Camelot and The Knights of the Round Table: Talking about Affordable Housing in D.C.
Ellie Klausmeyer | 10/18/16 7:09am
| Updated 10/18/16 7:09am
Julienne Devita / American Word Magazine
The legends of Camelot and King Arthur tell of a good intentioned king who surrounds himself with the most capable of knights. When discussing social and political issues, these men sit at a circular table, so not one man would be portrayed as having more power than the others. Still, outside voices are rarely considered. College campuses often have the reputation of being modern day Camelots from which well intentioned, idealistic ideas often emerge, but which lack in equal representation from underrepresented members of their communities. This reputation was fulfilled at a recent event focusing on gentrification and affordable housing in the DMV region, which did not include the voices of those community members most affected by the issue.
On Thursday, September 29, AU’s School of International Service and the School of Public Affairs teamed up for the launch of “The Politics of Staying Put,” a book written by SIS professor Carolyn Gallaher. Gallaher presented her study and spoke of the nuances of gentrification in Washington, D.C. Her comments were followed by a panel discussion led by Derek Hyra of SPA’s department of Public Administration and Policy.
Washington is the only city in the country to put into law the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which allows low-income residents to stay in their homes. The law gives residents the opportunity to purchase their properties when the building is put up for sale and maintains the affordable housing stock within the city.
According to Gallaher, rent prices are out of reach even for many middle-class residents. The median price for a one-bedroom apartment comes to around $2,200 per month, while a two-bedroom apartment may reach over $3,000. The lack of affordable housing in the city is making it even more difficult to find a place to live.
The case study Gallaher presented focused on several condo conversion sites throughout the city. According to the study, when a property is up for sale, tenants are given a notice, in which they then have the opportunity to buy it. They also have the option to be bought out, usually for an insufficient amount of money. The process to save one’s home can be very difficult, as there is a large bureaucratic system to navigate. Ironically, though community activist groups do exist in the area, the local residents are often shut out from the conversations surrounding gentrification in their communities. This issue was highlighted by the academic panel, as not one member of the community that was being displaced attended the book launch. When I asked about it, Derek Hyra dismissed my question, stating that there were activists at the panel and said “to check out their websites.” He did not acknowledge there might be an issue with the lack of resident representation at the conference.
Lower income residents at risk for losing their homes should be better represented by academics and activists, as they often do not have the privilege to speak for themselves. Even those do have the time and ability to speak for themselves often do not have the information on where these academic or community events are taking place. Their opinions matter, as they are the heart and soul of this city.
The lack of inclusion at conferences such as these provides a unique set of challenges for the School of International Service, as well as American University as a whole. In order to create an complete and accurate picture of the issues surrounding D.C., and the rest of the world, students and the administration alike must include these marginalized communities in academic conversation, while also acknowledging how we too might be contributing to the problem. Only through inclusive conversation might we be able to create an open and holistic university.