Africans struggle for community control of housing in Washington, DC projects

WASHINGTON, DC—The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement in the District of Columbia (InPDUM DC) is leading the charge against gentrification in the Barry Farm Housing Project of Ward 8.
Barry Farm is on the frontlines of the gentrification assault against the African community here.
The District of Columbia will redevelop the 432-unit housing project into an 1100-unit “mixed income” community, which will cost more than $550 million.
This redevelopment is not done in the interests of the community, and InPDUM DC has started the “Stop the Gentrification of Barry Farm” campaign, lead by its Community Control of Housing Committee.
The District of Columbia is no longer Chocolate City, according to the U.S. Census of 2010.
Gentrification, through the subprime mortgage crisis and corporate redevelopment, has reduced the African population of D.C. by 11 percent in the last decade, while the white population has increased at a similar rate.
In 2011 alone, the population of the city grew by 2.7 percent, which is one of the largest increases in population growth in the country.
Neocolonial forces, dating back to then mayor Marion Barry (now Ward 8 councilman) to current mayor Vincent Gray, have been part and parcel in overseeing the gentrification of the African community.
Neocolonial leadership has promised the white ruling class its last frontier of development, Ward 8.
Ward 8 is the heart of the black population in the city, with nearly 94 percent of its population being African.
Ward 8 is home to the historic Barry Farm community, the first black Freedmen’s community, but would later be converted into housing projects.
This community has been the crown jewel of developers because of its strategic location and the eagerness of the city to sell the property to the highest bidder.
Police containment of the Barry Farm community
Like many housing projects around the country, residents of Barry Farm are victims of police containment.
The community is excluded from any legitimate means to make a living in the capitalist economy and is forced into the capitalist drug economy and other criminal activity.
As a federal colony, the District of Columbia has literally dozens of law enforcement agencies.
Three of their agencies, the Metropolitan Police Department, the D.C. Housing Authority Police and the Federal Protective Services Police, lead the efforts of police containment in the Barry Farm community.
These entities conduct around-the-clock patrol of this community that is no more than four square city blocks.
The police containment of the African community is buttressed by the fact that there is no economic development taking place in the interests of the African community.
Economic development in the interests of the ruling class
While there is more than $20 billion going towards development in Ward 8, none of this money is going to the African community.
The redevelopment of Barry Farm is receiving its funding from the New Communities Initiative ran by the District of Columbia, but has the very same purpose as the infamous Federal Hope VI program that the Clinton Administration championed to displace thousands of public housing residents from their homes.
In fact, the criteria for redevelopment for the Hope VI program, as well as the New Communities Initiative, are the same in that the housing project must have a high concentration of low income residents and a high percentage of criminal activity to be redeveloped.
D.C. is praised for its “strong” economy in the face the U.S. economic crisis, bolstered by government employment as well as government contractors in the region.
While D.C. is being lauded for its economic growth, the African community of Ward 8 has the highest unemployment of any similarly-situated community in this country.
This can be seen clearly in the fact that in the white highly affluent Ward 3, unemployment is at two percent, while the majority African Ward 8 has an unemployment rate of 23 percent.
The contradiction is even worse for African youth in Ward 8 who have an unemployment rate approaching 50 percent.
Ironically, the Department of Homeland Security is consolidating its department of over 14,000 employees to move to Ward 8, literally a few yards to the community of Barry Farm.
There are already street car tracks that have been built to get Homeland Security employees to the future site.
The city has also completed the renovation of many of the bridges leading to Ward 8 and is currently constructing other infrastructure changes to prepare for this influx.
We do not romanticize the poverty faced by our people and we are not against genuine economic development for the community.
We are against economic development that is not in the interest of the African community and not controlled by the African community.
As colonized people, we are not given access to our resources for our own economic development. This money is instead spent on police containment of our community.
Although the District of Columbia is being hit hard by the removal of Africans from their homes and communities, this is happening throughout this country and the African world writ large, whether it is Oakland, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the Harlem neighborhood of New York City; Nassau, Bahamas; London, England or Cape Town, South Africa.
On the ground organizing
As imperialism attempts to solve its crisis on the backs of the African community, InPDUM’s job is to take on this struggle wherever we are and raise-up the call for community control of housing.
The Uhuru Movement in the District of Columbia has centered its work in the community of Barry Farm.
Since June 2011, we have run the Marcus Garvey Enrichment Program, an educational program for African youth in the community to learn practical skills that will help build their communities as well as political education that will help to better understand and fight against the oppressive conditions in which they live.
From the success of the program and of our work in organizing the community around the issues of education, police containment and gentrification, we were given an office space by community leaders which now serves as the Uhuru House of DC.
We not only run our Marcus Garvey Enrichment Programs there, but we also hold community meetings around the issue of police containment, the ongoing redevelopment of Barry Farm and the need for community control of housing.
From our organizing and work with community leaders, we are clear that the city and other profiteers of the redevelopment have encouraged the disorganization of the residents and have undermined their attempts to put demands on the city.
The city has deployed a myriad of tactics to keep the residents of Barry Farm in the dark of their true intentions.
Meetings about the process have been infrequent with little notice to residents and promises made have changed without resident input.
“Redevelopment” equals gentrification
The bottom line is that most residents will not return!
The city claims that all who want to return may return after redevelopment, but this is an outright lie.
By law, all residents are supposed to have a right to return to their communities after redevelopment, but the city has created restrictive re-entry criteria to ensure the vast majority of resident will not return.
Among those criteria include the mandates that residents pass credit checks, residents and family members pass criminal background checks, residents not be delinquent on rent or have been sued by the landlord for nonpayment of rent and the list goes on.
There is no guarantee of an equally-sized replacement unit.
The Barry Farm community has many three, four and even five bedroom units; however the redeveloped Barry Farm will consist primarily of one and two bedroom apartments.
Many residents know that they will not be able to return because many residents have moved to Barry Farm from other housing projects that have been redeveloped but have been unable to return.
We demand that every resident have the right to return, without exception with a one-to-one replacement of their unit!
InPDUM DC is working tirelessly to organize the Community Control of Housing Committee through Uhuru town hall meetings and other community organizing events.
We have developed a list of demands to the city that have been adopted by other community organizations in Barry Farm.
We now want to expand the Community Control of Housing Committee as the city ramps up its desire to start the redevelopment of Barry Farm.
To learn more about the work of InPDUM DC or to join the Barry Farm Community Control of Housing Committee, contact or 202-643-7053.


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