Thu. Oct 22nd, 2020

The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Gentrification: housing costs rise, so does homelessness

4 min read
A group of homeless people on a sidewalk,.

Homeless people flock to the streets as housing costs rise. (gawnesco | flickr.com)

By TAMARA OMER

Staff Writer

Gentrification is a systemic and elitist disease that continues to spread without a cure. The need to appeal to the higher and middle class population while disregarding the natives and locals who have been living in their cities for generations is unjust. There needs to be more demand for regulation on tenants and property-owners raising rent prices.

Gentrification causing costly rent prices nationwide is a huge issue. Just north of UMW’s campus, Washington D.C. is said to have the highest intensity of gentrification nationwide according to the National Reinvestment Community. Causes of gentrification include investors going into neighborhoods, buying low-priced property and doubling its price; causing a shift in value for rental rates in neighborhoods and communities. Rent control is not as tight as it should be in Washington D.C. The Washington Post reported that a group of activists said tenants were experiencing up to a 30 percent rent increase due to building renovations costs. One hundred and twenty-eight tenants in D.C were set to be evicted just last week according to the data record charts of the Office of the Tenant Advocate.

In addition to looking at the soaring rates of which rent is increasing; the cost of rent is unaligned to the average wage pay in Washington D.C. The minimum wage pays just increased last July from $13.25 to $14.50. The average rent cost in D.C is $2,235/mo according to rentcafe.com’s data. If a resident worked one minimum wage paid job, they would have to work at least sixteen hours for seven days a week to make nearly seven thousand dollars a month before tax cuts. The rent cost requires residents to work more than one job, or have more than one person providing rent, in order to live in D.C. and still pay for other basic needs like food and transportation.  

Even away from D.C., take any direction a few miles away to any area of Northern Virginia. Those areas are being infested by the consequences of rent rates rising. The Washington Post reported that studies done by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVRA) and George Mason’s University Center for Regional Analysis (CRA) predicted that average home prices in Arlington County would have reached an increase of 17.2 percent by the end of last year. The average rent cost in Arlington is $2,252/mo and 53 percent of the household population in Arlington are renting their houses according to rentcafe. The average pay in Northern Virginia is currently at $7.12; less than half the minimum wage in D.C. The difference in wages compared to the cost of living is even harsher than the differences in Washington D.C.

Although eviction filing rates have decreased, as reported by greaterdc.urban.org in 2018, this does not mean living in D.C. has become more affordable. In fact, Beth Harrison, a member of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, said that the eviction rates might have gone down due to the risk of eviction rate decreasing. This could point to the idea of the city becoming so expensive that low-income tenants can’t even afford to claim housing; becoming displaced and needing to find elsewhere to live. The population living in D.C. would increasingly consist of those with higher-income jobs reducing the risk of them receiving eviction for unpaid rent.

Displacement has become an increasingly concerning issue–especially towards minorities and historically black low-income communities. Among the 128 tenants that have received eviction notices last week, 66 were located on the southeast quadrant. According to the Washington Post, the Princeton analysis found that evictions were mostly occurring in the southeast area of D.C. It also found that an apartment list survey consisting of 41,000 participants, which was recorded in 2017, showed that black households were twice as likely to face evictions as white households.

The issue of gentrification goes past just displacing black communities and having decreased amounts of low-income class populated in cities. There is also a rise of anti-homelessness architecture that targets those who do not have a secure place to stay.  Anti-homeless architecture is a type of design done by city planners or developers to deter the homeless population from comfortable sleeping or sheltering in public spaces. It is usually defended as an action to maintain order and prevention of criminal activity; however, it is elitist and causes a greater class divide among the higher and lower-income populations. The most prevalent type of anti-homeless architecture, according to Hidden Hostility D.C., is benches with built-in armrests– their purpose and function to keep homeless people from sleeping on them.

Housing act reforms need to be taken to action this year. As taxpayers and citizens, we must hold our policy makers and representatives–local, regional and national, to utilize their political power and make this a part of their platform.  If there are no significant changes in policy, soon the population of locals who have been residing in these cities for generations will be wiped out. Not only will this affect the lives of many, but create an erasure to historical and cultural aspects of the city that carry weight to its identity and nature.

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