Black-on-Black Fear, Part 2 (Homebuying Series Part 3)
Updated: Nov 17, 2019
This is part three of my series on (hopefully) becoming a homeowner in Washington, D.C.
Anyone who has been keeping up with my blog and podcast may have heard me go the all the way off on a few girls who were talking on a podcast I happened to listen to at the end of last year. These women had the nerve to say that 125th and Lenox in Harlem (an area I lived near for almost four years) is dangerous and they were afraid to travel near there. That truth is, that area is perfectly fine, and probably safer than some predominately white areas in other parts of New York. It upset me to think about black people fearing black neighborhoods and buying into the propaganda that predominantly black areas are to be avoided.
Before I connect to why this matters for my home search, a little bit of background. Ten years ago, when I came to DC for the first time, I learned about a neighborhood called Anacostia. Well, I didn’t really learn about it per se—I had never seen it, I didn’t know what was over there, I didn’t even know how to get there on the train. I knew just one thing: never go. Ever. Avoid Anacostia at all costs. Matter fact, avoid the whole entire Southeastern region of DC. As I’ve said before, DC is divided into 4 quadrants. Southeast is the one that contains Anacostia, Congress Heights, Washington Highlands, and bunch of other neighborhoods that have typically been the ones known for crime and poverty. These neighborhoods in particular are east of the Anacostia River. “East of the river” has been treated like a District throwaway. It only has 3 “full service” grocery stories. There are no hotels. There are only two metro stations (compared to an area like the part of Northwest my job is in—I can easily walk to 5 stations from my office). About 30% of residents live below the poverty line. It’s always been known as a rough area, but just like any city that is going through gentrification, eventually the hipster whites find their way to the areas that have previously been seen as off limits.
Rents have slowly begun to creep up east of the river, and along with them, there has been more development. The Wizards and the Mystics have a brand new million-dollar practice facility, and millions is being poured into develop two major mixed used projects (think Atlantic Station in Atlanta) that will feature the first ever hotel east of the river, a new grocery store, lots of apartments, some office buildings and maybe a hospital.
When I started my tour of Southeast with my agent Kyle (@_kylesterling on IG), I found myself feeling a little hesitant. I’m down for an underdeveloped area—that’s basically where I live now. It’s not the hood, it just hasn’t gentrified yet. It’s basically the middle of nowhere. But Southeast isn’t just empty, it’s known for crime and my only memory of it was what people told me (basically, never go). Even though it was ten years ago when I heard that, I wasn’t sure much had changed.
But as we did our drive, I saw all the development, the people jogging and walking dogs, the newest grocery store and the surrounding shops, the delis and cafes. I wondered why people had talked so much shit about the place. It didn’t give me a bad feeling or make me feel unsafe, I thought it was just a place that needed a little love. That cute little grey house I talked about in my last post was surrounded by newly built townhomes, a school, and a park. The lawns were manicured, the cars parked on the street were luxury. That’s not how the entire neighborhood looked but there was enough good stuff for me to wonder what all the fuss what about. Has Southeast turned the corner? Why are people still talking about it like it’s in the depths of hell?
I started to think about how awesome it would be if I could buy there. Me, a black person who’s been blessed to be able to buy a home in the District, investing in a black neighborhood and helping to revitalize it without negatively changing the culture or making the place inhospitable for current residents. I felt really good, like I was putting my money where my mouth is, making a huge life decision that’s exactly in line with the stuff I rant about all the time.
Then Memorial Day weekend happened.
The local news cycle was completely overtaken by the outbreak of crime that happened over the weekend. Twenty shootings from Friday to Monday, in addition to some stabbings. The vast majority of which happened in Southeast. And I’m not talking about rival gangs encroaching on territory or something; these shootings seemed random and indiscriminate. Everybody from children to old men were injured or killed, including a student at a school located at an intersection literally 60 seconds away from the house I made the offer on.
When I tell you I was SHOOKETH.
I literally called my agent freaking out wondering if we need to start from scratch and reconsider the suburbs (he’s from the south side of Chicago where I guess this isn’t so rare so his counsel to me was to get over it 😩) But I really lost sleep over it. I was praying, asking God if I need to rethink my decision. I was on DC.gov looking up crime statistics (yes, I really was). What I saw on their map was that the crime in Southeast isn’t any higher than anywhere else. In fact, the most crime ridden part of DC according to that map is in Columbia Heights, a neighborhood in Northwest where I go several times a week.
After I calmed down, I wondered, was I being those girls from the podcast I crucified? In any major city, crime is going to happen, and we know it always goes up over the summer when, unfortunately, people have more free time and more occasion to be hanging out aimlessly outdoors. Local media is always going to focus on crime because “when it bleeds it leads” is a real thing. And my agent reminded me of some high-profile shootings and other crimes that got a lot of media coverage that were in some of the nicest neighborhoods.
At the end of the day, I think the situation helped me come down from cloud nine, fantasizing about this perfect life I was going to have as a new homeowner. It reminded me that, despite the development, I’m still looking at moving to an area that definitely has a long way to go. And it also re-grounded me in the fact that moving into the not-there-yet neighborhood was the whole point.
Sadly, the rate of gentrification is DC. is literally the fastest in the nation. According to a study just done by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity:
Thirty-five percent of the city’s low-income residents live in an area that’s growing economically, and in these growing areas, displacement is rampant. The low-income population living in District neighborhoods that are experiencing economic expansion fell by 28 percent during the study period, according to the data. The black population in these areas fell by 23 percent, while the white population grew by 202 percent.
I think a lot of that happens because outsiders come into a neighborhood and disregard the culture (see: #DontMuteDC and the Howard dog fiasco). It’s going to continue now that people are finally seeing what’s great about Southeast—it is literally 15 minutes away from everywhere—including the upcoming Amazon HQ. And it’s super close to the water. The Southwest waterfront has transformed from nothingness to a thriving destination damn near overnight; there’s no question the same will happen on the Southeast waterfront eventually.
At least if I move into an area east of the river, I can help maintain the blackness that makes the area uniquely DC, while investing into the neighborhood to help make it better. Even though things like what happened over Memorial Day weekend can be scary, I never want to be like those podcast girls. I never want to look down on a neighborhood in transition. So, I’m moving forward with my Southeast search!