I am the hypocritical hippie

Kudos to DC for passing the ‘living wage bill’ despite Walmart’s vow to pull out of three planned locations in DC and review the costs/benefits of three other stores that are already being built. The liberal in me cheers. The homeowner weeps.

I want to be rich. Or, at least comfortable. Years ago, I was more optimistic and thought that it was possible for me to be a rich hippie. The reality is that only the very lucky get to be rich hippies without first having to sell out in order to rake in some cash. If I had money, I would never purchase goods from companies that perpetuate everything that is wrong with this country. I wouldn’t work for a company that stands on the wrong side of healthcare reform. I wouldn’t bask in the occasional 30 minute shower. But, in the end, every good little liberal has to decide how far she/he will go to put community first at the expense of self.

This little liberal is tenacious but, finances being what they are, I find myself slipping from time to time.

Last year, I intentionally bought a house near a site which has recently been zoned for redevelopment. I procured this old, broken monstrosity at the height of the buyer’s market, with a 3.5% interest rate on my mortgage, intent on fixing it up and using it to leverage my next home purchase. Part of the decision to purchase this property was based on the fact that my townhouse is located a quarter of a mile from two major redevelopment projects in a fairly quiet old neighborhood that desperately needs to change in order to avoid becoming irretrievably downtrodden.

The solution for the Fort Totten neighborhood in northeast DC? Mixed use buildings. Like other neighborhoods before it, Fort Totten is slated to be the site of new retail and restaurant storefronts with apartments built above it. The site is within easy walking distance of a Metro stop and will bring much-needed retail to an area where one has to drive or metro to get to anything other than a liquor store or KFC. What storefronts are on the list? Several, but only one matters.

Ft. Totten Square is being built on top of an urban Walmart.

Ew, right? I knew that the area near my townhouse had been zoned for this type of development before my purchase but the developer locked Walmart in after I had settled on my home. My first thoughts upon hearing the news were fairly predictable. As a thoughtful consumer, I avoid Walmart at all costs. At first, the idea of being in the proximity of such a terrible giant was distasteful. Then, my wallet started calling to me and I changed my mind. Maybe it is time for me to capitalize on some of the financial opportunities that are available. As someone who has recently invested in a neighborhood, this particular neighborhood, I need Walmart. I want that store like I want my next paycheck.

My financial health is directly dependent upon whether or not I can turn a profit on my house. And, living a ten minute walk away from not only a Metro hub but also access to shopping and restaurants is a huge help. But, I can’t help but be turned off by what I see in some of the other nearby redeveloped areas of DC.

The gentrification of my neighborhood will come with some major drawbacks. People like me could make a killing, others will see their community forever changed from a sleepy web of homes to a monstrosity of retail. Affordable, if shabby, housing is demolished in favor of newer, more expensive housing with less character. Family-owned business are driven out by chains and corporations. Community members must move to find housing they can afford. And, jobs that are created tend to pay measly salaries and have poor benefits.

So, thanks DC Council for legislating that Walmart must pay it’s workers the “livable wage” of $12.50/hr (like anyone could live in DC on $25,000 a year).  This made me very happy. At least until I realized that now Walmart may pull out of it’s contract to set up shop in my neighborhood…


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