July 11, 2008

What Really Happened at Northwest One

by Tom Howarth, Executive Director of the Father McKenna Center.

People, particularly poor people, who live in proposed New Communities must learn a lesson from what happened in Northwest One, the first designated new community. It's a long story but here are the lowlights.

The Williams Administration promises that only 34% of the new community would be market rate housing for the rich. The Fenty Administration settled for 64% market rate housing for the rich and reduced the amount of very low income housing from about 32% to only 12%. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, old story.

The Williams Administration accepted the guideline of Build First that minimizes the displacement of the poor because the longer one is displaced and the further away they go the less likely they are to come back. The idea here was to protect the poor and bring new people into the community to join them. The Fenty Administration trashed Build First and told everyone to leave 33 K Street NW because they said the if one apartment has bed bugs the entire building must be cleaned out. That is absurd, but that's what they said.

The Mayor told Northwest One that he wanted to do what the people wanted to do but when the NW 1 Council asked him to go door to door at 33 K St. to see if people actually wanted to leave, he refused. He listened the community-focused attention on the few people who disagreed with just about anything and then did what he wanted to do. The proof is in the pudding.

What should other communities do? First, believe no one and get everything in writing. This populist stuff about the Mayor being a man of the people...pure bull.

Tom Howarth is Executive Director of the Father McKenna Center, and served on the board of the Northwest One development.

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