Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Gentrification Blues, Sibling Divorce

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

I am a white male in my twenties who moved this year into a group house in a newly-gentrifying DC neighborhood. I am on good terms with my neighbors, many of whom have lived on the block for 40 years or more. One of them, let’s call him Jonny, is a 40-something guy who has hit hard times, and we always exchange “hellos” when we walk by. My housemates and I decided to hire him to mow the lawn, which we saw as a win-win situation.

I decided I would pay him $60, significantly more than I had paid others in the past, because he was someone I knew and liked. After he was done (and he didn’t entirely finish the job), he demanded that I pay him $100. I didn’t even have that kind of money on me, so I paid him $60 but felt crappy about the whole thing. What can I do to avoid getting hustled like that in the future?

No Good Deed Goes Uncrapped On

Dear No Good Deed Goes Uncrapped On,

Though I’ve never taken Contract Law 101, I bet the first lesson is this: agree upon a contract. Sounds to me like you thought you were being generous with Jonny, but never cleared the price with him. The two of you didn’t need to get lawyers to draw up a contract and two witnesses to sign, but you did need to have a conversation about price for labor before the job was over. That’s how you avoid getting hustled.

There’s one more thing: guilt permeated your letter. You thought that if Jonny was grateful for your $60, you would somehow feel better about living in a rapidly-changing neighborhood.

Gentrification is a sticky topic, and an important one in DC right now. Though gentrification is a word with decidedly negative connotations, the issue is more complex than that. For instance, while renters are being priced out of their homes in many “up-and-coming” neighborhoods, homeowners are in a much more fortunate situation. And increased public safety and access to bank loans in neighborhoods like Petworth are also positives, though people who have lived in the community for years deserve access to these benefits in addition to new residents.

We could fill a year’s worth of columns discussing gentrification, but that still wouldn’t ease your discomfort. Sometimes, we just have to live with complication. As you parse through these issues, I recommend reading this excellent article on gentrification from The Wilson Quarterly’s Summer 2011 issue: “New to the Neighborhood”



Dear Rachel,

I am a middle-aged woman who recently went through a divorce with my husband of 22 years. It was amicable and we continue to have a friendly relationship, both for the sake of our kids and because we still care about each other. I was surprised to learn from one of my kids, however, that my brother was at my ex-husband’s apartment last weekend to watch baseball.

Of course, 22 years together is a long time, and during that time my brother and then-husband spent a lot of time together. They were close friends and enjoyed each other’s company. I am also close with my brother, though we have a lot less in common. It feels strange to me that my own flesh-and-blood would continue to spend time with my ex-husband. Would I be threatening the drama-free divorce if I asked them not to do so?

Does Ex-Husband Mean Ex-Brother?

Dear Does Ex-Husband Mean Ex-Brother,

I bet you’ve got a lot of strong emotions swirling around right now. You’re certainly undergoing an intense transition. Despite the amicable-seeming divorce, you are bound to face many negotiations like this one, as lives intertwined for 22 years begin to unwind themselves. You will not be a stranger to feeling strange.

In the case of your brother -- have you spoken to him about your concerns? Especially if everything is as hunky-dory as you make it seem, there should be an open door for dialogue. You don’t have to call it a confrontation. Just call up your brother and tell him what you told me, minus the threatening part.

There are no right or wrong answers here. It’s about what works for the ecosystem of people around whom you’ve built your life, including, most importantly, yourself.



Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel at advice @ fastmail dot net.

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