- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Parisa B. Norouzi, a community organizer with Washington Innercity Self Help, is offended by the mayor’s 10-year campaign to attract 100,000 new residents to the city, as packaged in the slogan “city living, dc style!”

“I think it’s a joke,” Miss Norouzi said yesterday. “I think it’s amazing our mayor and his staff are spending money to bring wealthy residents to the city, while lifelong residents of the city — in some cases, senior citizens and others living on fixed incomes — are being driven out because of a lack of affordable housing.”

The chasm between the haves and have-nots has been magnified by the city’s incredible real estate boom of the past few years. An affordable dwelling in the city is going the way of the dodo bird.

As housing prices reach stratospheric levels in the fashionable parts of the city, more and more previously modest neighborhoods are surrendering to developers and the prospect of gentrification.

The balance between the old and new is delicate. Improving a neighborhood sometimes means putting it beyond the financial reach of those who endured the bad times but can’t stick around to enjoy the good.

“I think the mayor is completely out of touch,” said Miss Norouzi, who lives on the edge of Shaw in Northwest.

She, too, is being forced to evacuate, to make way for those with fat wallets seeking a slice of “city living, dc style!”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams showed up at the Washington Convention Center late last month, pushing his vision at the first “city living, dc style!” expo, where city officials, money lenders, developers and potential home buyers all came together to celebrate the future and perhaps get down to business.

The campaign comes with a price, more than $600,000 alone for the expo, with more expenditures certain to follow. Having a political vision is rarely cheap, a sure sign to taxpayers to take a deep breath and clutch their purse strings.

If the mayor is to reach his goal, it will be mostly with the well-heeled willing to accept the inefficiency of city government for the right address.

Sticker shock is an increasing malady of the city. Even the city’s ever-dwindling middle class is feeling more and more marginalized. Affordable housing is no longer a problem of the poor. The middle class is fleeing to the suburbs, and not just for the usual reasons: better public services, better schools, more house and more yard. The middle class is finding it lacks the necessary disposable income to be a first-time buyer.

Miss Norouzi sees a mayor who is scrambling to add a high-profile jewel to his political legacy, from his failed quest to secure the 2012 Olympic Games to his ongoing attempt to lure a Major League Baseball franchise to the city.

“I am not necessarily against those things,” Miss Norouzi said. “I understand how the Olympics or a baseball team have value to a city. But our group is here to say the mayor’s priorities are out of whack.”

She speaks of the shortage of services for the seemingly increasing number of homeless, cutbacks in the child care program and a lack of affordable housing. She sees a mayor who is ensconced in an ivory tower, ever-distant from his constituents.

Miss Norouzi knows her group’s battle is an uphill one, being waged against powerful interests. There is big money in play. Her group is one voice of the people, the little people.

“Whenever you come across someone who has been hurt by this, that is a whole lot more powerful than any slick campaign,” she said. “That is how we counter it, with the people. We see the effects. Affordable housing is rapidly disappearing, and going up in its place is luxury housing. The market is really quite insane, and it has real consequences.”

Miss Norouzi’s group is planning to hold a rally Nov. 15 outside the convention center. The starting time: 10 a.m. The purpose of the event is to let the mayor know that his vision is incompatible with the needs of so many who helped put him in office.

This reality of city living is different from “city living, dc style!”


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