Three articles on Housing Accessibility

‘The African American Housing Crisis in Alexandria, Virginia, 1930s–1960s’ by Krystyn R. Moon; covers Alexandria’s history in the mid-twentieth-century, looking at the ways the white upper class used their power to redefine the neighborhoods of Alexandria. Moon points to the fact that a growing Public Government apparatus needed more and more employees which led to suburbs and communities in Northern Virginia to need to develop land, land which was owned by African American communities already. Moon makes a very interesting assessment about Alexandria pointing to the fact that “Unlike other southern cities of its size, Alexandria had a long history of African American land and homeownership” (33) Moon then shows why this is and gives a brief overview of segregation district’s allowed by VA after 1912 and why Alexandria did not adopt those districts. In the post world war 2 period that growth of Federal government workers lead to an issue that local government leaders turned to the WPA to do a study on housing conditions which led to a slum clearance program. Moon uses a quote form Lawyer Lynn W. Ellis to highlight how this slum clearance program was negatively and directly effecting African American communities; highlighting the high numbers of people displaced and the short turnaround times. In June 1939, the city council created the Alexandria Housing Authority, later known as the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority which reinforced this let’s say war on blight and attempt to remove Black people and bring White people back to Alexandria. AHRA aided in the white local leaders in redrawing Alexandria’s communities by racial lines, a practice that scars the city to this day. In the 1940’s the Federal Housing Association aided in this aswell by reinforcing racial status quo when creating public housing. The city’s first attempt at large-scale urban renewal, using Eminent domain began in 1951, which was met with a large group of local residents fighting back against this due to the fact they were going to lose their homes and businesses. The city kept brining up a new version of this urban renewal project again and again until it honed and Passed in December 1957, the Minimum
Housing-Hygiene. The new act aimed at uptown which was a community of white and black poor people, instead of helping the people there the city focused on the city’s historic commercial corridor. After World War II, African Americans faced continued housing pressures as their population increased and housing decreased. Moon points out that ARHA tended to ignore the needs of black residents and focus on white residents. In the 1960’s the NAACP began to critique the way Alexandria had reshaped itself and began to practice acts civil disobedience like the brave people who went on sit down strike over the lack of library facilities for black residents in the 1930s. The NAACP showed how the Federal Gov’t did not care that Alexandria was segregated and Under mounting pressure, Alexandria’s city council held a closed-door meeting on 21 May 1963 to address desegregation. Alexandria created the Human Rights Ordinance, which for the first time in local law recognized the problems of racial segregation. Alexandria is still haunted by the work of AHRA back in the 40-60s and is working to improve housing rights now. Moon does a great job moving the audience through the history of this interesting and important topic while not getting bogged down by intense scholarship making this topic accessible to the average reader in VA.

“Eminent domain destroys a community: leveling East Arlington to make way for the Pentagon” by Nancy Perry looks at the ways the federal gov’t used eminent domain to create the Pentagon and targeted East Arlington. Eminent domain is a power granted to the government to take privately owned property for the good of the public. Perry does a great job showing modern examples of this by highlighting events people may know about or remember form the news such as one that peaked my interest involving AEP in 2002. Then Perry highlights the legal reason for eminent domain: “The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulates that the government must award “just compensation” for the losses caused by a taking. Tangible losses, material property such as land and improvements, can be compensated monetarily. The literature discusses at length the compensation awarded for tangible losses. Most often the seller is given fair market value with the taker—the government—setting the price.” Then Perry explains the concept of a demoralization cost and the loss of community. Perry sets out to answer three questions: (1) What losses did the residents of East Arlington incur when their neighborhood was taken? (2) What compensation did the residents of East Arlington receive for those losses? (3) Was the compensation “just” as required by the Constitution? They thusly prosed onto the Theoretical framework ~ Talking about the idea of “taker’s gain” where the gov’t steals land and pays what it determines to be market price, then Perry covers “indemnity”—the government pays the value the owner places on the property, plus all additional costs resulting from the taking; juxtaposing these two concepts directly. Perry shows issues with eminent domain by looking at cased like Mitchell v. United States and Kimball Laundry Co. v. United States. Perry then talks about the two general types of community: gesellschaft and gemeinschaft. After this we get a look at the methods and introduced to the oral histories of individuals who lived in East Arlington until 1942: David, Emma, Eunice, Flornace, James, Pearl, Rachael, Vincion, and Wardell. Perry then covers the fact that America was gearing up for war in 1941, it sought a large amount of land for a new building that could be the new home for the war department; they picked a community that was founded by the descendants of fugitive slaves living in government settlements. The War Department awarded the Pentagon construction contract on 11 September 1941. Leveling the construction site began that very day and pile drivers commenced their 24-hour chorus immediately. Community leaders fought back and they appealed to the first lady but were mostly ignored, met with a slightly less draconian plan for clearing the community. Family’s were met with inconstant temporary housing trailers and some not event that. All the buildings in East Arlington were destroyed. The deed giving title to the Federal
government specified a total compensation of $369,427 ($5,351,456 in 2015 dollars) to be portioned out to the property owners. The eminent domain used for the land appropriation never met the cost in the fourth category and had destroyed a Gameinschaft community in the height of segregation. Perry’s last paragraphy was amazing “The story of the taking of East Arlington to make way for a road network around the brand new Pentagon building is an important story. A small community of hardworking American citizens gave up their homes, their possessions, their jobs, their businesses, and their community to make it easier for the government to run World War II. The purpose of just compensation is to ensure that no party sacrifices more than the others. While all Americans made sacrifices during that period, the residents of East Arlington were asked to make a bigger sacrifice than most. The fact that the residents of the community survived that period and landed on their feet is something they can all be proud of. Thus, this chapter in the history of the community came to an end.” At first I did not like the way Perry presented this article, it came off very scientific and at times like a court brief but after the methods section I began to apricate the choice and style of this piece.

‘Land Development and Racism in Fairfax County’ done by the Washington Suburban institute finds that a major issue in the way the land had been developed has lead to and reinforced institutional racism. which they define as “any polices, programs or practices of an agency, an organization or a group, whether public or private, which cause the exclusion of non-white and low-income people from the benefits enjoyed by the white and the affluent.” Fairfax county is an excellent example of suburban development leading institutional racism. The purpose of this study is to show the land development process is key to how the community is defined by institutional racism and enforces racist policy. They find that the 1930-40s saw a decrease in the importance of agriculture and a growth in suburban living ~ highlighting the phenomenal growth in the 40s. Fairfax followed the lead of the National Capital Planning Commission for the year 200 and endorsed satellite cities along major radial thoroughfares which failed and impacted the development of Fairfax. (this is why we have places like Reston growing in the mid-60s) Board of Supervisors and their staff grow in power of land development – look towards holding zones to control low income housing (targeting minority groups in the process alongside the low income White people) Fairfax did not have much control over public transport like highways. They cover deed transfer systems and how complex they are and the fact that due to there being no black realtors in Northern Virginia board of realtors there was no way Black people could have access to the information to deal with the complex nature of deeds and housing laws. This is all very technical and complex but the commission finds that it is made increasing difficult for Minority groups such as African Americans to create and maintain generational wealth for decades and we are still plagued by this issue. The communities defined by low income and Minorites are also facing major issues with ecological damage and pollution due to the county restricting their access to housing in a de facto measure.

All three of these articles talk about the history of NOVA communities disenfranchising minorities and reinforcing institutional racism. As Perry points out this is not a purely NOVA issue it happens all over the country. Moon’s article gives major insight to the people on the ground and shows how the structures at play fight and are fought, reading Moon’s article first established an interesting mindset for the rest of these assigned; reshaping the way I view this topic. I found it rather interesting that the 1930-40s was a time that played such as massive role in this development. Great reads.

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