by Elena Pastreich
mentor: James Rice, History; funding source: Rosenfeld Family Summer ScholarsPastreich-poster
My project stemmed from both an interest in environmental justice and local history of Washington, D.C., where I grew up. As I began my research, I found that the issue of environmental injustice in Washington, D.C. is inextricably tied to a long history of housing discrimination. My research for Summer Scholars will culminate in my senior thesis in the History department, focusing on case studies of particular neighborhoods at different periods in the 20th century in which housing injustice and environmental injustice were, and still are, connected.
This poster presents a brief overview of racially restrictive housing covenants and blockbusting in Washington, D.C., two practices that have shaped the racial and socio-economic makeup of D.C. Both practices limited housing available to Black D.C. residents, often so that real estate agents could profit off of racism and segregation. Although both housing covenants and blockbusting are technically illegal today, they have shaped Washington, D.C. since its early stages of residential development and have had lasting impacts.
My project will focus on several case studies. One neighborhood I am focusing on in particular is Fort Reno, which today is a wealthy, predominantly White neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C. In 1926, there was a growing Black community of almost 400 families surrounded by suburbs that were predominately White. Real estate developers saw that White families were willing to pay to live in a racially segregated neighborhood, and so wrote up a plan to build a large park right on top of a residential area that would effectively push out almost all Black residents in Fort Reno. As the plan went forward, a local property owner’s association and the D.C. Commissioners specified that their goal in building this park was explicitly to push out Black families. The proposal passed without a hearing involving community members, and Fort Reno Park still stands today.
Fort Reno Park is one moment in a long history of real estate developers, White D.C. residents, and the local and federal government using racist housing policies to limit the housing available Black families and shape the physical landscape of Washington, D.C. This type of decision making is built into the development of D.C. as it is today, and formed the placement of open natural spaces, waste disposal sites, and accessible public transportation. In part I hope that through this project, I can better understand where I fit into this history and be critical of my experience and presence in D.C.