by Katelyn Becker
WASHINGTON-When you walk into Bread for the City in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C. it is bustling with people and chatter. On a weekday morning just before lunch hour, there is a long line against the red brick wall for the food pantry. An older woman rolls in the front doors on a walker in a puffy jacket. As she walks in, Willette Branch at the front desk bids her a “hello how are you?” and checks the woman in for a free appointment at the healthcare clinic.
The front of the building is a wall of windows looking out onto 7th street. The street looks like a divider between the old and the new in the changing community. A community, which Willette Brand said has changed a lot in the past few years, “some things for the better and some for the worse,” she said.
Opposite of Bread for the City, there are new high-rise apartment buildings with tall glass windows and sleek silver edges. They glitter in the sun and light up the signs that say COMING SOON in red across the front doors.
In the bottom of the luxury apartment sits a bar with a chalkboard sign outlining the happy hour prices of Rose. The bartender stands in front of the wall of wine bottles. A young woman in leggings and a ponytail walks her fluffy white dog around the corner towards the wall-sized mural of Elizabeth Taylor.
The sounds of hammers and saws cut the air and signal the changing skyline of a community that has a rich history, and a community where some people are being pushed out.
And Bread for the City has witnessed a lot of this history. Through it all, the center has been there to cater to the needs of the people in D.C. who have required it most. According to their website, the non-profit started in 1974 and grew in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The site in Shaw has a food pantry, a rooftop garden, a medical clinic, social services and even a legal clinic. Through these free initiatives they ensure that everyone is treated with humanity and is promptly provided with help. Between the housing prices and the wage gap, there are many within the Shaw community who seem to need it.
Willette Branch is on the administrative team and has also lived in the neighborhood since she was a little girl. “There are a lot of people that are afraid of being pushed out,” she said. Between her and her husband’s jobs they have been able to afford to stay in the neighborhood. Even so, she said there are a lot of elderly that have lived there their whole lives and are scared of being forced to move. Regarding Bread’s clients, Branch said, “we’re dealing with a lot of people here who can’t afford to stay.”
According to Bread for the City’s brochure, “affordable housing in DC shrank by 53% between 2002 and 2013.” Allison Bansen is the volunteer coordinator at Bread for the City. The new apartment across the street claims that it’s affordable housing, but that in reality it’s relative to the median income in D.C., Bansen said. According to U.S. census data, the median monthly rent in D.C overall was $1,512 a month.
Adam Blech is a young post-grad who just moved to the adjacent neighborhood called Bloomingdale. He works at Dacha beer garden, which is diagonal from Bread for the City. He said he likes the townhouses and the residential feel of the neighborhood, but even after living there for a short time he can recognize the changes.
“Every other week I feel like there’s a new bar that pops up,” he said. He explained that walking down 7th street there are four or five new apartments where 40-50k a year is still not enough of an income to afford the rent. This excludes certain groups from the amenities of the neighborhood he said.
Allison Bansen also said that many clients are concerned about the wage gap. Minimum wage in D.C. was $11.50 in 2016.
“Many people of color are getting pushed to the southeast,” she said. Bread for the City has a location in the southeast to accommodate the population there where they have many of the same services and also a clothing room. Bread for the City also has a Housing Access Program that assists low income residents with finding or maintaining a stable home, according to their website.
They also started an advocacy campaign that uses the hashtag #Right2DC. In their brochure it says the team consists of “five community organizers to advocate for policies to create and maintain more affordable housing in the D.C. community.” In 2016 they helped 1,155 people find stable homes according to their website.
As you walk through the Bread for the City building you see brick exposed walls and murals of D.C. You hear the clink of cans in the pantry hitting the table for the client to take home. And as you climb up the metal stairs to the rooftop garden, you realize it’s a slice of greenery in a concrete jungle. It sits with a backdrop of windows looking in to the silvery and glass apartments that are waiting for all the new residents to move in; residents who will probably not need the services of Bread for the City.