The journalists Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood drew the title of their 1994 book on recent Washington history, Dream City, from Charles Dickens’ 1842 description of the nation’s capital: “city of magnificent intentions.”
Through the years, District and federal leaders have struggled to solve the city’s housing ills by implementing policies and programs borne of magnificent intentions. Urban homesteading, which the city adopted in 1974 to address a large pool of abandoned housing and growing demand for affordable housing, was one of those dreams.
For a small number of District families who paid $1 for a home, it was a dream come true. Yet, for the distressed neighborhoods where the homes were located, it was a dream deferred. The program which hoped to spur contagious reinvestment failed in that respect.
It took another couple of decades for neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Shaw, Trinidad, and Columbia Heights to see new money and new commitments to neighborhood upgrading.
On November 14, I’m presenting a paper in a panel I organized for the 2015 Conference on D.C. Historical Studies. The panel, “Housing Policies and Gentrification: Urban Homesteading to HOPE VI”, explores the public policy origins of gentrification. My paper on the District’s two homesteading programs between 1974 and 2001 joins papers by a geographer on Washington’s tax policies and a paper by a sociologist on HOPE VI in the District.
© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein