Mayor Muriel Bowser has been accused of fueling gentrification in D.C., though much of the groundwork for the change in the city happened before she took office.
A new study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition finds that D.C. ranked 13th on the list of "most intensely gentrified" cities across the country from 2013 to 2017, trailing behind San Francisco, Denver, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, and other cities.
The new ranking represents a drop from the first-place billing D.C. received in last year's study, which looked at the years 2000 to 2012. But the report cautions that D.C.'s drop in the rankings shouldn't offer much of a feeling of victory over trends of development displacement in the city. "Gentrification continued there, but it surged elsewhere," says the report of D.C.
As it did last year, the NCRC reports looked at 9,743 neighborhoods (determined by Census tracts) nationwide that were "eligible to gentrify," defined as being places in the lower 40th percentile of income and property values. Of those, 954 actually did, showing increases in income, property values and levels of college attainment.
Of D.C.'s 1,346 total neighborhoods, 86 were eligible for gentrification and 14 actually gentrified — a rate of 16.8%. That's a significant decline from where D.C. was between 2000 and 2012, when 41% of the neighborhoods that were eligible actually ended up gentrifying. For 2013 to 2017, list-leader San Francisco was at 31.3%, New York City stood at 19.3% and places like Chicago and Philadelphia fell below the 10% mark.
"Washington, D.C., still has a high intensity of gentrification ... though the pace of gentrification seems to have slackened," says the report.
According to a map created by NCRC of the neighborhoods it analyzed in D.C., the areas that gentrified from 2013 to 2017 include Columbia Heights, Petworth, NoMa, the eastern and northern edges of Capitol Hill, Navy Yard, Anacostia, and Marshall Heights.
D.C.'s period of gentrification tracks closely with when the city emerged from its financial crisis of the late 1990s, and when new leaders, starting with Mayor Anthony Williams, sought to rebuild the tax base by attracting 100,000 new residents over the course of a decade. While there were 572,000 residents in 2000, by 2010 there were more than 600,000, and as of last year the population climbed dramatically to more than 700,000. (The rate of population growth has been on the decline since 2015, though.)
At the same time, incomes have increased, and the percentage of African American residents have decreased from 60% in 2000 to 47% percent less than 20 years later.
But all that growth — and the demographic changes — have prompted conflicts over the city's character, highlighted by an incident in April of last year when a Metro PCS store in Shaw was briefly forced to turn off the go-go music it had long played outside because of apparent complaints from residents of a nearby condo building. That same month, students at Howard University complained that white residents of the surrounding neighborhood were walking their dogs on The Yard, a space students and alumni of the historically Black college say is sacred to them.
The growth has also spurred debates over whether the breakneck speed of development is pushing low-income residents out (which many progressive and community-based groups argue is the case) or is actually helping keep rents and home prices from rising even faster. A study published earlier this year by the Office of D.C.'s Chief Financial Officer found that had all the development not occurred between 2000 and 2018, rents would have been 5.84% higher than they actually were.
Mayor Muriel Bowser herself has become a flashpoint in the fight over gentrification and displacement. While her administration has invested more than $100 million a year to build affordable housing, critics say that housing hasn't actually been for the lowest-income residents. Additionally, D.C. has not yet invested significant funds to repair the city's aging stock of public housing. (There are stalled plans to replace some of it with mixed-income developments.) Bowser has also pledged to build 36,000 more housing units by 2025, with at least one-third of it to be affordable.
The new NCRC report also looked at the impact of Opportunity Zones, the areas cities and states could designate under the 2017 Republican tax overhaul that offers tax breaks for developers who build there. Overall, the group says that "neighborhoods designated as OZs were indeed the places in the most dire need of investment" but that there was also "a close association between neighborhoods that gentrified and where OZs were located." A 2019 WAMU/DCist report found that some of D.C.'s Opportunity Zones were in areas where development was already happening, including a stretch of Rhode Island Avenue NE close to a Metro station, the Walter Reed campus, and Buzzard Point.