Forced Betting the Farm: How Historic Preservation Law Fails Poor and Nonwhite Communities
Written By: Alden A. Fletcher
This Note discusses historic preservation law in the context of the rede-velopment fight over the Washington, D.C. neighborhood, Barry Farm. The Note argues that historic preservation law is inadequately structured to protect and preserve properties associated with poor and nonwhite communities. The Note closely examines the efforts of Barry Farm tenants to have their homes historically designated, and it shows how current law placed unnecessary barriers in their path. As a remedy, the Note recommends removing physicality requirements from historic preservation laws.
Unlike prior legal works—which have considered redevelopment and historic preservation as separate phenomena—this Note explicitly discusses historic preservation as a tool to prevent redevelopment-based dispossession and displacement. Thus, it refocuses the historic preserva-tion debate by looking at who has access to the benefits provided by his-toric preservation laws. It provides an original literature review of the limited number of works that have addressed this question. It concludes that a gap remains in identifying the systemic barriers to the preservation of properties outside of wealthy, white communities. It then takes a criti-cal look at the D.C. and federal historic preservation statutes. The heart of the Note discusses the case for Barry Farm’s historical merit and the tenant-led effort to have the neighborhood designated. The experience of the Barry Farm tenants offers a unique and valuable case study showing the failures of current historic preservation law. All parties conceded Barry Farm is historic, yet the property faced significant hurdles on the path to designation. The Note concludes with a novel argument about how and why historic preservation law should be changed to allow com-munities to use it to prevent dispossession.
The Note comes at a time of heightened awareness of the structural racism undergirding American society as well as a renewed realization of the inequalities in access to historic preservation protections. It is also one of the first pieces of legal scholarship to consider the Barry Farm case. In addition, the Note offers a way forward to better protect the history of traditionally underserved and marginalized communities. It serves as a useful resource for future efforts to use historic preservation law to avert tenant displacement by chronicling the legal developments of the Barry Farm case.