DCentric » Ward 8 http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Asian Shopkeepers And The Economics Of Improving Corner Stores http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/asian-shopkeepers-and-the-economics-of-improving-corner-stores/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/asian-shopkeepers-and-the-economics-of-improving-corner-stores/#comments Tue, 10 Apr 2012 16:53:41 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15271 Continue reading ]]>

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.

Nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen runs a program that addresses these problems. The Healthy Corners program uses a $300,000 grant from the city to regularly deliver fresh produce to corner stores throughout D.C.’s food deserts. Nine of the participating stores are in Ward 8.

But rather than just focus on the lack of health foods in such stores, Barry singled out Asian-owned stores. By bringing highlighting race as an issue, Barry took the discussion beyond pure economics. So did a number of callers to The Kojo Nnamdi Show who complained that Asian retailers are rude or treat customers poorly.

Cha said that not all Asian storeowners have bad relationships with the community, such Martin Luther King Grocery’s Peter Cho (whom, coincidentally, Barry referred to as “a good Asian” over the weekend). Cho runs a regular back-to-school event in Ward 8, giving away backpacks to neighborhood kids. He also participates in Healthy Corners.

Communication issues aren’t a problem just for “Asian retailers, but pretty much all immigrants in the community,” Cha said. “The immigrants have the same issue where there’s a language barrier, and also the cultural differences they haven’t quite grasped. It’s just a process they go through. I don’t know how to close that gap real quickly.”

One thing Cha does suggest: if you want to see a different kind of product in your store, such as multigrain bread, try asking the store owner to carry it.

“Any time there’s a dialogue going back and forth, it helps,” Cha said.

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Marion Barry: Breaking Down Race, Plexiglass And ‘Dirty Shops’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/marion-barry-breaking-down-race-plexiglass-and-dirty-shops/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/marion-barry-breaking-down-race-plexiglass-and-dirty-shops/#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2012 17:52:44 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15228 Continue reading ]]>

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.

In light of Barry’s comments, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis spoke with Gary Cha, owner of Yes! Organic and past president of Korean-American Grocers Association. Cha, who owns a Ward 8 grocery store, told DeBonis that Barry “shouldn’t have said Asians.” But, Cha added:

Any of those people running a dirty store that have an adverse impact on the community should go. And sometimes I am ashamed some of the Asian business owners don’t spend the time to keep the stores in a respectful manner.

… I do go around and say, look, if you clean your store, your business will probably go up by 65 percent, no-brainer. I’ve probably said that a thousand times to people, but it doesn’t work. … In that sense I am with [Barry], but just like saying things about African-Americans — not all African-Americans do certain things.

Ward 7 faces a similar problem with the lack of sit-down eateries and proliferation of plexiglass, which can make customers feel like they’re being suspected as criminals. Thai Orchid’s Kitchen was originally supposed to open in Ward 7 as a carryout joint, plexiglass and all (co-owner Ramaesh Bhagirat of Guyana has lived in Ward 7 for 20 years). But neighbors reached out to the owners, and D.C officials enforced zoning rules. The restaurant opened sans glass, with chairs.

But what happens when such pioneers get robbed? In the case of Thai Orchid’s Kitchen, neighbors rallied around the owners after an armed robbery, spawning regular, large dinners and convinced Bhagirat to stay put.

The psychology of the plexiglass (informally called “bulletproof glass”) is potent, and black proprietors can feel the need to use it, as well. The glass barrier is partially a relic of post-1968 riots D.C., and having plexiglass can make business owners and employees feel safer (despite studies showing that plexiglass is not that much of a crime deterrent). For some proprietors, the decision to balance personal safety with making a show of respect is a painful one to make. Take Olivia’s Cupcakes; when the shop opened in Ward 7, owner Cindy Bullock said, “It broke my heart to do that, but it’s a deterrent.”

As far as Barry’s complaint of unhealthy options and few sit-down eateries: some are trying to change that, too. Earlier this year, District officials led business owners and investors on tours of Ward 8, encouraging them to open up shop and increase culinary choices.

At the end of the day, there a number of factors that contribute to improving Ward 8′s food options. And getting nicer restaurants and stores will take more than telling proprietors to take down plexiglass, whether they’re Asian or not.

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Finding Out About Group Homes and the Fate of the Peaceholics Buildings http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/finding-out-about-group-homes-and-the-fate-of-the-peaceholics-buildings/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/finding-out-about-group-homes-and-the-fate-of-the-peaceholics-buildings/#comments Thu, 01 Mar 2012 17:11:35 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14385 Continue reading ]]> 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.”

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Do Social Service Agencies Prevent Economic Development? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/do-social-service-agencies-prevent-economic-development/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/do-social-service-agencies-prevent-economic-development/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 15:59:09 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14294 Continue reading ]]>

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.

Another point of contention is the question of who is being served by the social agencies. If they’re primarily helping people who don’t live in the community, then there are issues of equity, that one community burdens the load for everyone — the “dumping ground” argument. But if the agencies are mostly helping people who live in the area, then it’s a matter of “recognizing our neighbors need help,” Takahashi said.

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry told DCentric he doesn’t think his community has become a dumping ground for social service agencies.

“I welcome these agencies because they’re serving the people in the community, and the people in the community don’t have to go way across town to get these services,” Barry said. “What’s missing is for the city to require in the contract that these agencies hire D.C. residents, or Ward 8 residents.”

Unemployment is at nearly 25 percent in Ward 8, and the median household income is $31,188. Barry said the focus should be on decreasing the unemployment rate and increasing the incomes of existing Ward 8 residents “so that people can take care of themselves. But as long as you have that not happening, you need [the agencies].”

But opponents of bringing in more services argue that they prevent the economic development needed to bring those desperately needed jobs.

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Protesting Social Service Groups in the Name of Economic Development http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/01/rallying-against-social-services-in-the-name-of-economic-development/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/01/rallying-against-social-services-in-the-name-of-economic-development/#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2012 19:44:01 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=13219 Continue reading ]]>

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.

Peele, along with a standing room crowd, packed a Ward 8 community meeting Thursday night where they slammed Calvary representatives for not having met with residents before its move was practically a done deal. “Disrespect” was mentioned throughout the meeting. Some, such as Phil Pannel, suggested the nonprofit didn’t feel the need to approach residents because they “knew perfectly well that this is a dis-empowered community.”

When asked why Calvary chose Anacostia, Calvary board president Tracy Ballard said “it was the right place at the right time.” The deal was a good one; the nonprofit bought the vacant Anacostia building for $950,000 in December 2010, with a $3 million plan to convert it into 14,000 square-feet of living space for 50 women, and serve 100 meals a day. The purchase was a matter of right, meaning Calvary didn’t have to go through any rezoning processes that would give residents a chance to prevent it.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Residents during a Ward 8 meeting hold signs protesting transitory housing for homeless women.

Calvary representatives tried to reassure residents; the building would be secure and loiters would be moved along. They also tried convincing the assembled crowd that they won’t be a business-killer, using as evidence all of the development that happened in their current neighborhood.

“We’ve been in Gallery Place-Chinatown since our founding in 1983,” Thompson said. “[Now], there’s a Starbucks across the street, a Busboys and Poets, all of that was built up around us.”

But the reality east of the Anacostia River is a different one than in Chinatown. Some development in the works is intended to spur more growth. That includes the ongoing $300 million 11th Street Bridge project, which will provide an easier connection between Anacostia and west of the river.

“[The bridge] was supposed to bring us back into the rest of the District of Columbia,” ANC8A Commissioner Greta Fuller said. “What do we have at the foot of the bridge? A transitional housing building.”

The irony is that by relocating to Anacostia, the group could very well better serve Ward 8 residents in need of such assistance — about 36 percent of Ward 8 residents live below the poverty line, according to census estimates. And that’s not lost on opponents of the project.

“I’m not personally against transitory housing for women who need help, but in its proper place,” said Edith Cromwell, an Anacostia Economic Development Corp. board member. “We’ve been promised this becoming a business, commercial district for a long time… This is economic suicide.”


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DC Circulator Starts Traveling East of the River http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/dc-circulator-starts-traveling-east-of-the-river/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/10/dc-circulator-starts-traveling-east-of-the-river/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2011 15:26:25 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11156 Continue reading ]]>

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.

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Does D.C. Need Gentrification Commmissions? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/does-d-c-need-gentrification-commmissions/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/does-d-c-need-gentrification-commmissions/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2011 17:00:50 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=11076 Continue reading ]]>

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.

Some concrete suggestions did come out of the panel, such as making D.C.’s first source law applicable to all jobs, not just new hires, and supporting longtime businesses. Anwar Saleem of H Street Great Main Street said his neighborhood’s tale is an example of what can happen if such protections aren’t already in place: longtime businesses lost customers during streetcar construction, but at the same time, owners had to pay higher property taxes.

“Why not protect the old time businesses? Why not have a homestead [tax credit] for businesses?” he asked.

ANC Commissioner Olivia Henderson pointed to one of the touchier subjects of gentrification: why is it only when white and wealth move into a neighborhood, that a neighborhood gets better?

“It’s for us, the people, to stand up and fix what we already have… Let’s try to remove some of the blight, some of the crime, some of the drugs,” she said. “Are we going to allow the white people to clean it up, when we had all the opportunity to do it?”

The success of such a commission may very well depend on involving the most vulnerable residents. But they were largely absent during the Wednesday night discussion, resident Robert Cannon noted.

“It’s on us to create a platform for those who are struggling, to bring those most affected by gentrification into this room,” he said.

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‘Does Gentrification Mean Eradication?’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/does-gentrification-mean-eradication/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/does-gentrification-mean-eradication/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2011 19:26:18 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=10994 Continue reading ]]> 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.

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Video: Can a TEDTalks-Like Event Boost Ward 8 Employment? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/video-can-a-tedtalks-like-event-boost-ward-8-employment/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/09/video-can-a-tedtalks-like-event-boost-ward-8-employment/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2011 13:00:33 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=10767 Continue reading ]]>

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.”

Scott Osman, an international expert on corporate social responsibility who talked about getting multinational corporations to fund social projects in Ward 8. GWU law professor Susan Jones talked about an e-lawyer bank that would use the Internet to connect pro-bono lawyers and ex-convicts. Mayor Vincent Gray touted future development projects and his One City One Hire program to encourage employers to hire District residents.

William Atkins / The George Washington University

Catherine Buell, D.C.'s Historic Preservation Review Board chair, speaks about the pride her neighbors have and how preserving blighted homes has improved the community.

And then there was sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, author of Gang Leader for a Day, who challenged notions about the underground economy. He spoke about everyone from alleyway mechanics to people who cut hair — all off the books — and how the community self-regulates disputes between people in the underground economy.

“Think about the people in Ward 8 who have this skill, the people who solve conflicts, the kinds of things they do and you don’t think about in terms of a strength, and you may in fact think of as a liability,” he said.

GWU’s business school dean, Doug Guthrie, urged attendees “not to forget about the international economy and manufacturing,” and to not be afraid of getting other countries, like China, to locate firms and create jobs in Ward 8.

“Most people think of Washington as a lobbying town,” he said. “But it’s also useful and important as a place where, if you create jobs, you get good political visibility, just by doing good in this economy.”

The event put forth a number of good ideas, and perhaps will inspire some to rethink how they approach job creation in Ward 8. But, as Ward 8 resident and chair of the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board Catherine Buell said, “There’s a sense that Ward 8 has been studied time and time again… People come in and have the best of intentions. They have the statistics and yet they’re greeted with a great amount of skepticism. And it’s because you have to know the community history.”

See the summit videos (parts 1 and 2) below:

Video streaming by Ustream

Video streaming by Ustream

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Expand American University to Ward 8? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/expand-american-university-to-ward-8/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/04/expand-american-university-to-ward-8/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2011 15:42:12 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=6161 Continue reading ]]>

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.

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