Category Archives: In Their Own Words…

“In their own words…” editorial columns about corporate development written by the people.

MLK on War and Poverty

Disperse Poverty! Concentrate Wealth!

DE-CONCENTRATE POVERTY MEANS GETTING RID OF POOR PEOPLE WHILE THEY CONCENTRATE WEALTH IN NEW LUXURY HIGH-RISES

We must de-concentrate poverty.  It’s a refrain we are hearing alot from city officials lately, especially now as East of the River communities are facing the first big swells of the massive gentrification wave heading that way from the westside.

Those screaming for the dispersal of poor communities have usually been the developers, more recently the “smart” growthers, and now City officials are parroting it up on their John A. Wilson dais.

“The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty” — Dr. King, “Where do we go from Here: Chaos or Community”, 1967.

But, instead of seeking tools and policies like a guaranteed basic income, or robust job training programs, feeding programs, good quality schooling, and social uplift, the de-concentration of poverty advocated for by the DC’s developer-class and the City Council and Mayor is that of dispersal, i.e. getting rid of the poor by way of streetcar, condos, hotels, stadiums.

The New Communities program, following on from the Hope VI programs, in turn from Urban Renewal is referenced across many Housing and Urban Development documents as “dispersal projects” no matter what new euphemism they want to call them.

Due to the self-selection inherent in voluntary dispersal programs, and to the screening that these programs apply to applicants, participants are likely to be more motivated and possess more human capital than the families that do not participate. Program operatives choose the families they think will succeed, based on these families’ being organized enough to pass home inspections and other steps in the application process. Still, mobility programs typically have a low success rate, because fewer than half the applicants who are accepted are able to lease an apartment. The Reality of Deconcentration, By Edward G. Goetz

Simultaneously, while the city disperses the poor to heed the call to de-concentrate poverty, the DC Zoning Commission, Office of Planning, Deputy Mayor’s Office for Planning and Economic Development, alongside Ward level Councilmembers push hard for new projects that have only 8% to 15% “affordable” units in them, and those are usually for singles, not families.

That is, city planners and officials are encouraging, even touting projects that concentrate wealth with 85% of the housing units being built for wealthy single new DC residents.

So, the developer-class wins again with each call from advocate-community and pronouncement by city officials saying we must de-concentrate poverty and rip up generational familial networks with innate powerful neighborhood connections that have grown in some ways to supersede abject poverty through mutual aid and reliance & trust.

The reality is, the development underway in the District is dispersing and displacing poor DC families (the census numbers don’t lie), but consistently concentrating wealthy singles and somehow that is considered good planning in DC.

It’s not, it’s unreasonable and unacceptable.  This purposely poor planning has resulted in DC’s #unRealEstateMarket


Deconcentrating poverty is a smokescreen. It camouflages forced relocation of low-income house-holds. What do we mean when we talk about  deconcentrating poverty? As it has been implemented to date, deconcentration has meant manipulating the spatial arrangement of federally subsidized low-income families to either disperse or dilute poverty. — The Smokescreen of Poverty Deconcentration, by Edward Goetz


 

In their own words . . . opinion by Chris Otten, co-facilitator, DC4RD

 

 

 

 

ITOW: McMillan Competition

“In their own words…”

Guest columnist: Andrea Rosen

Topic: McMillan Park & the lack of competitive bidding (sole sourcing the disposition and privatization of McMillan Park to Vision McMillan Partners)

In early July 2015, D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson sent an inquiry to DMPED’s Brian Kenner asking for information about how Vision McMillan Partners came to be the exclusive recipient of development and property rights at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and Park, and how the D.C. government came to be VMP’s banker.

Mr. Kenner responded early this month with a chronological narrative and 300 pages of documents.

Yesterday, Ms. Patterson wrote Council Chair Phil Mendelson (with cc’s to Inspector General Daniel Lucas and AG Karl Racine) expressing concern about the noncompetitive process Mr. Kenner outlined, particularly in light of the upcoming Council vote on the Mayor’s resolution (PR 21-307) to extend the city’s agreements with VMP, due to expire in December 2016, to 2021.  See the Auditor’s October 2015 letter here.

The text of PR 21-307 is at http://lims.dccouncil.us/Download/34431/PR21-0307-Introduction.pdf

Competition isn’t just an ideal.  The D.C. Code, Title 10, Chapter 8 – Sale of Public Lands, requires that “A proposed resolution to provide for the disposition of real property transmitted to the Council . . . shall be accompanied by (1) An analysis prepared by the Mayor of the economic factors that were considered in proposing the disposition of the real property, including:  (a) The chosen method of disposition, and how competition was maximized” [boldface added to §10-801(b-1)(1)(A)]  http://dccode.org/simple/sections/10-801.html#stq=&stp=0

Those who pay attention to public land disposition in the District know that McMillan is emblematic of our elected and appointed officials’ compulsion to satisfy developers by undervaluing, subsidizing, and divesting assets to them, and to convert land into tax revenue.

Longtime residents and businesses are displaced and dispersed from inexpensive housing and commercial spaces, and newly built structures that are mostly too expensive for those residents and businesses to return to are constructed for the benefit of the supposed endless stream of newcomers.

What is rather unique about McMillan as just another piece of property to churn is its landmark status, recognized by its inclusion on the National Register (as well as the DC Inventory of Historic Sites); its transmission to the D.C. government under a preservation covenant from the Federal government; its renown as a compelling, even beloved place; and its potential for electrifying adaptive reuses instead of banal suburban-inspired speculative development planned for it, which frankly could be built anywhere if the city exploited another of its holdings or its power of eminent domain over a parking lot.  What ought to make every resident who cares about this city take notice is our government’s lack of respect for any constraints or considerations — social justice, policy, legal, cultural, historical, community, civic, democratic — other than monetary.  As far as the endless stream of condo-buyers:  Bad government eventually drives residents, new and old, who can afford to choose, out of the city.  And so the endless cycle repeats.

The hearing on PR 21-307 will be held next Monday, October 26, at 9:30 in room 120 of the Wilson Building. Those who wish to testify are asked to telephone the Committee of the Whole at (202) 724-8196, or email Cynthia LeFevre, Legislative Counsel, at clefevre@dccouncil.us, and to provide your name, address, telephone number, organizational affiliation and title (if any) by COB Thursday, October 22. If submitted electronically by COB on October 22, the testimony will be distributed to Councilmembers before the hearing.

Witnesses should limit their testimony to 4 minutes; less time will be allowed if there are many witnesses.  For those unable to testify at the hearing, written statements are encouraged and will be made a part of the official record.  Written statements after the hearing should be submitted to the Committee of the Whole, Council of the District of Columbia, Suite 410 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20004.  The record for PR 21-307 will close at 5:00 p.m. on November 2, 2015.  (http://www.dcregs.dc.gov/Gateway/NoticeHome.aspx?noticeid=5675196)

~ Andrea Rosen

ITOW: McMillan Park & the Historic Preservation Review Board

“In their own words…”

Guest columnist: Andrea Rosen

Topic: McMillan Park & the Historic Preservation Review Board

On January 29, the Historic Preservation Review Board held hearings on two matters concerning historic landmark McMillan Park: one, regarding its subdivision (HPA 15-133); and the other pertaining to a new, larger design for a residential mixed-use building (HPA 15-090).

I submitted testimony regarding the subdivision, which I am posting here in revision.

As someone untrained in law and the doublespeak that is part and parcel of that profession, I continue to believe that the proposals put forth by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and Vision McMillan Partners for the McMillan Park Reservoir historic district are illegal. It boggles the mind that HPRB continues to consider and rule on the intensive redevelopment of McMillan Park, given its own finding in 2013 that the proposed demolition required by the redevelopment master plan is “inconsistent with the purposes of the Preservation Act, as it will result in the demolition of important character-defining features of the McMillan Park Reservoir landmark.” To build a case that the demolition and development should go forward on the shifting sand of such a finding inexorably brings to mind the phrase “house of cards.”

Historic Preservation Office staffer Steve Callcott at least partially recognizes this inherent contradiction in his report on DMPED and VMP’s application to subdivide the McMillan Sand Filtration Site, which he describes as

“a single unified site that still maintains its original boundaries and site organization.” Like the proposed demolition of the underground cells, the subdivision of Lot 801 “into multiple parcels for the purpose of redevelopment is not . . . compatible with the goal of retaining and enhancing the landmark.”

Looking for precedents in rulings by the Mayor’s Agent on subdividing historic sites that were “single unified site[s] that still maintain [their] original boundaries and site organization,” Mr. Callcott comes up with only one, Tregaron, the 20-acre early 20th-century estate in Cleveland Park that, like McMillan, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But there any similarity between plans for the two properties ends.

The Mayor’s Agent approved the development of Tregaron, according to Mr. Callcott, because “the conceptual proposal was exemplary in terms of its architecture and land use planning.”

At Tregaron, the 20-acre landmark was divided into two large lots: One lot, of six acres, is home to the several buildings of the Washington International School. On the remaining 14 acres are three single-family residences built on established streets (two on Macomb Street; one on Klingle Road), clustered on a single acre hugging the property’s edge; and 13 acres never to be developed, where the historic parkland is being restored.

Thus 65 percent of the original 20 acres is preserved as contiguous green space; the remainder is subject to low-density development. Now that’s a project of special merit consistent with the Preservation Act and the Comprehensive Plan!

At McMillan, about 6 contiguous acres out of 25 acres of open space (less than 24 percent) are retained, at the southern end of the site. One does not need training in historic preservation or architecture to see at a glance by comparing VMP’s renderings with photographs of McMillan as it stands, largely unchanged except for the absence of trees (shorn by our city government), that the intensive development of the remainder of the McMillan Sand Filtration site obliterates the site’s defining characteristics above ground, and—as has already been established–below ground.

“[T]he subdivision of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site is incompatible with the character of the landmark ,” to again quote Mr. Callcott’s report, and furthermore, it is inconsistent with the purposes of the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act, which are “to retain and enhance historic landmarks in the District of Columbia.” To first demolish more than 80 percent of the subterranean structures that won the protections of the Preservation Act, and then to build on almost 80 percent of the open space that is a defining characteristic of the 25-acre greensward, cannot be “consistent”—or in Zoning Commission-ese, cannot be “not inconsistent”–with the Preservation Act. To describe it as such would be Orwellian. The Board should take a field trip to McMillan and kick a ball across an acre or so. The great open spaces are pure exhilaration, and not to be replicated or even sensed at VMP’s 1960s-era planned community.

So I must take issue with Mr. Callcott’s recommendation that despite the incompatibility with its character of subdividing the landmark, the HPRB ought to reconfirm to the Mayor’s Agent that design choices mitigate this incompatibility.

Such a position strikes me as akin to admiring the clothes of the naked emperor. It seems that only in the tripartite division of the site, consisting of, from south to north: (1) lawn; (2) low-, medium-, and now, high-rise buildings; and (3) high-rise “medical” office buildings, can real-estate development boosters use jargon to paper over the fact that nothing will be left of the historic McMillan site. (As someone trained in Art History, I know how verbiage can be convincing even when it’s empty.) Our HPRB apparently considers the continued use of such terminology a real triumph in historic preservation. But those who know the iconic place now will not recognize it after VMP is done with it. People who have not had a chance to visit will have no clue what preceded VMP’s suburban outcropping.

The HPRB should not act as an arm of DMPED, despite its misbegotten position in the hierarchy of that office. I urge the Historic Preservation Review Board to remember its regulatory function as steward of the District of Columbia’s tangible history and to deny the subdivision of McMillan Sand Filtration Site.

“In their own words…”

Guest columnist: Andrea Rosen