Testimony of Justice First
Regarding the Crummell School
July 11, 2018
The Council of the District of Columbia must oppose the surplus and disposition of the historic Crummell School on July 11, 2018. The proposed plan emanating from the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser disrespects the important history of the site, furthers the process of gentrification and displacement in the District and provides no amenities of note for the Ivy City community.
Crummell School is, rightly, a historic landmark and the only known monument to one of the most significant figures in Black history both in the District of Columbia and the United States. The administration proposal addresses these issues of the protection of cultural heritage in an extremely disrespectful way. As it stands, the proposal would be a part of a long trend of high-density and high-income developments that have driven major demographic changes in the District of Columbia.
According to U.S. Census data, the Black population fell steadily from 538,000 in 1970 to 309,000 in 2010. This also has had an income element as the racial demographic shift has also been an income shift with more lower-income residents pushed out of the District by the high cost of living and more newer residents being more affluent. It goes almost without saying that the former are mostly Black and the latter mostly white.
As an indicator of how the cost of living has grown it is worth noting that, according to the DC Fiscal Policy institute between 2005 and 2015:
“rents for residents with incomes of about $22,000 a year increased $250 a month over the past decade, adjusting for inflation, while incomes remained flat. For these residents, average rents now equal half of average income.”
They note, for the same period:
“The number of apartments renting for less than $800 a month fell from almost 60,000 in 2002 to 33,000 in 2013. (Unless otherwise noted, all rental and income figures are adjusted for inflation to equal 2013 dollars). These findings suggest that there is very little low-cost housing in the private market and that subsidized housing is now virtually the only source of inexpensive apartments. Meanwhile, the number of apartments with higher rents –above $1,400–has skyrocketed.”
And, finally, and also quite notably:
“Among DC’s lowest income residents, 64 percent devote half or more of their income to housing. And one-third of more moderate-income families, with incomes up to $54,000, have housing cost burdens this severe.”
In other words, the trends in the District for exactly the type of development proposed at the Crummell School site are to move out lower income mostly Black residents and move in higher income mostly white residents.
To approve a project like this in a historical Black neighborhood, on the site of a monument to a major Black historical and cultural figure, should be called directly what is is: racism. It makes a mockery of Black history and culture by placing the historical Crummell School building (for which it also proposes no uses) in the center of a maelstrom of racially-biased development policy.
This speaks to our second point of opposition: we do not need development of this sort in Ivy City, or from our perspective, anywhere. As the above statistics indicate the District is in the midst of a major affordable housing crisis.
The D.C. government at all levels has failed to protect affordable housing or to grow affordable housing stock at a rate that meets the scale of the crisis. At this current moment in time drastic action needs to be taken. The roughly 1,000 units Councilmembers and the mayor routinely tout they fund every year is only a drop in the bucket of the many thousands of new market rate units.
The lack of investment in housing is palpable. Over the same period in which most affordable housing was lost, billions in subsidies have been pumped into projects that have facilitated that loss. The Crummell School project as created, and which was chosen over a community led proposal that would have enhanced affordable housing choices, will only increase all the worst trends in housing production that exist currently. By rejecting this proposal the Council opens up the possibility of a different approach that addresses the affordable housing crisis and provide community benefits.
Finally, we stand with the community desire in Ivy City to have at least once acre reserved as park/green space with a playground and basketball court and have Crummell School be turned into a state-of-the-art community center.
The Council also must reject the surplus and disposition of the site on process grounds. It is notable that residents of Ivy City, led by young Ivy City residents produced a major development plan with a number of high-level partners and a significant amount of community buy-in which was sidelined for a plan submitted by Bill Jarvis -- a political crony of the mayor -- contains no significant community benefits and furthers displacement trends. This type of process reeks of quid-pro-quo political deals between developers and politicians that are totally unacceptable.
Again, on all the above issues, we can not urge more strongly that the Council of the District of Columbia reject the surplus and disposition of the historic Crummell School property.