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For Many Black Washingtonians, Gentrification Threatens Housing and Health

Gentrification can have negative effects on the health outcomes of Black residents in Washington D.C. The CDC says that gentrification has many health implications that contribute to disparities among special populations.

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By Barrington M. Salmon (BlackPressUSA/NNPA Newswire Contributor)

This is the first article in a series focused on the health effects associated with gentrification in Washington, D.C. This series is supported through a journalism fellowship with the Center for Health Journalism at the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California.

By many measures, the revitalization of neighborhoods across Washington, D.C. has been a windfall for the city. Fueled by higher tax revenues and property values, the city is awash in construction cranes, new libraries, restaurants and retail, and more than 70 miles of bike lanes—all welcomed signs of gentrification in the nation’s capital.

Lost in the city’s waves of new amenities and newer, more affluent inhabitants, are the long-time Washingtonians who have been pushed out or who are fighting to stay in the city.

Shirley Williams is one of those residents, who decided to fight. For Williams, that fight came with debilitating consequences.

Williams said that she developed diabetes a year after she and fellow residents were displaced, for eight years, from their 54-unit garden-style apartment complex at 7th and Q Streets in the Shaw neighborhood. She has since returned. Now, there’s a new apartment building at 7th and Q named Jefferson Marketplace; an upscale pet store, a Thai restaurant and a French wine bar are located on the street level. Like her old neighborhood, Williams said that she’s not the same either.

Williams connects many of her health problems to the uncertainty of her housing situation, a rootlessness that has spanned nearly a decade.

“I’m on dialysis now; I can hardly get around,” said Williams, a mother of three grown children. “I wasn’t weak. I could walk down to those ONE DC meetings, but I can’t do that anymore. I’m pretty sure it affected my health; I lost my eyesight…can’t see anything anymore.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the displacement associated with gentrification has many health implications that contribute to disparities among special populations, including the poor, women, children, the elderly, and members of racial/ethnic minority groups.

“These special populations are at increased risk for the negative consequences of gentrification,” the CDC said. “Studies indicate that vulnerable populations typically have shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Dominic Moulden, a veteran activist, housing advocate and resource organizer for Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE DC), knows Williams well and spoke of her challenges and those faced by thousands of other residents who have been displaced by rising housing costs or who have decided to fight for their homes in court and on the streets. ONE DC is a grassroots organization that advocates on behalf of residents who are in danger of losing their homes.

Moulden said that he’s watched the city change in significant and seemingly all-encompassing ways, usually to the disadvantage of native Washingtonians.

“I’ve been here for 32 years and I organized on 14th and U Street in the ‘90s. If we talked then, I could have told you what was going to happen in every quadrant,” he said. “Our focus is on displacement—the economics of land and housing impact health and wellness, as people are moved around this chessboard.”

Moulden said that Williams’ story of declining health during a prolonged housing battle, is a familiar one.

“I’ve seen people get sick and die in the years [after they were] forced out of their homes and that includes mental health issues,” Moulden said.

In the mid-90s, according to Census data, the district had a population of 528,000 and by 2015, the population had climbed to 681,170. Washington has seen a net population gain of more than 70,000 people since the 2010 Census and more than 100,000 residents since the 2000 Census. In the mid-1990s, the city boasted a 72 percent Black population and in 2016, according to the Census, it now stands at 48 percent. To the chagrin of the city’s Black residents, “The Chocolate City,” has become a vanilla swirl, replete with dog parks, street cars, bike lanes and cobbled streets as physical evidence of the changing demographics.

Washington, D.C is one of the most expensive cities to live in anywhere in the United States. Million-dollar homes are commonplace in areas of the city like Kalorama and Congress Heights and it’s fairly certain that buyers would have to ante up hundreds of thousands for a home, apartment or townhouse. In 2015, the median household income in Washington, D.C. was $75,628, a 5.55 percent growth from the previous year.

Statistics from the U.S. Census, a combination of studies conducted and compiled by researchers at Georgetown University and an investigative series centering on gentrification by the nonprofit, independent news organization Truthout, estimates that more than 50,000 D.C. residents have fled the city, as housing costs spiraled out of reach. Washington has the second highest rents in the country and more than 50 percent of the city’s affordable housing stock has vanished since 2009.

Researchers, policymakers and physicians have only begun to scratch the surface of the effects of gentrification on residents who have lost their homes or those who refuse to leave their neighborhoods, who have chosen, instead, to do battle with wealthy landlords, real estate developers and newcomers. A number of reports and studies over the past year detail the scope and depth of the health effects caused by the dismantling of low- and middle-income neighborhoods and the displacement of residents, some of whom have lived in Washington for decades.

Maurice Jackson, a history professor at Georgetown University and the chairman of the DC Commission on African American Affairs and Christopher King, an assistant professor at the university’s School of Nursing and Health Studies (NHS), produced a report in 2016 that found that gentrification has had a major impact on the health and welfare of the city’s African American population.

Researchers reported that many of Washington’s long-time, Black residents, who remain in the city, have experienced increased stress and financial hardship, as the cost of living continues to rise.

King said that this form of “survival stress” can increase risks for or exacerbate chronic disease conditions.

“Native Washingtonians also recognize how their communities are changing, and that results in a loss of cultural identity,” King said, noting that some African Americans have been forced to leave the area even though their families have lived in the city for generations. “This dynamic can have a profound effect on mental health and the civic engagement [of city residents].”

Gentrification in Washington has produced tension and lingering resentment between Black and White residents—old and new.

Long-time residents have complained about newcomers who have lobbied to change the names of old neighborhoods, called the police to harass families sitting on their own stoops, and pushed city officials to ramp up parking enforcement, ticketing and towing churchgoers double-parked on Sundays—a custom in D.C. that has spanned generations. The stress and trauma associated with the city’s very real demographic and cultural shifts, not only affect where people live, but also how Washingtonians are living.

One area of particular concern to researchers and those in the medical community is the relationship between toxic stress and displacement. Experts like Amani Nuru-Jeter, a social epidemiologist at the University of California at Berkeley are studying the impact of stress on health disparities and outcomes. While Nuru-Jeter, Dr. Roberto Montenegro and other researchers are looking at the effects of racism and discrimination on the bodies of Blacks and Latinos, others are tying displacement to toxic stress, which many believe, is likely a precursor to a range of diseases that could afflict those who are being pushed out of the city or have already left.

Studies have connected a number of maladies to toxic stress, such as mental illness, substance abuse and behavioral problems, cancer, obesity, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, asthma, high blood pressure and heart disease, kidney disease, and gastro-intestinal problems.

Detrice Belt, a 33-year-old native Washingtonian and resident of Barry Farm, a public housing complex in Southeast, Washington, D.C. has been engaged in a six-year battle to stay in the community where she has lived for 20 years. She lives with her nine-year-old daughter, two pit bull terriers and a turtle. Belt vowed that she’s not leaving.

“Housing is a big issue in D.C. Right now, current residents are moving out,” said Belt, a licensed dental assistant who’s also the chair of the Barry Farm Tenants’ Association. “This property has [over] 400 units, but now there are about 100 residents left. People are in shelters, some are in other public housing projects, scattered.”

Belt continued: “These [apartments] are bad, but not so bad that they have to be demolished. We want redevelopment, but we want the developer to do it while [we’re] here. They told me about the noise; that my lights may be cut off and other things, but I’m not moving, whatever comes.”

[/media-credit] A once-thriving community of more than 400 residents has been reduced to less than 100 as city officials prepare to build expensive, mixed-use housing that Barry Farm residents fear will force them out of their homes. (Miriam Machado-Luces/NNPA)

Barry Farm, located east of the Anacostia River—a natural divider between the city’s visible progress and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty—has been targeted by the DC Housing Authority and developers who seek to have the 432 public housing units demolished; in its place, developers want to build a 1,400-unit, multi-phase $400 million mixed-income housing. The plan is part of the city’s New Communities Initiative, a public-private urban revitalization partnership modeled after the federal government’s Hope VI program.

According to the Washington City Paper, in 2017, a group of Barry Farm residents and housing advocacy organization, Empower D.C., filed a 65-page, class-action lawsuit against the DC Housing Authority (DCHA), which manages the property, as well as its two private developer partners, A&R Development Corp. and nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc.

Belt said that one of her great fears is that neither the DC Housing Authority nor the developers have given the remaining residents a written guarantee that they can return when the property is redeveloped. And the past is prologue, she said, because once public housing residents are displaced, few ever return.

“They changed the language from ‘guaranteed return’ to an ‘opportunity to return.’ Despite our concerns and questions, this is a done deal,” she said. “I’ve been going to redevelopment meetings for the past six years. I’ve been trying to hear the other side. I told councilmembers that people are stressed and don’t know their rights.”

Belt said that her ordeal has left her and other Barry Farm residents stressed out, worried and fearful of what the future holds.

“They have been using scare tactics, like putting up a notice on my door about my dogs,” Belt said. “Children’s Protective Services has been called on people here, the Department of Health on others. I was born and raised here. I’m fighting back. I’m not moving.”

This article was published as a part of a journalism project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship. Read the full series:
As Real Estate Developers Rush to Mine D.C.’s Affordable Housing Stock, Some Residents are Left in the Dust
How Healthy is Gentrification?
For Many Black Washingtonians, Gentrification Threatens Housing and Health

 Follow Barrington on Twitter @bsalmondc.

Activism

Over 500 Attend Police-Free Event to Reimagine Safety in Oakland

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation Events Held in More Than 50 Communities Across the Country

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

OAKLAND, CA — Over 500 people and families filled Josie de la Cruz Park in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood on Aug. 2 to enjoy performances, kids activities, and mutual aid to celebrate Night Out for Safety and Liberation (NOSL), an annual national event that redefines what safety and joy is without policing. The free community event included free diapers and books for all ages, food, bike giveaways, air purifiers, self defense training, a drag show, and performances from poets and artists such as Lauren Adams, TJ Sykes and Voces Mexicanas.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Night Out for Safety and Liberation started in 2013 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain and is held as an alternative to the police-centric National Night Out. Since 2013, the event has spread across the country with over 50 events scheduled this year where communities make the night about the power of community, not cops.

“We have been reimagining what safety means beyond police for our communities for over 25 years at the Ella Baker Center. When we create safe spaces for our community to come together and support each other, when we provide living-wage jobs so people are able to put food on their table, when we empower our children and provide opportunities for them to thrive, when we invest in healthcare and mental health resources, this is how we create real safety,” said Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Through Night Out for Safety and Liberation, communities are creating safety not through policing but through healing and restorative justice, through creating gender affirming spaces and protecting trans and LGBTQIA communities, through reinvesting funding into community-based alternatives and solutions that truly keep communities safe.

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

“We don’t need more police in our streets. We don’t need more surveillance. What we need is resources!” said Jose Bernal, Organizing Director with the Ella Baker Center. “What we need is housing, diapers, legal resources, jobs. This [Night Out for Safety and Liberation] is what keeps us safe. This is resilience.”

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson

The event was emceed by Nifa Akosua, Senior Organizer and Advocate with the Ella Baker Center, and TJ Sykes, author and community activist–both natives of Richmond, California. The show included entertaining performances from Oakland Originalz break dancers, Voces Mexicanas mariachi band, singer Lauren Adams and a drag show from Afrika America.

“Night Out for Safety and Liberation is about neighborhood love and neighborhood safety. It’s about connecting, showing up for each other and staying connected as a community. That’s how we keep each other safe,” said Nifa.

More than 20 organizations and vendors participated in Tuesday’s event, offering community resources, face painting, giving away 500 books for all ages, and free diapers. Those participating included: Help A Mother Out, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, ACLU of Northern California, TGI Justice Project, Urban Peace Movement, Ella Baker’s Readers & Cesar Chavez Public Library, Alliance for Girls, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Centro Legal de la Raza, Common Humanity Collective, Street Level Health Project, Malikah – Self Defense, East Bay Community Law Center, Unity Council, Young Women’s Freedom Center, East Bay Family Defenders, Bay Area Workers Support, L’Artiste A La Carte, Education Super Highway, Cut Fruit Collective, and WIC.

Other Night Out for Safety and Liberation events were held in Oakland, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Waco, Hampden, Conway, Washington D.C. and other cities. Follow the conversation and see photos from events in other cities using #SafetyIs and #NOSL22.

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Digital Issues

Oakland Post: Week of August 3 – August 9, 2022

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post for the week of August 3 – August 9, 2022

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The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post for the week of August 3 - August 9, 2022

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#NNPA BlackPress

Brittney Griner Sentenced to More than 9 years in Russian Prison

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision. “We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

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By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

WNBA Superstar Brittney Griner has been sentenced to more than 9 years in a Russian prison following her conviction on drug charges.

Her lawyers called the verdict a disappointment and vowed to appeal.

The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision.

“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

“The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice.

“Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal,” they added.

Russian officials contended that Griner committed the crime on purpose. They also levied a fine totaling about $16,400 American dollars on the basketball star.

Authorities arrested Griner on Feb. 17 at an airport in Moscow after finding less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

She has been detained since then.

Recently, American officials revealed that the Biden-Harris administration had offered notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” President Biden said.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

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