Last night, I testified in front of the Hyattsville City Council on the topic of rent controls, something that I feel is essential to keeping Hyattsville affordable for working families. With the announcement of a new development by the West Hyattsville Metro Station recently, this topic has gained even more urgency.
I don’t think anybody disputes that having a nice residential space instead of blight is a bad thing. And gentrification can be great for existing homeowners as longtime residents in cities like D.C., New York and even smaller cities like Madison, Wisconsin have seen their home prices soar. But gentrification can also have significant negative impacts on the communities it touches.
For starters, there’s the impact on renters. 55 percent of Hyattsville residents are renters. Rapid gentrification can quickly make a neighborhood unaffordable, something that our area knows well: An individual or family would need to make over $100,000 to afford rent (2 bedroom apartment) in DC. 14 percent of our residents in Hyattsville live below the poverty line and 81 percent of the aforementioned group are renters. Making rent unaffordable could make them homeless, something that gentrification has done in similar situations.
Many of these families help make Hyattsville the diverse, wonderful community it is today and pushing them out would be a travesty. We just voted to become a sanctuary city and it is wonderful that we have taken legal steps to protect our most vulnerable residents in that regard. But are we really valuing their lives and protecting them if we green light development projects without observing the changes such projects have brought to our DC area?
It is not right to turn a blind eye to the fact that Black and Latino families have been disappearing from the neighborhoods where they historically lived because of these policies. Racial housing discrimination has shaped our area in so many ways, we should not pretend that the same communities that were affected in the past, have not been affected by “pro-development” policies.
People may point to statistics like, “we’ve set aside (X) number of units for affordable housing,” However, this has not addressed the problem effectively in our area, because it ignores the fact that rent goes up for everyone and demand for affordable housing will always outpace the supply of it when developers raise everyone’s rent by moving into neighborhoods where housing is affordable for low-income families.
It’s because of these “pro-development” policies that I was barely able to move to Hyattsville. I was unemployed and underemployed for years. I’ve made less than minimum wage and gone into the negative on my bank account until I couldn’t withdraw cash from the ATM anymore. During those times, I consistently lived in places that ate up over 50 percent of my monthly take home for rent. I had roommates. I wasn’t living in luxury. I lived in places with features so disgusting, I find it hard to write about them publicly. My experience is not a unique one.
Four years removed from the experience, and after careful financial planning, saving lots of money and several meaningful, gainful employment jobs later, I am a happy and grateful home owner. My wife and I will get to raise our daughter in a house, as opposed to the studio and one bedroom apartments we were living in. It’s a dream come true, a dream we should help our renters achieve.