Gentrification is synonymous with displacement


Sarah L. Courteau reflects on the transience of urban pioneers @ The Wilson Quarterly.
A year ago I moved into a row house in northeast Washington, D.C., two miles from the Capitol. I paid $85,000, a price so low it’s a punch line in a city where the average home sells for more than $600,000. The hot water heater was missing, and the bathroom tub drained into a downstairs closet. My house inspector, a dead ringer for the gravel-voiced actor Sam Elliott, tramped silently from room to room, occasionally pausing to pronounce, “It’s not proper.” The house was in foreclosure and had been vacant for a couple of years, so when I found crayons under the old carpet, I was spared the guilt of imagining them in still-young fingers. But once, someone had loved this place. The backyard bloomed with rosebushes staked with weathered shoelaces. With an FHA-backed loan and a savvy contractor, I gutted the house and renovated it. I found myself realizing a dream I’d assumed was miles out of reach: I was a homeowner.A white, single professional in my thirties, I moved into a neighborhood of modest houses that is almost 90 percent black and where about a third of the population lives below the poverty line. I’m a gentrifier, a category of urban resident that has become a lightning rod for debates about the evolution of our cities. Last year, a study published in the Journal of Urban Economics found evidence of gentrification during the 1990s in the majority of the country’s 72 largest metropolitan areas. But few places match the galloping pace of gentrification in the nation’s capital. In the last 10 years, Washington’s population has grown by five percent, after steadily shrinking since 1950. The white population is up by nearly a third. Since the 1960s blacks have been a majority in the District of Columbia, but that balance will likely shift in the next few more