Housing. Supply. Quality of Supply.

Faceless house
So I have been in Baltimore this week (not overnight) and so that gave me an opportunity as I walked around West Baltimore to snap a picture of one of the city's many, many vacant houses.
Baltimore has so many vacant houses it is not even funny. Riding in on the MARC train you can see them as you come into the city. The parts of the city where I've been walking around, not so much the touristy areas, there are some noticeable vacant houses. Some just have boarded up windows, some have braces to keep them from killing pedestrians (cross the street anyways) and some of them are like the the house pictured, where the front, or the back or the roof is missing.
There are about 16,000 vacant houses in Baltimore City. There are a few houses one could buy for less than $2500 each. Yes, they are shells. Baltimore City government has a "Vacants to Value" program, some are shells, others serious fixer uppers.
At a point in time DC was like Baltimore is today. Shaw had a lot of vacant houses. Between the middle of the 20th Century and the end, Truxton Circle lost a lot of its population and experienced vacancies. Though I cannot find the internet proof, I know my house, where I live, was once a vacant property.
When we think of housing, decent housing, we think of places with roofs that don't leak, places with toilets that flush, spigots that run vigorously, and outlets that don't spark when you plug things in. DC and Baltimore both have a lot of old ('historic' if you want to be fancy) housing stock. Say what you will about gentrification, it gets the old houses fixed up (I'm ignoring the new construction). If not properly by the developer who slaps on a new coat of paint, the next homeowner or next developer who does a better job and addresses the lead pipes, the lack of central air, the so-so water pressure, and other housing emergencies.
Many vacants are not decent housing. The vacants listed at DC Vacant Properties have issues. 509 O St NW has so many problems, like being vacant for way too long, and legal issues, it is a nuisance just standing there. The row of yellow houses at 313-317 R St NW have had squatters but have water, mold and other interior damage and are not fit for safe living.
So lets go back to the house in Baltimore missing half of its front brick. It is a house. In theory it could house someone. In its current state it probably could kill the inhabitants by falling on them. In its current state it can't house anyone safely.

banished? forever

Look a bookYesterday I got the sad news that banished? productions will be no more.

I came to know banished? when they wowed me with the Tactile Dinner. I may have gone to 2 or 3 Tactile Dinners since 2009, all of them different than the last, involving edibles, dance, film and being, not just thinking, outside the box. Then I enjoyed The Circle, (pictured) which was an audio time travel walkabout affair. What I loved about banished? was it wasn't just art, where you look at a thing, be it a thing on a wall or a thing on the floor. Nor was it just theater or dance where you sit back and observe a thing, which is fine. But theirs was an experience, where it did not depend on the passive audience, well the productions I attended, but active participation.

When they moved out to Brookland they had a tool library and held classes. I enjoyed the woodworking class, where I got to saw and drill. I also found pleasure in the whittling class. I wished I had taken some of their other offerings, I think there was a welding class. Once again, active, not passive.

banished? will have their last performance July 20-24 with she took me back so tenderly, I have no idea of what it will have in store, but I'm sure it will be transformative.

Random thoughts on housing and affordablity

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There was a recent report on the relationship between minimum wages and the affordability of a two bedroom apartment. I'm going to reveal a little of my philosophical bent when I write a minimum wage job has as much to do with a 2 bedroom unit as a studio apartment as to do with housing a family of 4.

I remember a lovely trip to NYC where we visited the Tenement Museum, I highly recommend it. Large families would live in these cruddy little spaces which were the size of some studio apartments. We learned laws to make these places more sanitary slowly and later quickly incentivized landlords to close up the tenement apartments and just rent to commercial enterprises. There are costs to renting residential housing borne by the landlord, in the case of Lower East Side landlords, it wasn't worth it.

So what are the costs to rent out say a small apartment building in DC. Well for one, you need to get a small apartment building. The cheapest building so far is an empty 4 unit near Ft. Totten for $895K. From what I can tell it needs work and could turn into 6 units if you have a lot of 1 bedroom apartments. The minimum monthly payment and we haven't fixed the place for human habitation is around $6000. If the owner decides to fix it up, that costs money to pay for permits, labor and materials. Over $1500 a unit if we have 4 apartments, $1000 with 6. Insurance, maintenance, utilities for common areas, property taxes, and property management haven't been added. There are some other concepts such as vacancy, that time when no one is in the unit covering the mortgage. Then there is the idea of profit because what is the point, unless you're a non-profit with another motivation.

Even companies and persons who've owned their properties a while still have to pay for updates, maintenance, management (the people you call when you need maintenance), insurance, property taxes and a bunch of other stuff.

But when you are the one looking to rent, that doesn't matter. There are many people looking to rent and if a landlord can charge $X,xxx for their dinky little 1 bedroom they will, provided it is worth renting it out over mothballing it.

Make your suburban friends jealous

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Okay so if you're young enough or new enough you're probably spending half, or more than half of your income on a small apartment or tiny townhouse in the city. There is probably a reason why you chose to live in Shaw or Bloomingdale or Mt. Vernon Sq. over Springfield, Beltsville, or Mt. Vernon. For me it is the awesome commute (20 mins from front door to butt at desk) and the ability to live over a decade without owning a car. Maybe for you it's the 5 minute walk to your favorite bar, or your second favorite bar. Or maybe you see the ridiculousness of driving 10 minutes or more to a gym to spend ½ an hour on a treadmill staring at CNN, when you my citified friend can walk or bike or take a bus to the kickbox-parkour-pilates-power-hot-yoga place.... While on your phone updating your Twitter. Do that in a car and you'll find yourself wrapped around a pole, or in a ditch.

Our suburban friends, we love them, and I'm sure they love us, but they don't see why we'd choose less than 1000 sq feet of urban jungle over .25 acres of grass that needs mowing and private parking. Remind them of what they're missing and why it's worth it. At least remind yourself.

It helps if your neighborhood is great. I have a bias for Shaw. Even in the bad old days of Shaw, with hot a cold drug dealers and gunshots every other night, it was walkable and close to Downtown with lots of transportation options (bus and metro train). Yes, no one wanted to deliver food to you, or come by and pick you up in their cab, but I had more options in early 00s Shaw than I did in Hyattsville. Now, Shaw is amazing and gets more amazing each day. There is still crime and drug dealing but the good mostly outshines the bad. There are more transportation options, I can start sentences with, "Lets get an Uber ..." and have one at my door in less than 4 minutes. There are 2 Capital Bikeshare stations within a 3 minute walk from my house. And there are those little Car2Go things all over the place. I can walk to church, to either the Giant or the Safeway, to the metro, and to more than 50 bars, restaurants, and other eateries. There are a handful of places that want to deliver food to me from more than 100 restaurants.

Inside BKK on Snow Day
When we had that big snowstorm (yes, I know it is summery now... finally) and the streets were blocked and folks who lived in less dense areas were stuck in their houses. We, were able to trudge to the restaurants and businesses that were open because some business owners were local. That was one little perk of living in town.

So enjoy the life you live, in the city.

MISSING: Neighbor Cat Lila

A cat that is as much of a neighbor to me as her two cat parents, Lila has gone missing.
She is 20 years old. Yes, she is an old kitty, and like some of the elderly, probably has dementia and has wandered off.
She was last seen somewhere along 1st and Bates. Her home is the 1600 block of 4th St NW.
Yes, there are a lot of black cats wandering the neighborhood, but these are the features of Lila:
  • She is 100% black.
  • She has a red collar with a heart shaped tag with her name and her people's number.
  • Her rear legs are a little stiff.
  • She hates being picked up but she won't fight you.

If you see her, grab the old lady and call the number on her tag. Her people have put up signs so I'm not sure what phone number is listed.  Please call 413-9699 if you see her.  I'll update this when I talk to her people. Please help us return her to our street so she may sit on top of her trash can again.

If time is no issue, email me at mari at inshaw dot com.

2.5 centuries of DC architecture

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Morgan St Houses
I have no idea how old these Morgan Street houses are. Mid-Late 19th Century off the top of my head and I think there is some construction going on that block. So this photo is old.
DC has tons of old buildings. Call them historic if you want to get all fancy pants. The folks at RENTCafĂ© sent me this from their post "D.C. Architecture:  260 Years of Home Design Evolution in the Nation's Capital". At first glance I thought they did this thing that a lot of people do, include parts of Maryland and Virginia but it looks like it is pure DC (a lot of upper and way west NW, but still DC). So enjoy:

Visitors Stink After a While

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Let me start of with a story about my mom, who I think is a wonderful person. She lives way over in Florida in the same town as my sister. My sister loves my mom as much as I do, but doesn't think mom is as wonderful for reasons that I will explain.
On the rare occasions my mom comes up to DC I love having her visit. Mom would visit my sister almost every other day, because she could do that because they live in the same town, the grandkids want rides (to the mall/ the movies/ etc) and she has a key to the house. So it wasn't too hard to imagine sis being annoyed after coming home from work to find mom in her house. The occasional visit is nice, the constant dropping by and hanging out (not always at the request of the grandkids) became intolerable, even though it is mom, who's wonderful.

Corner guys
Now if someone as lovely and nice as my mother can make a nuisance of herself, the same can be said of the old guys on the corner.

The old guys claim to the area is they used to live around here. Fine, but still not a valid reason to hang behind a shuttered store under the "No Trespassing" signs almost every day. They may have friends and family in the area. Cool, they should visit them. Let those friends feel the same thing I feel coming home to see a gaggle of 5-6 or more hanging out on the corner.

They also don't help that commercial strip. Right now there is only 1 business operating there. The corner store is closed and having a bunch of men hanging out back probably didn't help and may have hurt. I worry about the prospects of that strip with that crowd constantly there.

I could bring up the drug dealing, and the public drinking but I will leave that for now.

The problem with mom has been semi-resolved. She comes over less often, but now finds herself with little to do, so she's thinking of going back to work as a nurses aid. Part-time.

Losing Good Neighbors

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I found out this weekend that some long term neighbors are moving to the wilds of Maryland after 33 years of living on the block. A week before, I saw another neighbor with a known Realtor guy, who we knew was going to move, but just seeing that guy made it more real.

Our block is losing two good neighbors. They aren't good neighbors because they are nice people, which they are. They are good neighbors because the old timers and the somewhat new-timer actively tried, with their own style, to make our block a better place. The old timers are a couple and I've mentioned Lem once or twice on the blog. In winter Lem gets his Bobcat and shovels the sidewalk after a big snow. He's also been the neighborhood handyman for small things that come up. His wife and another long-time person (moved away now) greeted me when I first moved here, providing me with a welcome packet. The other neighbor has been active with animal/pet issues that have arisen and addressed the possibility of a hate group protesting outside of the mosque.

We've lost other good neighbors in the past too, who have left their imprint. They have been replaced by nice people who have yet to make their own mark. Sometimes it takes a while to figure how you can use your talents, connections, and knowledge to make the block a better place. But when they do, watch out, something wonderful happens.

A differing view

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Glass constructionSome time ago I was chatting with my architect neighbor, about what exactly I forget, and we either were looking at or talking about houses and apartments with these large windows.
As I recalled he mentioned how they were great, letting lots of light in. I on the other hand had a different opinion. When I look up or over at houses like the one pictured, I think,
"Look at me! Look at me!"
"Look at my cool house!"
"Look at my cool stuff!"
"Look at my cool life! and weep."
Well mainly for the people who don't make use of their blinds in the evening or at night so they are critters in a fish tank.
I'm sure this is not what the occupants mean to say or project to the passing world, gazing out their car windows at the light or me when I'm walking from mass and observe a few minutes of the "kitchen show" on my way to the Giant. However, it looks like the 'haves' broadcasting to the other haves and maybe-haves along with the have-nots in Shaw.

People Who Show Up at Your Door

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I've been talking with someone who lives in Baltimore and works in DC, and we have been comparing DC and Baltimore. We got on the topic of Jehovah Witnesses which led to talking about other people who show up at my door. However, it seems the other people I get beyond JWs are a DC thing, and others, I'm guessing a Shaw thing.

1. Religious People- These are your Jehovah Witnesses and more rarely Mormons. Everyone gets them, and everyone has their own opinion on the topic, so moving along.

2. Political/ Advocacy- They want you to sign to allow such and such on the ballot and they will come door to door to get those signatures because standing outside the metro and accosting people apparently wasn't working. Lately, I had someone from Save the Children show up on my door. I believe they wanted donations. So, no.

3. Utilities- No I do not want to change from Pepco or switch to a cable company.

4. Wrong door or Alica don't live here no 'mo- This happens less these days but in the early days when I arrived and the neighborhood was truly gentrifying with lots of subsidized homes and transition and change, you'd have people showing up at the wrong door. In a row of townhouses they all look alike and it doesn't help that the colors of the house changed and the fences changed when someone was looking for an old friend. Or when a house that used to have subsidized renters or so-in-so who was living with grandma has now been replaced by random white people. I got someone who was looking for someone three doors over who moved a while ago. I'd heard stories from other people who had people at their doorstep looking for people who moved several years ago.
I'm hearing fewer of these stories and I take it as a sign that Shaw is no longer 'gentrifying' it is gentrified. The middle-class and typically white people are no longer replacing poor black families, they are replacing middle class white people. There are still subsidized houses being replaced by market rate renters and owners, but not to the level it was in the 90s and 00s.

5. Sales- The door to door salesperson still lives. I think Capital Meats may have changed their name, but they do come around every so often. Typically, i say no. There have also been people hawking subscriptions for the Washington Post and other publications. Um, no.

6. Handouts/ Cons- This is seems special to neighborhoods like Shaw. I put handouts with cons because sometimes until later, until after you think about it or write about it on the neighborhood email list, you may discover it was a con. This winter we got a homeless couple at our door asking for whatever we could give. It was a cold night so we gave them a new hat and scarf I'd gotten as a present. I was planning to give those items to charity anyway, so I honestly don't care if it were a con.
Many years ago I got a woman at my door claiming to live around the corner, saying a relative was in the hospital, her car won't start or she needed gas because the hospital was in outer Mongolia Maryland, and she just needed something to help. I gave her a Smart-Trip card I found days earlier on the sidewalk.
Several months ago on one of the neighborhood forums there was mention of a white male going to doors claiming that he locked himself out of his house and had extra keys at work and needed money for a cab to pick up his keys. Like my lady with the relative in the hospital, he made a vague claim of being a neighbor. People who move to neighborhoods like Shaw tend not to know who their neighbors are, and con artists can use that ignorance.

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