"Gentrification Anxiety" by Jacqueline Lassey, WRAG Journalism Fellow

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Gentrification Anxiety

We’re excited to introduce the second writer from our new WRAG Journalism Fellows program!

Jacqueline Lassey is an African-American student at Richard Wright Public Charter School in Washington, DC. She is an aspiring writer and athlete. As a member of the Library of Congress Teen Book Club, she recently had the opportunity to be published in the Library of Congress Magazine, page 16.

By Jacqueline Lassey

A couple of years ago, my aunt was arrested for standing at a corner no more than fifty feet away from our house. She is well known and respected by longtime residents in our neighborhood and there were no previous legal actions or disputes against her. My aunt was there simply minding her business, not disrupting anyone. My new neighbors called the police because my aunt was “causing them anxiety.” I was too naive to understand what was really going on, I thought that it wasn’t anything serious. However I soon understood that my aunt was being antagonized for no reason. I know now that my aunt was being targeted because of her race.

I have lived in the Trinidad neighborhood of Washington DC for seventeen years. I have watched my neighborhood grow and develop. For the past two years I have seen my neighbors’ houses torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, and I have lost many of my closest friends because their parents sold their homes. They were dealing with rough patches in their finances and were swindled into selling for what they thought was the highest possible and best price for their houses; only to discover that with a little fixing, they could have made double what they sold their houses for.

When I think of gentrification, I think of it as the process of reconstructing urban neighborhoods so that more “prosperous” tenants can occupy the neighborhood. Since Caucasian people have moved into my neighborhood, I have seen the racial divide it has caused. They aren’t used to our environment and that causes many problems that affect us. My aunt was in her 50s at the time she was arrested but she was in no way dangerous to anyone. I came to understand this when my brother began to talk to my family about it. My brother is very open minded and he is not afraid to speak about what he sees. He talked to my family about injustice and how society is taking a turn for the worse. He talked about the changes our community was experiencing. Most importantly, he talked about how society’s stereotypes lead to racial bias. I’ve seen the racial division that gentrification brings.

Since then, I have noticed that many houses on my block are being redeveloped. The most notable occurrence of this was almost exactly one year ago. One of my friends, Fred, told me he was moving to Maryland. His house was redeveloped and is now worth $914,000.00 according to the Redfin listing. I have never heard of a house in my African-American neighborhood costing that much. This house could not be purchased by long-time residents living in my community. No one in my neighborhood has access to the jobs, or financial resources to purchase this house. Weeks later, the house had a buyer and I had a new neighbor. This new neighbor was white and male–and he doesn’t speak to us.

Realtors have been pursuing homeowners in my community and other urban communities all over the Washington, DC area. My mother receives weekly offers from real estate speculators (investors) to sell her house. Many of these solicitations offer immediate cash that can tempt the average homeowner to sell. As a result of these practices, many DC residents sell their homes for a much lower market value.

Gentrification causes a shortage of affordable housing in the District. As a result of these circumstances and tactics, I fear for my future as a DC resident. I am very concerned that one day I will not have the resources to live in the community that has raised me, or that my children will never experience the childhood that I experienced; a childhood that I love and cherish. This problem can be solved by an increased conversation in communities and the local government creating more affordable housing and better economic opportunities for all.