LincolnWestmorelandfromweb

Shaw residents recently saw the groundbreaking for a new eight-story building on Seventh Street Northwest touted as a continued foray into affordable housing development in the region.  To be saddled by the existing 108-unit, 10-story building, affectionately known by residents as the Tower, the new structure follows design plans already in visible from the historic O Street Market to Florida Avenue.

Built in the shadows of the Shaw Metro station, the new building is to be named for the Rev. Channing Phillips, the first African-American placed in nomination for the presidency of the United States by a major political party.  Phillips served seven years as the pastor of Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ in the District and as president of the Housing Development Corporation, a government-backed housing venture in the nation’s capital.

As part of the development plan, funding for the project includes a combination of tax-exempt bonds, 4 percent Low-Income Housing Tax Credit equity, owner equity, and District of Columbia grants and subsidized loans.  In return, developers will provide $2 million in upgrades to common areas and residential units of the existing building, and use of a portion of the existing property to construct the new 8-story, 56-unit building.

For residents of Shaw, who have watched a middle and working-class neighborhood teem with new development that out-priced and displaced many of their neighbors, the promises of HUD have essentially dismissed them at a most critical point.

Tiffany McNeil is among the thousands of Shaw residents whose tenancies have been compromised by crumbling buildings full of lead paint, asbestos, and other hazardous materials commonly used in the 1970s when most were constructed.  McNeil, points out that despite being an exemplary tenant of Lincoln-Westmorland Apartments for 30 years, she has gone from paying $160 out of pocket for subsidized housing, to nearly $1,900 for the same unit.  If HUD is still subsidizing the unit, exactly how much are developers milking the city for through housing assistance?

“I applaud the renovations and understand that gentrification is not a bad word. My concern is that I have a barely livable space that has become astronomically expensive overnight,” McNeil said, while providing the AFRO a tour of her unit.  “There is chipped lead paint, there are holes where rodents are burrowing through, and a response from management that steel wool will have to do.  I cannot celebrate my new White neighbor next door moving into a completely refurbished unit that has been cleaned of hazardous materials and secured against rodents, while my son and I suffer.”

McNeil’s sentiments were shared by other angry residents who expressed feelings of abandonment and neglect at the hands of the city and the developers they had allowed to interlope.

“We are being made to feel like we don’t fit into the landscape of a modern, progressive space when the reality is that we didn’t tear down these structures; they were allowed to decay by those managing them,” said Michael Taylor.  “When I read in a newspaper that Castro is being quoted as saying ‘If they can’t afford to stay, they need access to vouchers so they can find suitable living spaces elsewhere,’ he and the city have already sold us out.”

Taylor said that while good business means maximizing on opportunities to get in cheap and sell high, the human toll of stereotyping neighborhoods and the people in them has kept new, mostly White people coming into this neighborhood as developers, managers, and neighbors from viewing the Black people as anything but impoverished, ignorant parasites.

“We have playgrounds and schools that have been torn down and replaced with dog parks, even though no pets are allowed on the property; and a mayor who believes she is creating a pathway to the middle class, by letting developers charge residents $5,000 a month for two-bedroom apartments,” Taylor said. “So a Black man’s name is placed on the side of a building; as soon as all of the Blacks are out of the way, it will be renamed like NoMa.”

The building is available to households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income and plans completion in 2016.