Ward 8


Asian Shopkeepers And The Economics Of Improving Corner Stores

A D.C. shopkeeper poses by his "Healthy Corners" stand. D.C. Central Kitchen's program delivers fresh produce to corner stores.

The fallout continues over comments Councilman Marion Barry made about Asian-owned stores in Ward 8, calling them “dirty shops.” Barry has since issued an apology, but a coalition of local and national Asian American groups have called for more meaningful engagement.

Part of Barry’s follow-up comments focused on the unhealthy foods such stores sell, and he called for the owners to sell healthier foods and fix up their stores.

Gary Cha, owner of Yes! Organic Market and former president of the Korean American Grocers Association, appeared on Monday’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show to discuss Barry’s comments and relations between black and Asian communities in D.C.

Cha spoke with DCentric after the show and reiterated that a common perception of store owners among customers is that whatever goes into the register is profit. But many take home only 6 to 7 percent of sales, Cha said. If a store makes $1 million a year, the owners take away about $60,000 for their families.

“These are people who are barely getting by. I know several of them that to make ends meet, they don’t even have health insurance,” Cha said. “So when we ask them to renovate and do this and that, they probably don’t have the financial ability to do that.”

Stocking up with healthier foods, particularly fresh produce, does require investment by store owners.  Refrigeration units are needed, which can be costly and difficult to accommodate in small stores. Also, small stores may not qualify for wholesale produce prices.

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Marion Barry: Breaking Down Race, Plexiglass And ‘Dirty Shops’

dbking / Flickr

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry

Councilman Marion Barry’s criticisms of Asian-owned stores in Ward 8 set off a whirlwind of criticism and debate Thursday. Here’s the rundown: Barry made some offhanded remarks after he won the contested Ward 8 council seat race, captured by NBC4 Washington: “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

On Thursday, Barry’s Twitter account clarified his criticism, aiming it at carry-out joints that sell greasy food and put up plexiglass barriers between customers and employees. And many of such restaurants, he said, are owned by Asians. Barry faced criticism throughout Thursday, including denunciations from Councilman Tommy Wells (Ward 6), Council Chair Kwame Brown and Mayor Vincent Gray. Barry eventually apologized for offending the Asian American community. Barry said he intended to criticize some, not all, Asian-owned businesses, but he remained staunch in his view that Ward 8 deserves better food options and less plexiglass.

Part of Barry’s scourge centers on the feeling that predominately black Ward 8 is often disrespected, and that feeling is at the heart of many issues east of the Anacostia River. By bringing race into the mix, Barry touched upon a history of animosity. In many cities, some view Asian grocers and liquor store owners in predominately black communities as profiting off of customers while not treating them with respect.

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Finding Out About Group Homes and the Fate of the Peaceholics Buildings

The number of group homes in Ward 8 has been a point of contention among some residents in recent weeks. Such homes and shelters are actually called community residential facilities, and there are a number of reasons why group homes and transitional housing opens in Ward 8, including zoning, market forces and government-funding that has to be spent in low to moderate income communities.

Eleven D.C. agency representatives showed up to a Ward 8 community meeting last week to discuss the presence of community residential facilities in the area. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Sandra “S.S.” Seegars, who is running for the Ward 8 City Council seat, organized the meeting. And she, among other ANC commissioners, were vocal in their opposition to more homes opening in their communities.

Part of the ire from some local officials comes from the lack of notice they get when such facilities can open in their communities. In the past, Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander proposed that ANCs to be notified when a group home was proposing to open. John Hall, director of D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, which helps fund some community residential facilities, said moving forward ANCs would be notified when those submitting proposals for group homes don’t include a letter of support from the ANC. “I’m open to that,” Hall said. “With the next [request for proposals], we can do that.”

Not everyone opposes such group homes, such as ANC 8D02 Commissioner Olivia Anderson, who attended last week’s meeting.

“I came here to get information on group homes. As I’m sitting here, I’m hearing, ‘These children. These children.’ These children are our children, from our community and we need to welcome them back,” she said. “Not all these kids going to transitional housing are problematic kids.”

The most recent high-profile project includes a building at 1300 Congress Heights Street SE, spearheaded by nonprofit Peaceholics. The District government sunk $5.5 million into three vacant buildings that were intended to be fixed up and house “troubled” men between 18 and 24. The buildings could soon fall into foreclosure.

The borrower has until April to pay back the District. Hall said during last week’s Ward 8 community meeting that his agency is preparing to take over the buildings if the first lender can’t. If that happens, Hall said the Congress Heights building would become “quality affordable housing,” rather than community residential facility, as initially planned. He said the District has “gone down the group homes route with these projects before. I’d be a fool to go down that route again.”

Do Social Service Agencies Prevent Economic Development?

Elly Blue / DCentric

Some vocal Ward 8 residents say they don’t want to see more social service agencies opening in their community. One of their main concerns: that such facilities, in particular group homes and shelters, hinder redevelopment in a community that needs it.

But do the presence of such services, in of themselves, prevent economic development from happening?

It’s complicated, says Lois Takahashi, a University of California, Los Angeles professor who focuses on community opposition to human service facilities. She hasn’t seen evidence that concentrating social services, such as shelters and clinics, hinders economic development in neighborhoods.

“It seems to be more the other direction. [Bringing in social service agencies] improves building stock, brings staff in that’s spending money in local communities,” Takahashi says.

Lack of economic development usually has more to do “with the politics of redevelopment and development,” Takahashi notes.

But concentrating social services in a community could play some role in preventing economic development, Takahashi says, depending on a number of factors. There are market forces and government regulations, such as zoning, that could make it easier and cheaper for shelters, rather than grocery stores, to open in certain communities. Location of services can play a role in preventing economic development, too. For instance, many opposed Calvary Women’s Services’ plans to open along Good Hope Road SE, not just because it was another social service agency, but because the transition housing for women would be in the heart of downtown Anacostia’s business district.

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Protesting Social Service Groups in the Name of Economic Development

tedeytan / Flickr

Anacostia's commercial corridor is filled with vacancies.

A vocal group of Anacostia residents have been rallying against a nonprofit’s plans to open transitory housing along the neighborhood’s business corridor. Calvary Women’s Services hopes to open along Good Hope Road, SE by summer, and provide semi-permanent housing for 50 formerly homeless women.

On the one hand, the objections can be viewed as typical NIMBYism. There’s also fear that placing transitory housing on an underutilized commercial corridor will cripple future economic development — while many of D.C.’s neighborhoods have undergone a transformation in which vacant buildings are converted into coffee shops and sit-down restaurants, Anacostia has lagged behind.

But the opposition in Anacostia is complex, which many residents say has become a dumping ground for social services because of the community’s demographics.

“There’s this perception about Anacostia that it’s all a bunch of poor black people who are out here struggling, and that they’d be happy to have [more social services] here,” said Nikki Peele, Congress Heights on the Rise blogger.

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DC Circulator Starts Traveling East of the River

Wayan Vota / Flickr

DC Circulator, the inexpensive, reliable and quick way of getting around the city, made its first trip east of the Anacostia River today. The new line travels from the Potomac Avenue Metro to Skyland via Barracks Row.

Getting across the Anacostia River to where most of the city’s jobs are located can be a time-consuming or expensive undertaking. That can be a particular challenge in Ward 8, where 20 percent of people earn less than $10,000 a year. Circulator trips cost a dollar and buses arrive every 10 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The D.C. Department of Transportation was able to expand across the river after canceling the Convention Center-SW Waterfront route due to low ridership.


The new Potomac Ave. Metro - Skyland Circulator route is in orange.

Does D.C. Need Gentrification Commmissions?

Tom Bridge / Flickr

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry wants to convene a gentrification commission.

When neighborhoods get gentrified, the most vulnerable are often caught off guard. Community activism doesn’t typically gain steam until the prospect of being displaced is eminent.

So Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry’s idea to convene a gentrification commission is interesting, particularly since Ward 8 isn’t really being gentrified. Sure, some wealthier residents have moved in, but residents are rarely being displaced as a result. There is some development in the pipeline, but it’s uncertain what kind of effect it’ll have on the area

“My problem with gentrification is that those persons come into our community and displace longtime residents,” Barry said during Wednesday’s gentrification panel discussion. “Shaw is a classic example. We saw it coming and we did virtually nothing.”

Ward 8 is ripe for gentrification, Barry said, particularly given the high number of renters. Panel speakers referred to gentrification as a looming, unstoppable force. Yes, there were some mentions of dogs and bikes, and Barry remarking that “we have a lot of gentrifiers who are blogging, who are twittering.” Most of the discussion didn’t focus on race, but rather on protecting residents from being displaced through addressing the root causes of poverty: education, jobs and whether residents have become dependent on government assistance.

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‘Does Gentrification Mean Eradication?’

We’ve pondered before whether Anacostia, a neighborhood in Ward 8, is actually being gentrified. But residents will get their chance to chime in on the topic during tonight’s roundtable focusing on the “demographic transformation” of Ward 8.

The event, which starts at 7 p.m., is sponsored by Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8D. I’ll be there, so follow me on Twitter for occasional updates.

Video: Can a TEDTalks-Like Event Boost Ward 8 Employment?

William Atkins / Courtesy of The George Washington University

George Washington University's School of Business dean Doug Guthrie talks (using a wireless mic) about how international investment can boost job creation in Ward 8.

There’s a serious unemployment divide in the District. Some areas have jobless rates as low as 3 percent, and others — like mostly black Ward 8 — have rates as low as 20 percent.

So what’s needed to boost employment in Ward 8? A jobs czar? Bridges and more development? How about having international experts and local activists talk about innovative, new ideas to spur job creation? You know, kind of like TEDTalks, but with a Ward 8 twist.

That’s kind of the idea behind the Major Projects Lab: Ward 8‘s job summit, the result of a partnership between The George Washington University’s School of Business and the Washington, DC Economic Partnership. The summit, held Tuesday at the university’s Foggy Bottom campus, focused on job creation in Ward 8.

Speakers didn’t delve deeply into the “complex social pathologies” that exacerbate and create unemployment disparities — literacy, adult male incarceration, teen pregnancy — because, as WDCEP’s president Steve Moore said, “all it does is solidify the thinking that we [already] have about how to go forward and how we think about economic development change. It seems like it justifies programs that have existed already and haven’t been all that damn successful.”

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Expand American University to Ward 8?

Flickr: Matthew Hurst

What could an AU expansion do for Ward 8?

Lydia DePillis over at Housing Complex puts forth an interesting proposition: if neighbors around the proposed American University East Campus expansion project find it so objectionable, put it in Ward 8:

… American University would be perfectly suited to Anacostia and Congress Heights: MLK [Avenue] would fill up with coffeeshops and bars, students would have all the low-cost housing they could ask for, and local residents could benefit from jobs that don’t require a high-level security clearance–not to mention the opportunities of a credible institution of higher learning in their backyard.

In exchange, the proposed Department of Homeland Security at St. Elizabeths could instead go to Ward 3.

Given the high unemployment rate in Ward 8 — 18.6 percent — compared to 3.6 percent in Ward 3, maybe the switch isn’t such a bad idea.