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As DC grows, Anacostia gets left behind

After decades of decline, DC's population is growing again. But parts of the city like Anacostia are still losing people, showing that revitalization has yet to take hold everywhere.

The population of Anacostia between 1990 and 2012. All data from the Census Bureau, graphs by the author.

While many neighborhoods across the city have grown in population and prosperity, Anacostia has lost nearly five hundred people and more than 140 housing units since 1990, according to newly released Census data. Meanwhile, the median household income has declined by $3,000, from $35,545 in 1990 (in 2012 dollars) to $32,262 today. There are fewer homeowners as well. In 1990, 32.8% of Historic Anacostia's 986 housing units were owner-occupied, whereas today just 29.9% of the 854 units are.

There are fewer housing units in Historic Anacostia now than in 1990.

These raw numbers reflect the abundance of abandominiums within the neighborhood, including both single-family homes and apartments. More than a hundred units have been vacant for more than two decades, while others have been razed.

The drastic contraction in the available housing stock over the last two decades has led to the subsequent flight of nearly 15% of the neighborhood. In 1990 Anacostia counted 3,018 people, 437 more than in 2012, when 2,545 lived in the Historic District.

Although social media campaigns and advocates of the creative class have increasingly touted the neighborhood over the past half-decade, economic opportunities remain a dream for many residents. Of 1,799 people over 16, just 54.9% are in the labor force, compared to 58.4% of 2,130 people in 1990.

The percentage of people in Anacostia's labor force.

With the growth of white-collar information services in DC, blue-collar independent tradesmen living in Anacostia say they are at a double disadvantage. They don't have the education the information economy demands, and they are often shut out from joining existing contracting teams on local multi-million dollar public works projects. The neighborhood has its own day-laborer class of junkmen and uncredentialed tradesmen who may not fit into the formal economy.

The percentage of Anacostia adults with high school diplomas.

Even though the neighborhood economy has remained stagnant over the past 20 years, and private capital is hesitant to invest and develop, Anacostia's human capital has slowly increased. Today, 79.1% of Anacostians 25 years old and over have their high school diploma, a dramatic increase over 49.7% in 1990. More than two decades ago less than five percent of Anacostia residents 25 years and older had a college degree; today it is 8.2%.

These numbers do not paint a complete picture, but they show Historic Anacostia to be a neighborhood dominated by low-earning renters, the same as it was in 1990.

In commemorating the March on Washington last summer, President Obama invoked "the corners of Anacostia" as an example of persistent inequities. While the areas and environs of 14th Street NW, 7th Street NW, H Street NE, and 8th Street SE have exponentially grown over the past two decades, Anacostia remains largely stuck in time, slowly fading away before the eyes of anyone watching.

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


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This is a random question but how does it make sense for there to be a large public storage building next to the Louis condos on 14th Street? Condos at this site would sell for $500,000 - $800,000 each and instead there is public storage that might rent for $60 per month. This is one of the most desirable locations in DC.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 6, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

I assume some of this will change as the Capitol Riverfront/Navy Yard and Southwest develop more, as Anacostia is very convenient to these two neighborhoods.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 6, 2014 1:45 pm • linkreport

This is a random question but how does it make sense for there to be a large public storage building next to the Louis condos on 14th Street?

People have stuff; they need storage.

Also, compare the actual rents.

You can get a storage unit at that location for $60 a month, but it's only 12 square feet. You're paying $5/sf per month.

Contrast that to the per square foot rents at the District apartments down 14th: $3,400 a month for a 915 sf one bedroom: $3.72/sf per month.

by Alex B. on Jan 6, 2014 1:54 pm • linkreport

There was an interesting article in NYTs about landbanking vacant properties in degraded neighborhoods in Philadelphia and other cities. Is there any concerted effort in DC to do something like that?

by BTA on Jan 6, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

I appreciate that focusing on Historic Anacostia makes a certain point about DC disparities, and the results of a ton of recent attention to that area specifically, and I'm not sure how much difference it would make to stretch the boundaries of inquiry, but Historic Anacostia often winds up standing in for everything East of the River, and might not always be the representative sample.

So, I'm wondering what the results would be if we looked at Douglass, where Henson Ridge II was recently built and occupied, and where building continues? I'm guessing a population drop between the old projects and the new housing, but wondering what the employment, homeownership, and educational stats would look like?

Maybe they would look the same, I don't know. I'm just curious about what looking at the different neighborhoods over this side would reveal. I don't expect a profoundly happy story of uplift, but there might be some nuances worth looking at? Like, if you build a big supermarket, does that have an effect on who buys, or whether someone buys, into the neighborhood? And maybe readers not familiar with the area would start to hear some different names for neighborhoods over this side, and everything wouldn't be Anacostia.

by dclioness on Jan 6, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

I just bought a home in Historic Anacostia. Unfortunately, I am displacing four people. Maybe population decline in this area represents young single people replacing home owners or tenants who had families.

It'd also be interesting to know if real income has decreased across the board.

by anon5 on Jan 6, 2014 5:00 pm • linkreport

Good comments. Also,the Parkway Overlook alone (now shuttered) was over 1000 people -

The business district and residential neighborhood have undoubtedly improved since 2006 when I first moved to DC, though.

I do wonder if some of the historical problems cited here are because the neighborhood was undesirable for a while, so the most successful residents left. It will be very interesting to see earning power of residents (as well as the number of residents) over the next few years. It will increase by a significant amount IMO. Certainly real estate values per sq ft have risen quite a bit recently, after taking a huge hit from the 07/08 highs.

by h st ll on Jan 6, 2014 6:16 pm • linkreport

By the way by "improved" i mean in physical appearance of the commercial buildings and residential buildings.

by h st ll on Jan 6, 2014 6:17 pm • linkreport

Ok, I'll say it.
These graphs provide an incorrect snapshot impression of the scale of change in the numbers presented. In most of these graphs, the x-axis is distorted such that the time interval of ten years (1990 - 2000) has the same graphic width as the interval of two years (2000 - 2012). And in most of theses graphs, the y-axis does not start at 0. This is basic "visual display of quantitative information" stuff!
Repotting these graphs with a consistent time interval and a y-axis that starts at zero would offer a much more accurate impression of the numbers, although the curves will not be nearly as dramatic.

by Pinkshirt on Jan 7, 2014 5:56 am • linkreport

@Pinkshirt: Twelve years rather than two years elapsed from 2000-2012. If your eye can distinguish 10 from 12 years on a graph like this, more power to you, but you are correct that the spacing should be consistent. One does wonder why we don't have a value for 2010.

Why would you want the vertical axis to start at zero? Small changes are hardly discernible when you do that. The axis is clearly labeled.

by JimT on Jan 7, 2014 7:43 am • linkreport

@anon5: how much did you pay for the new house, if I may ask? And how far is it from metro?

by anon6 on Jan 7, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

However over the past four years the commercial area of Anacostia has greatly improved. There are substantially less vacant storefronts and properties and a good percentage of vacant are owned by DC government

by Duane on Jan 7, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

Well lets not rush into Anacostia to fast. Majority of Washingtonians know that crossing the Anacostia River is a whole new ballgame from what has been happening with H Street, 7th Street, 14th Street and etc. Once the gentrification crosses the river, literally DC only has a few miles left of affordable housing. Maybe the city could co-sponsor Anacostia as the first middle class neighborhood of the 21st century. As crazy as it seems, slap rent controls on all the existing apartments, while giving tax credits to multifamily building owners who renovate (but not condo convert), let new development come in and bring in a few upper class residents to attract quality businesses, bring down crime with new strategies, and clean up blight. Maybe then families of four making under 100k can find a place to live in DC.

by bryantS on Jan 7, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport


200k. About a mile, maybe a tad less than a mile.

by anon5 on Jan 7, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

@202 Cyclist

Storage is SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than that. I am currently renting a 10x10 unit at Georgia and Upshur, and it costs $230/month.

I am only doing it well my home is renovated, but that $230 is ugly. I cannot WAIT to stop paying that.

by Kyle-w on Jan 7, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

Err, you pay $2.3/sqft/mo by my calculation.

100 square feet at the 14th & U Storage place is $185 by their web prices.

by MLD on Jan 7, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

Do most people rent storage close to their homes? Is that mainly the car free folks who do that?

In our struggle to downsize to fit into what we can afford in a close in WUP, we have thought about putting stuff in storage. My sense is that storage in any given neighborhood tends to cost about one half (per sq ft) what housing space costs. We would likely be carlite, not carfree - so I have thought it might make more sense to store stuff out in the exurbs.

by EmptyNester on Jan 7, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

Welcome to the neighborhood, anon5! Good points h st ll and dc lionness.

Two things:
1. 1990-2012 is a pretty wide time range to draw conclusions from. Many neighborhoods in DC saw significant population drops between 1990 to 2000, not just Anacostia. I imagine the big difference between Anacostia and the rest is likely what happened between 2000 to 2010.

2. Why the focus on census tract 75.03 alone? 75.04 is also a part of Anacostia and showed significant population gain (over 10%) between 2000 to 2010. It might be interesting to drill down into the specifics of why one census tract saw an increase in population while the other saw a decrease.

by PG2SE on Jan 7, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

The population is flat rather than declining. The big decline was 1980-2000, and probably effected by the peak years of crack. There are small changes since 2000 on the other charts. Statistically., the numbers don't match the headline. If anything Anacostia looks like it's stabilizing and attracting at least small numbers of a new demographic.

by Rich on Jan 8, 2014 7:43 am • linkreport

Thought of this thread when I was walking around in Anacostia before/after going to my shared office space in the neighborhood. There are four largish commercial renovations happening right now:

1) Old AWS renovations continue - they were working on the new roof today;
2) The old furniture store is being gutted right;
3) the two story tan stucco building is being worked on (I only got a pic of the permits, but saw people working inside earlier);
4) The Nurish cafe in the Hive 2.0 is almost done (opening this month).

Pics here:

BTW Uniontown Bar and Grill was PACKED for lunch today. And Big Chair Bar and Grill has reopened after a mgmt change; there are two art gallery new content openings this Friday (free drinks and food!) Hardly a "dying" neighborhood as presented in this piece!

by h st ll on Jan 9, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

@h st ll

Thank you for your comment.

In my article I do not use the word death or "dying" anywhere as you seem to suggest.

1. It's been months at a time between construction efforts on the old AWS. Look forward to when and what it opens to.

2. Right. The Collaborative purchased it more than a year ago. Look forward to when and what it opens to.

3. Right. Look forward to when and what it opens to.

4. Look forward to its much anticipated opening...

I will detail the continuance of vacant properties / parcels privately and publicly owned on the commercial corridor in future posts.

A walk through the residential interior shows that some of the vacant properties have been fixed up and/or being fixed up.

The disappearance of 140 housing units within the historic district over the last two decades, most likely not counting the recent demo of the abandominiums at Maple View & High Streets, is unemotional data.

by John Muller on Jan 9, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport

My apologies, you didn't specifically say dying. This sounds close to me though:

"Anacostia remains largely stuck in time, slowly fading away before the eyes of anyone watching"

Anyway, it was (as usual) a well-researched and written piece. I just think you are kind of running with a negative theme on most of the articles.

by h st ll on Jan 9, 2014 10:52 pm • linkreport

@h st ll

I really just to try to tell it how it is. There's a very thin line between reporting what the truth is and what folks don't want known.

For example, last week on a walking tour with more than a dozen folks we walked down MLK between Pleasant Street and W Street. I pointed out to folks the Salvation Army Building which prompted someone to say, "Oh, yeah, I saw on the news how it was robbed." Another person than asked about the elementary school that was robbed. I said the school was just down the street. We then walked under the awning of the former Gold Spot. I told the group how this commercial property has been vacant since it was robbed last year. "It is what it is," I told the group.

If there is any theme to the Anacostia-related articles it's something it is, "The city's first sub-division, Historic Anacostia, deserves better. Better will only be achieved and realized when pragmatism, activism, accountability good policy and resources meet. Rhetoric and promises don't cut it. Save the Historic District, the neighborhood of Frederick Douglass deserves better."

by John H Muller on Jan 10, 2014 12:50 am • linkreport

Permits to demolish interior walls is not evidence in itself of revitalization, the arrival of commerce and thus new tax revenue is.

by John Muller on Jan 10, 2014 12:54 am • linkreport

Fair enough. And I agree the loss of housing stock is very problematic on certain blocks (1300 V St opposite the churches for example - 60% of it is empty lots). I do wonder how much of that is attributable to the neighborhood having more wood frame than other brick heavy neighborhoods. The brick is so much more durable.

But I think overall the neighborhood is in pretty good shape and is improving.

by h st ll on Jan 10, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

Maybe this is outside the scope of the article, but a community consists of more than on time phase completions re: development. First and foremost, communities consist of people. When you say a community is stuck in time and fading away you are talking about a group of people.

As a new resident in the area, I can't agree with that characterization of HA. There seems to be a high level of civic involvement and a strong sense of community. I feel excitement and possibility as well as an awareness of challenges. Obviously there is no way to quantify this, but if people shape communities its impossible to say HA is fading away. Its quite the opposite.

I get your glass is half empty analysis, and maybe it is a good foil to some of the hype. Just remember you are talking about people. Not stats which can be construed any number of ways, not a few bad actors in the area, and not development delays, people. People that are getting increasingly more savvy about how to handle development in the area, mind you.

While you look forward to what comes of various projects, we will work hard to make sure whatever does come reflects the will of our community.

Tldr; don't bet against us.

by anon5 on Jan 10, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport


I've been a working journalist in the immediate community for more than a half-decade. I have seen new residents come and go in short order. I've also seen young couples buy their first home in the neighborhood, hold their ground and protect their square. God bless them. I spend time riding and walking through the neighborhood with residents whose familial ties date back to the days when Frederick Douglass frequented businesses on Harrison Street, visited local churches, and agitated against the city commissioners for more police in Anacostia, paved streets, and improved schools.

Too many homes that Douglass walked past, and had a part in investing in, are fading away, turning to dust under demolition by neglect. This is not a statement of emotion, it is a statement of fact.

As a journalist covering the ins and outs of the neighborhood for years there seems a renewed sense now that the proverbial corner is about to be turned, yet one only has to walk around and see that Big K lot, for example, to say, "Well, the grass is now cut on the vacant lot. That's progress."

I don't think that's the progress Douglass was talking about...

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.” - Frederick Douglass, August 1857

by John Muller on Jan 10, 2014 7:02 pm • linkreport

I moved EOTR after living in a studio apt in Dupont for 8 years, and purchased a large SFH home with a large side yard, deck in the back, and 2-care parking pad with a large garage door in an area just immediately outside HA, in an area called Fairlawn. As the largest house on the corner of the two streets that the home sits on, it's had its share of admirers since I've moved in, most, if not all, current residents of the area who've been wonderfully welcoming. One neighbor even asked friends of mine who were coming to visit me shortly after I moved in to thank me for giving the area a chance, and for buying. Since I moved in, another rehabbed home on the same block, smaller in size and lot, sold for $32k more than what I pd. And, more recently, my home was appraised for $52k more than what I pd 5 months ago.

Of course, with all that said, I won't say that I haven't had my fair share of challenges. A wreath was stolen of my front door, teens from the HS three blocks away walking to and from as they pass my house always manage to throw their trash, which somehow gets blown into my yard, and, more recently, someone decided to smash a lamp in the alley behind my home, somehow damaging my garage door, which cost $750 to repair. However, all of that seems, in the grand scheme of things, minor, as they could happen ANYWHERE living in DC.

I love living in this area, and look very much forward to seeing it continue to regentrify. The supermarket on Good Hope Rd, granted has had it starts and stops, but seems to be making significant progress. Homes on my block, and around my area, continuously are being bought up and fully rehabbed, and are selling in <30 days. And with news of the parcel of land on MLK and Good Hope up for bid to create a "Grand Entrance" to HA less than 3 blocks from where I live, along with the new pier being discussed off the 11th St bridge, that too, 3 blocks away, makes me even more excited to be a part of the revitalization of this wonderful community!

by SShamsi on Jan 20, 2014 12:59 am • linkreport

My husband and I recently bought a row house in Anacostia. We love our new neighborhood. Newcomers to the city may be enticed by the new development, but nowhere else in the city do you have views such as those in Anacostia. I am convinced that the geographic challenges involved in building to take advantage of both the views and yet preserve the many acres of woodlands has keep developers out of Anacostia. With their "build cheap, sell high" mindset, developers would have to expend more effort here. Like all predators, they take advantage of easy prey.

by Eleanore Brown on May 23, 2015 11:04 am • linkreport

With congestion and commuting issues getting worse by the minute in the DC area, it seems logical to consider Anacostia as a place for gentrification (in the best sense of the word). Why develop homes and fake cities in outlying farmland, (ie Clarksburg for example and then suffer life-destroying, polluting commutes) when developers can look to places like Anacostia with infrastructure established (sewer, water, electricity, streets), metro service, schools, history - and then work to reinvigorate not obliterate these older historic communities. First time home owners, families needing affordable homes, established residents and government agencies need to put their heads together to realize the potential for quality of life that areas like Anacostia could offer, if only they have the vision and strength to make it happen. Let's not spread out into distant farmland creating flimsy communities with resulting commuter messes, let's rebuild within and create serene living in newly reinvigorated communities. People of all colors should realize the potential of these "inner" communities.

by maffrie on Jun 16, 2015 12:16 pm • linkreport

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