By Design... A Look at the Structural Forces Leading to Violence in our Community
Schyla Pondexter-Moore is an Affordable Housing Organizer with Empower DC. Schyla is a native Washingtonian and has lived in DC Public Housing with her four children since November 2007. Schyla became involved in community organizing when renovations – funded by both public and private sources – and forced relocations began at Highland Dwellings, the property where she resided. Schyla was angered by the situation, and began researching the practices of the District of Columbia Housing Authority. She found out that what happened at Highland Dwellings was typical of the treatment public housing residents receive from DCHA. Next, she went door-to-door and organized residents to fight back, and together they formed Highland Together We Stand. United, they were able to win changes to the relocation process that benefited tenants and filed a successful lawsuit against DCHA. The lawsuit guarantees that all 200+ residents of Highland Dwellings have the right of first refusal on the new properties, and will have the same rights as all public housing tenants (i.e.: no credit checks, no utility bills, etc.).
Nkechi Feaster is single mother who works as an organizer for Organizing Neighborhood Equity DC (One DC). Feaster worked as an administrator for nearly 13 years, starting her career in 2000, until she experienced her first layoff in 2007. This lay off prefigured the layoff crisis, resulting in Feaster losing the next two jobs she had within the next four years before eventually getting evicted from her apartment in 2011. Before her last layoff, she was making close to $40,000 a year. After this lay off in 2011, she spent the next 11 months in DC General.
Feaster was in transitional housing when the condos in Gallery Place were being built and has noted the change in housing priority by the government since then. “What I’m seeing in change is not matched. Rent has gone up to ridiculous amounts. [But] there has been no change in subsidy programs. There has been no change in money going to homeless services, no change in the unemployment rate on the South Side, no change in the minimum wage. Even the change that was just voted won’t take place for another year … while condos will still be going up. Houses aren’t really going up like that, not even townhouses.” It’s clear to see how prioritizing “luxury housing”, especially condos and apartments that rent for upwards of $2000 a month, is attracting certain people to DC and very strategically pushing others out, especially families and low-income communities.
By realizing how the DC government encourages the development of expensive luxury units while simultaneously creating more barriers for housing programs, Feaster says it is “not hard to call it racist” when they make it so clear that if you can’t afford to live here, then you can leave. It is obvious to see who can, and who cannot, stay.
MODERATED BY BOB SCHLEHUBER
Bob Schlehuber is originally from Rockford, Illinois and has been based in Washington, DC since 2011. Working on his own and in partnership with other individuals and organizations Bob produces initiatives that creatively bring together broad and diverse individuals and organizations within a community. Bob's efforts not only serve to bring together community members they also serve to improve a community's ability to address a range of policy and social issues; including housing, homelessness, education, economic and social equality, economic and work force development, civility, mutual understanding, and international peace and conflict resolution.
Bob holds a B.A. in Communication and Political Science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University's School of International Service.