’ve seen many people just like him succumb to the changing neighborhood and rising rent. I thought about how the people living around me are starting to look less and less familiar. I thought about how confused the neighborhood made me feel. I thought about how my “home” was starting to not feel like home anymore. I thought about how long my family has before they too have to pack up and leave.
This fall, I will be holding these personal experiences close as I explore how organizing and policy, both current and new, can help maintain or recreate some socio-economic diversity in my neighborhood and others.