By Coy McKinney of SW DC Action
For too long our elected officials and policymakers have led us down a path we had no intention of going down. Residents overwhelmingly expressed their desires in the 2015 Southwest Neighborhood Plan, stating that we wanted our community to be “an exemplary model of equity and inclusion.” Yet in 2020, it has become clear that decision makers and policymakers were not all that serious about fulfilling these dreams.
Over the last 20 years, the median income in the neighborhood has increased 117%, with the White population more than doubling while the Black population has dropped by 37%. The median rent has surged to over $2,000/month, requiring a salary of over $70,000 to not be considered housing-cost burdened, an amount that is nearly double the median Black household income. This is not the present we wished for in the past. If we are serious about being a model for equity and inclusion, we must adjust our trajectory, and root ourselves and policies in antiracism, and be bold in our actions.
The current moment provides us a unique window to act. The legacy of centuries of racism, explicit and implicit, are now receiving worldwide examination, and this examination is revealing what some have known all along, that racism impacts every facet of society. To rid ourselves of its destructive legacy, deep structural and personal changes are necessary. Those seeking a path to antiracism should start by heeding the words of antiracist scholars, like Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How To Be An Antiracist. Dr. Kendi says, “in order to be truly antiracist, you have to be truly anti capitalist.” Essentially, we must put people and the environment over profit, focus on repairing past harms and injustices, and let antiracism be our guide.
To the uninitiated, this may seem a daunting task, but inaction is what got us here. Courage and a refusal to allow injustice sneak by will facilitate our transcendence from our past.
The resident group, SW Action (bit.ly/swdcaction), which is committed to antiracism, justice, and sustainability, has produced a document outlining visions and policies that can guide our pursuit towards collective liberation. The document is entitled, Promoting Social and Economic Equity in the Southwest Waterfront Community (bit.ly/signswaction), and covers housing, community development, history and culture, and sustainability and climate resiliency.
The housing section proposes policies that will create permanently affordable housing and socioeconomic diversity. Rather than selling public land for $1 and only getting luxury apartments, condos, restaurants (not to mention the displacement of Jenny’s, a 42-year institution) like the city did with the Wharf, the city should hold on to public land and use it to establish a community land trust (CLT). With a CLT model, the land comes under the stewardship of a non-profit that is composed of one-third, members of the community, one-third residents, and one-third industry professionals. Because the group owns the deed to the land, it can lease access to occupants at affordable rates. The CLT could be used for social housing, Housing First models, and retail and workspace for local worker cooperatives. SW Action has already created a spreadsheet of all vacant and public land in Ward 6 and has joined the Douglass Community Land Trust to get the process started.
The community development section focuses on ways to create an equitable, vibrant, diverse, economically healthy community with services that meet the needs of the people who live here. To be an equitable community, there must be employment opportunities and training for SW youth, particularly those living in public housing. SW Action pushes for the creation of worker-owned cooperatives, which are democratically operated and prevent the vast discrepancies in pay among workers. We call on the Southwest Business Improvement District to do more in helping these projects get off the ground. The ideas in this section are rooted in the belief that all residents of SW should have a voice in how SW moves forward.
SW has a rich history of being socioeconomically diverse, and the history and culture sections enshrine that into the neighborhood’s culture and streetscape. Among other visions, SW Action calls for public art murals of historical figures important to SW, as well as walking tours of the entire neighborhood to ensure people know the intricacies and history of their community.
As SW moves into the future, sustainability needs to be at the foundation of what happens. Without a healthy environment to live in, none of the other initiatives matter. The sustainability and climate resiliency section seeks to expand access to open and green spaces, while also ensuring the neighborhood meets Vision Zero goals, improves access to fresh and healthy produce, and that future developments undergo mandatory traffic and environmental impact studies.
Together, the group believes this document can help move our neighborhood towards justice, equality, and ultimately, liberation. We are encouraging all SW residents to read it, and if they agree, sign on in support.