This week Washington was the scene of a huge anti-gentrification protest: #MOECHELLA. Thousands converged on the corner of 14th and U Streets, blaring go-go music to send a message that they will not be erased. But in reality the protests will not roll back the tide of displacement in DC — attending it was free but buying property on that corner, once the hub of Black life in DC, is not. The gentrification of DC was not the result of an armed insurgence by the gentrifiers, however. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Black people gradually sold their properties. Others chose not to buy readily available real estate in their community, ran to surrounding suburbs and now find themselves priced out.
DC was once “Chocolate City” but it’s no longer majority Black. While there are a host of local and federal policies that often precipitate and exacerbate the effects of gentrification, one thing is sure — non-Black people generally aren’t in a hurry to move their families to heavily Black neighborhoods. In other words, Black neighborhoods cannot be gentrified without the conscious decision of Black people to abandon them for “greener pastures.” No, slavery was not a choice but gentrification is. What is happening in DC was not inevitable. John Singleton tried to warn us in his film Boyz N The Hood — we need to keep our neighborhoods Black. Buy Black products but also, we need a keen focus on buying Black neighborhoods.
Gentrification requires Black people to believe a powerful lie — that there is no value in our neighborhoods. We are fed that lie when news reports tell us how dangerous our communities are. We are fed that lie when we are told there is no profit potential in the real estate around us. But if there is no value there, why do others so desperately want us to leave so that they can possess it? If there was no value in DC, why are gentrifiers paying millions to buy row homes in neighborhoods their parents wouldn’t have been caught dead in, twenty years ago? There is plenty of value in our community and we must invest in it, before others do.
On the South Side of Chicago there are an abundance of multi and single family properties on the market for under $40,000. Nothing — absolutely NOTHING — is stopping Black people from buying them. Nothing is stopping us from rounding up a group of five friends, each getting a loan for $10,000 and buying one or two properties. Once you own the first, nothing is stopping you from leveraging that property to buy two more. In fact, nothing is stopping you from linking with other likeminded people and buying blocks at a time. Buy The Block (@buytheblock) is a platform that actually makes it easy for regular people to invest in anti-gentrification projects. There are plenty of options, just find one. What is happening in DC should be a sobering example for all of us — invest now before it’s too late.