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I bought a fixer upper in Brightwood

Homebuying in the District is not easy given the rising home prices, but it is also not impossible. After four months of searching and putting in an offer on three houses, we finally closed on a single family attached (duplex) in Brightwood Manor Park. (I’ve since learned that my specific neighborhood is Manor Park)

Did we get what we want?

In my last post, I talked about what was important to us as we started the homebuying process. Fortunately, we got most of what we wanted.

  • Affordability: The home was within our budget. We crunched the numbers and determined that we could pay the mortgage on the home and the condo with one person’s salary.
  • Location: As a co-owner of a DC Certified Business Enterprise, staying in the District was important to maintaining our status as a District-owned business, meaning the business’ owners are residents of the DC. The baseline criteria for the CBE is being District-based business, but we get additional points for being District-owned as well. We have a slightly longer commute to work than from our apartment in Navy Yard. Our previous commute was each 25 minutes and now I have a 35-minute one seat ride on the 63 Metrobus. My boyfriend’s commute is 45 minutes via walking and Metrorail.
  • Low Maintenance Green Space: We have two small patches in the front, a small side yard/walkway, and a small rear yard. Since the house sat vacant for two years, the weeds were taller than me. It took us two weekends, a machete, a chainsaw, and weed killer to remove all of the weeds. We mulched the front yard and decided to use the rear for parking. Needless to say, we won’t have to cut grass.
  • Schools: Our boundary schools are Whittier Education Campus and Coolidge High School. The Whittier Education Campus had a boost in test scores this past school year and Coolidge is in the middle of a renovation. There are also plenty of good charter schools in walking distance.
  • Walkability: We are within walking distance to recreation centers, the public library, mom and pop restaurants, and grocery stores. Admittedly, we did buy a used car, after being carfree for over five years, to accommodate the multiple trips to the hardware store to fix up the house.
  • Size: Our home has three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a finished basement. It’s a perfect size for us now and as we grow our family. The main floor is semi-open, which is great for entertaining.

Trade-Offs

To get everything we wanted, including affordability, the compromise was the condition of the home. We viewed a few “flipped” homes that were move in ready. However, I had concerns about the quality of the renovations after the experience of my friends and WAMU’s reporting a few years ago about how developers sometimes cut corners to quickly flip homes.  The house we purchased was a rental property for a decade, then sat vacant for over two years. It took us about a month to get the house in move in ready condition, including upgrading the electrical and plumbing systems, deep cleaning, and putting on a new roof.

Over the next year we will completely gut and rebuild the kitchen and basement. During the basement reconstruction, we will remove all the remaining galvanized steel pipes in the house. The downside is having to live in the house during construction. However, we will have the peace of mind knowing everything was built to our specifications and standards.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

 

 

Balance

The Elusive Work-Life Balance

We all crave the elusive work-life balance. It comes up again and again in the events I’ve hosted for WTS’s Mentoring Program. It’s always interesting to see how panelists and speakers respond, because a lot of them haven’t figured it out either. I remember the first career panel I hosted as co-chair of WTS’s Mentoring Program, someone asked how to achieve this balance and the first panelist answered, “if you figure it out, let me know”. Over the years, however, I have been able to piece together some helpful advice. I gave a brief synopsis in my last blog post, Lessons from WTS-DC’s Mentoring Program, but there was too much to say so I’m breaking it out into a separate post.

Hearing stories from numerous panelists and working with my mentors, my approach to work-life balance is continuously evolving. I used to think there were specific jobs that offered work-life balance and I just had to find them. While it’s true that some jobs are more or less conducive to work-life balance than others, I’ve learned that in almost any job in any sector, you can fall prey to working way too many hours and burning out. When my Mentoring Program co-chairs and I brainstorm people to invite to the panels, we make sure we have a representative from each sector. For example, this year’s panel included someone from the Federal government, local government, non-profit, and someone who currently works for a transportation agency but has worked for private consulting firms in the past. They all have the same challenges when it comes to work load – in every single sector, in almost every position they’ve been in.

So how do you find work-life balance? To sum everything up in one sentence: you have to set the boundaries to achieve work-life balance – it won’t fall into your lap. No one is going to know how much you can handle except for you. You need to be your own advocate. Sure, but how do you turn down additional work? While these of course won’t work for everyone, our panelists had the following tips:

Focusing on the Essentials
What can you take off your plate? What is not essential? If you take too much on, your work will suffer (not to mention your physical and mental health). Instead, figure out which tasks at work and at home are most important and stop doing anything else that isn’t absolutely necessary. If you are able, delegate to a coworker, ask your boss for an intern, outsource household chores, etc. You can then excel at whatever you choose to focus on and that is what makes people want to work with you.

Alternative to Saying ‘No’
On a related note, instead of just saying ‘no’ when asked to take something else on, provide alternative options. At work, instead of telling your boss you can’t take on a new task, say you can do it but you need help. You and your boss can work together to figure out how your team can get the work done so that it’s not all piled on you. This can Work-Life-Balance-Signsimilarly be used for extra-curricular activities. For example, if you’re asked to speak on a panel, join a board, or volunteer at an event, and you just don’t have the time, recommend someone else who can take your place.

Get Out of the Office
Your time outside of work is important. If you have a flexible schedule and worked more at the beginning of the week, make sure you actually leave work early at the end the week. People make this mistake with vacation too when they don’t use all of their PTO. Taking time off makes you more productive and will improve the quality of your work. And when you take time off, truly be out of the office (i.e. no answering emails or work calls).

Self-Care
Take care of yourself, know your limits, and trust that you are appreciated and respected enough to take a step back without impeding your career. In fact, easing up when necessary will probably improve your career in the long run.

Again, some jobs and professions (and some bosses) are more conducive to these techniques than others and sometimes this advice just isn’t possible. But I think a lot of people would be surprised about what is possible when you ask for it, as long as it’s a well-thought-out, reasonable request.

Department of Defense

Houston, No America, We Have A Problem!

Department of Defense
Department of Defense

 Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen the news and know the devastation Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath has caused in Southeast Texas. When we witness such tragedy on a large scale, we immediately begin discussing ways to prevent it; however, flooding is an everyday occurrence in many cities across the United States. While this flooding in the human environment may not be enough to blanket a city or trap people in their homes, it’s enough to destroy property; cause waterborne illnesses; cause loss of life; destroy crops; and impede access to essential public services such as ambulances and firetrucks. The aforementioned list is by no means exhaustive but a snippet to illustrate some of the impacts of flooding. Sadly, it doesn’t take a hurricane to have this impact. Heavy rainfall or even sustained rainfall over a long period of time can be just as destructive.

Unfortunately, climate change is causing more frequent and extreme weather events. Unless we take action to mitigate the damage caused by these wet weather events, we will see more devastation in our communities. As an environmental engineer who happens to work on stormwater management issues, here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.

1. Preservation of natural resources – Wetlands (marshes, swamps, bogs, ponds) are land areas covered by water that consist of plant and animal life. In the context of flood control, wetlands help protect against storm surges by serving as an intermediary between larger waterbodies and land. Unfortunately, development often destroys this natural barrier allowing more water to reach land and without filtration. Jurisdictions should include preservation of natural resources as they update their land use plans, comprehensive plans, and/or zoning laws.

2. Getting smarter about growth – During wet weather events, water is looking for a place to go. Water naturally seeps into the ground; however, many of our cities are covered in asphalt, concrete, and other impenetrable barriers. This surface water runoff can overwhelm our sewers and become stuck in areas where there is little flow. In addition, waterfronts are being developed with housing and commercial space without regards to rising water levels due to climate change. As this land erodes it will impact these places that are now high value corridors of living and entertainment. Despite these challenges, waterfronts are and will continue to be popular locations for development. Developments should consider sea level rise or consider new design techniques such as floodable buildings.

3. Increase in green infrastructure -Trees, rain gardens, green roofs, bio swales, pervious pavement, rain barrels and constructed wetlands are a newer approach to managing surface water runoff. Many urban areas are using green infrastructure as a tool to imitate the natural process that should occur after wet weather events by adding soils and other vegetation back into the ecosystem. Green infrastructure has to be a part of a larger strategy to effectively minimize the impact of wet weather as well as place making in communities.

4. Increase and maintain gray infrastructure – Poor drainage, lack of maintenance, infrastructure not designed for high density populations are all issues impacting our existing gray infrastructure such as storm drains, storm sewers, holding tanks, dams and levees. In fact, both dams and levees received a grade D on the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. New gray infrastructure as well as the maintenance of older infrastructure are important components in preventing the outcomes we often witness in wet weather events.

The damage and destruction that we witnessed post Katrina, Sandy and now Harvey are not isolated to these extreme wet weather events. Until we extend our conversations and more importantly our action to maintenance and prevention, we will continue to play Monday morning quarterback. Unfortunately, it’s more than a football game at stake. Lives depend on it. America, we have a problem!

P.S. Extreme wet weather events are occurring globally but for the purposes of  making this blog brief, I limited the issue to the United States of America.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.





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