Optimism unfounded?

“Realist” posted a well-thought comment in response to my, evidently, glowingly optimistic view of our neighborhood.  I am not attempting to dismiss his/her perspective to the masses, but rather to offer a glimmer of hope to those who may share such views of their neighborhood–it is troubling to hear anyone view their home negatively.

The first “reality” that Realist present is crime–evidenced by the highly visual episodes in the past year. Any transitional neighborhood has its share of crime.  What is more important is the effect of this crime on its inhabitants.  Except for one or two innocents, this violence was “bad” on “bad,” and while it certainly did not do wonders for the image of the neighborhood, it had limited to no effect on “good” Eckingtonians.  One killing is always too many, but “crime” is not the first issue that comes to my mind when I look for problems or obstacles to growth in our neighborhood (though I have no stats to back up this, perhaps unfounded, nonchalance).

The second concern is something I will call “turnover”–the departure of residents who are, we’ll just label as,  “unhelpful” (note: this is neither a demographic nor “old guard” categorization) to be replaced by newcomers who will immerse themselves in the neighborhood.  I hesitate to use the word “gentrification” not because of fear of the term, but due to its confinement as an asset-appreciation term–my “turnover” term eoncompasses the appreciation increase from the former resident to the new resident.

Realist offers skepticism that the neighborhood’s “poverty, ignorance, violence, poor physical and mental health, and many other aspects of human nature” can change due to a entry bar he/she sets as $500,000.  But I feel this is much too high.  The great thing about Eckington right now is that there are plenty of single-family homes that, when they appear on the market, can be obtained for less than $400k or even $300k in liveable condition.  I should know–we bought one in January 2007.  We have Capitol Hill friends who are floored by the amount of space they could obtain for the buck in our neighborhood.

The market slowdown could not have come at a better time for the neighborhood. Perhaps on the verge of having many of our rowhouses converted into multi-unit condos (which would have most likely turned into rentals in this market), we have maintained, for the most part, the same stock of single-family rowhouses that are sure to interest the next wave of homeowners (many who will purchase before the end of the year due to the $8,000 tax credit in the stimulus bill).  We are also not limited to NoMa employees, in terms of filling our coffers.  The prices are still affordable to Federal employees and white-collar workers near the Red Line stations of Chinatown, Metro Center, Farragut North and Dupont Circle should take a close look at our Red Line neighborhood (if they have good information–BRANDING–or unbiased Realtors).

As for the overall housing market picture, interest rates will have to increase, but a factor that has kept inflation low in the previous year–oil prices–will be one of many factors (along with recent suburban housing collapse (which could scare some buyers); financial stresses on local governments; demographic changes in suburbs; generational persuasion-shifts, etc.) that increases the attractiveness of the urban city. And not everyone wants to live in condos in Chinatown/Penn Quarter or lofts in Dupont/Adams Morgan.

Realist also offers pessimism over the Metropolitan Branch Trail–worrying that it will become a mugger’s paradise or an after-school hangout for McKinley High students.

I understand there have been some incidents between students and residents in the past, but the school is new, and the selectivity is increasing.  The Class of 2008 was the first graduating class with students who has attended the school for all 4 years–98% of these students applied and were accepted to college, including Stanford, MIT, Columbia, Cornell and Duke. I find the current crop to be quite respectful and communicative with us “adults.” If they do find the MBT to be a nice location to hangout after school, I sense, but could be wrong, they will be more more helpful as a set of eyes on the Trail rather than a nuisance.

As for muggings, the size of this problem will inversely correlate with the amount of traffic on the Trail.  If my rosy predictions of residents switching en masse to the Trail for their daily route to the Metro (or, soon-to-be, regular Harris Teeter shopping), Catholic University students commuting to campus from thier Eckington homes, nonresident bikers using the Trail as part of their communte to the City, dog owners from Eckington and Capitol Hill North (“Old City”) using the Trail as their primary dog-exercise routine, etc. do not materialize, then this may become a large problem.  It depends on us.

I plan on writing a series of posts on the MBT as the countdown to its completion nears.  I am also going to continue the practice of only posting items relevant to the neighborhood.  The entire purpose of this blog/website was to serve the void in the internet of Eckington information and I tried, save for one or two slips, to refrain from posting non-relevant items–which keeps this number of postings down.  If you use an RSS reader, then you are alerted when there are updates, and I am attempting to use Twitter to keep those who are interested even more up-to-date.

I always welcome comments, and anticipate those who will poke holes in my assertions or chide me for failing to include more positives.

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5 thoughts on “Optimism unfounded?

  1. Actually, I wouldn’t call him/her “realist” so much as pessimist. Having witnessed over the course of my life the revitalization that has taken place in places in DC just as blighted as Eckington (yes, Columbia Heights in the early 90’s was far far worse than Eckington is or has ever been), I actually think he’s wrong. First off, the fundamentals.

    The location is actually prime for those who work downtown and are sick of commuting, but can’t afford places in more expensive areas or close-in suburbs. His/her premise that government workers won’t live there is beside the point. The majority of people who work in this city and region DO NOT work for the government. Law, non-profit, trade associations, high tech, IT, real estate firms etc make up the vast majority of downtown office space beyond the federal office ghetto. This is a large pool of people from which to draw.

    Eckington also has a red line metro stop, which is generally considered the most desirable/convenient (with orange a more distant second). Don’t underestimate this factor- it adds signficantly to the convenience of Eckington. (flatland edit – “see this previous post: “People are scared to get off the Red Line“)

    Another factor is housing stock. You can generally predict which areas will improve quickly based on the housing stock within its boundaries. There is attractive, affordable housing stock in Eckington that can be had more cheaply than elsewhere in the city. For this reason, even Trinidad will “turn” eventually. But other areas of Northeast with ugly 1950’s brick boxes will not. There is also a noticeable lack of “projects”, as such. Compare this to Columbia Heights which has, and will have for the forseeable future, housing project units that are in the high hundreds. Same with Shaw/Convention Center. Sure there is Section 8 housing, but that is not long-term and/or permanent since landlords can opt to rent market rate.

    Finally, I think you will see a significant spillover effect from NOMA and Bloomingdale. Eckington will at first be the cheaper option for many, but once a certain point is reached and quality of life has improved, the improvement will happen even more quickly as it becomes a more mainstream or “hot” area. You can see this happening with Capitol Hill East, Petworth, and H Street.

    So, that is my thoughts, from an outside observer but soon-to-be househunter. I personally would never buy based on investment potential alone, but if I would, Eckington would be as good a bet as any, perhaps with even higher upside than most.

  2. “. I personally would never buy based on investment potential alone, but if I would, Eckington would be as good a bet as any, perhaps with even higher upside than most.

    If you aren’t buying for investment potential as a primary factor, are you buying for proximity to Mckinley High School? Or is it the other walkable neighborhood amenities? If your motivation is simply that you love living in old homes; then I certainly understand.

    I’ve been in DC for over 17 years, and I never would have considered walking through Eckington in 1992. I do it all the time now because I own a home here, and I don’t drive more than once or twice a month (but I do own a car – its paid for)

    You might be missing the fact that I’m very sympathetic to you and Flatland. We’re in this together. However, my rose colored glasses slipped off my nose approx. 2 years ago, and shattered when they hit the ground. Hence my moniker: “Realist” We’re free to disagree.

    Seeing a bunch of 20-something hipsters walking around, where there were none a year ago, does not mean a positive shift has taken place in the neighborhood. The Firehouse being renovated and opening as a viable neighborhood venue would have been a sign of progress. Luciana Cafe staying open and evolving into a viable neighborhood restaurant with chairs and clean tables on which to dine would have been a sign of real progress.

    Eckington serves motorists entering the city in the morning and exiting in the evening. That is its primary function. There is even a Wendy’s placed in the confluence of commuter traffic to feed the hungry motorists. (See my previous comments about North Cap, FL and NY Aves) Eckington’s secondary function, related to the first, is to provide illegal drugs to people passing through. Its no coincidence that availability of drugs and prostitution has historically been clustered around NY Avenue. They are goods and services being provided to commuters.

    Drugs are more pervasive here than most people realize. Drugs are the primary motivation for all the shooting, stabbing, mugging and burglarizing going on around here. Yes, you’re probably going to be OK if you don’t buy, sell, or use drugs. But drug buyers, sellers, and users are all around you. I don’t need to cite statistics about drugs in DC.

    Have you seen the new ads at city bus stops? They read “AIDS: DC’s Katrina” (DC has a per-capita HIV infection rate that is classified as an Epidemic.) Do you agree or disagree with that point of view? Is the HIV epidemic in DC the result of federal inaction, as the ad asserts? Do you think your city Councilman agrees with that statement? There is a culture of perpetual victimization in this city, and cultures are inter-generational.

    By the way, I’m not using my real name because I really was standing next to a homicide victim immediately after he was shot to death. In Eckington.

  3. Just a couple more thoughts; I didn’t set threshold of entry to the neighborhood at $500,000 or any other amount. I was trying to illustrate the point that most people want more square footage and a lawn in return for their mortgage payment; and they accept being stuck in traffic as part of the price they pay.

    I am not one of those people! JT made very valid points in the comments section of the previous blog entry; points about the value of time spent commuting, the existing infrastructure of the city, the price of oil, etc. I’m in total agreement there. However, we’re the exception, not the norm in terms of even thinking about those things. Uncle Sam just lent Tesla Motors hundreds of millions to bring their production electric consumer-oriented vehicle to market quickly. (I know a fair amount of inside scoop about Tesla) Nissan has pledged to have an all-electric car on the market within 2 years. In my opinion, WAMTA has been a disaster for many years. And the red line is atrocious and has been atrocious for many, many years.

    And, not to be dismissed: Suburban housing inventory is moving at deep, deep discounts these days. And it IS moving.

    I have a coworker who lived part of her childhood in DC before “getting out.” That has been a goal for generations of people: “Getting out”. She told me that one reason Mayor Barry is still so popular is that he made sure that DC’s young people always had a pay check every summer. Not a job. A paycheck. My coworker always got a paycheck as a girl. But the relative tranquility of PG County pulled her and her mother out of DC and “on up” the socio-economic ladder.

    On a related topic: Flatland, which DC public school will your little guy attend? Or do you plan to use a private school? Or are you going to sell your house and move before then? (I’m not trying to be argumentative or invasive; I’m genuinely interested because I’m in the same boat, but a bit behind in terms of schedule)

    This all gets to my point about poverty and its associated ills being deeply rooted in the neighborhood. Study the history of DC; starting with the buying and selling of slaves in front of the US Capitol Building, work you way through white-flight and the riots, the crack wars, the Pimp & Prostitute parades, the resentment (and often hatred) of ‘newcomers’, the notion of White Privilege, the dysfunction in the police force (even the cops will tell you horror stories about MPD being hamstrung by bureaucracy, incompetence and corruption), and you’ll start to get the full picture. Again, office buildings in a made-up neighborhood aren’t going to overcome all of that in just 1.5 decades.

    Sorry Flatland; you can’t have this conversation without discussing race, culture, and socio-economic factors. I used to think they could be safely dismissed; but they are inextricably intertwined in the minds of many others, even if they aren’t in yours.

  4. Great discussion, again. We have a little girl a few weeks younger than flatlands. We are shooting for Public Charter Schools. There are some great options. Probably better options than we could get in the inside-the-beltway suburbs where we could afford to live.

    Sorry to go off topic, but I can’t help myself. I had a question that I asked a couple days after the flurry about Eckington, Bloomingdale, and branding. I’ll paste it below. Maybe one of the Bloomingdale folks could comments:

    The history of Bloomingdale link (http://www.BloomingdaleDC.net/history) seems a little alone in the world wide web. Is there anything else to corroborate it? Also, it simply states that this rich dude, Beale, bought the Bloomingdale estate from this rich dude, Bradley. Who named it Bloomingdale? Why?

  5. Here is a link which I think illustrates a portion of the point I was trying to make:

    http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2009/06/24/local-pol-censured-over-potential-hate-crime/

    You may also want to Google for the Washington Post story about Commissioner Thomas exploring the idea of forming a PAC to “keep African Americans a demographic majority in Washington DC.” In other words, he’d prefer it if you didn’t live here. He dropped it once the Post picked up on it.

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