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Posts about Ward 8


If racial inequities didn't exist, DC would look like this...

Across DC, black and Hispanic residents see a lot less socio-economic success than white residents, and many argue that's because the playing field is not level when it comes to opportunities for success. The charts below show what DC would look like if minorities got a fair shake, according to a recent study.

Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

There are big racial disparities in DC

Generally speaking, DC's biggest pockets of black residents are in the east, Hispanic residents are in the north, and white residents are in the west. But according to DC's Urban Institute, white homeowners have more freedom to choose where to live: between 2010-2014, they could afford 67 percent of all homes sold in the District and all homes in Ward 8. Black and Hispanic homebuyers, on the other hand, could only afford 9.2 percent and 29 percent of homes sold, respectively. s

Affordable rentals are also hard to come by for minorities, who the report says spend 30 percent or more of their monthly income on rent—an amount that experts say make a houshold "rent-burdened," and that the report refers to as "cost burdened." East of the Anacostia River, black residents can afford 67 percent of the rentals, but west of Rock Creek Park, only 7 percent of the rentals are affordable.

All images from Urban Institute.

There's a reason things are this way

While the study acknowledges that in recent years, the recession hit minority groups harder than it hit whites, it's rooted in the acknowledgement that the above racial disparities are rooted in trends that have existed for much longer.

Minority groups have been traditionally barred from upward socioeconomic mobility by private actions and public policies for generations. Historically, it has been difficult for blacks to get mortgages, they were limited in who they could buy from, and they faced strict zoning restrictions. They were also prevented from getting better paying jobs, and when the federal government cut funding, poor black communities were usually affected most.

Over time, this has prevented minority communities from sharing in socioeconomic progress as a whole. This has meant a steeper barrier over time—one that the Urban Institute study calls inequitable.

Here's how those inequities play out in terms of wages, and what DC would look like without them:

With housing and childcare in the District being very expensive, many DC families struggle to earn a living wage, but minority families face steep challenges covering costs.

According the Urban Institute, "the living wage for a parent to support a two children should be $38.01/ hour, or $79,000/ year," but a majority of minority families are below that threshold, around $75,000/ year. Only 44 percent of whites are below this threshold.

"East of the Anacostia, four out of five black residents working full time earned less than this living wage," the report says, and 70% of black and Hispanic families working full time make below the living wage. However, with the many service industry jobs that minorities occupy, bridging this gap is difficult.

If DC were more equitable, poverty levels would look like this:

Despite economic growth since the 2008 recession, communities of color have not yet recovered, and are in fact worse off than before the crash. In 2014, there were a recorded 18,000 more unemployed African Americans than in 2007, with a quarter of the black population now living below the poverty line.

On average, the poverty level for black residents is at 26 percent, with Ward 8 being the worst at 30 percent; white poverty in DC, on the other hand, stands at 7.4 percent. The report also shows that white child poverty is virtually zero, while the poverty rate for black children is 38 percent and 22 percent for Hispanic children. If things were more equitable, the report says, "no child would be poor."

Here's what the employment picture would look like:

In DC, black unemployment is 5.5 times that of whites at 19.5 percent, which is above the national average of 16.1 percent. In a city where minority employment reflected white employment, "2,200 more Hispanic residents and 24,000 more black residents would be employed."

The fact that many of DC's fastest growing job sectors require some post secondary education has severe consequences for unemployment, too.

Minority communities also face steep inequities in education, which have far ranging effects on choice of housing, wages, employment, and even general health. Most whites ages 25 and u, have a high school diploma or GED and some level of college education, whereas 31 percent of Hispanics and only 17 percent of blacks don't have a high school diploma or GED.

Further, only half of black and Hispanic communities have some level of education beyond high school. If the education gap didn't exist, according to the study, 50,000 black and Hispanic residents would have at least a GED, and almost 98,000 black residents would have some post secondary education.

Changing all of this would raise the quality of living for everyone

A more racially fair society, the study says, would have substantial economic benefits for everyone. When people earn more they invest and spend more, which would benefit local businesses and education. In fact, they estimate that "DC's economy would have been 65 billion dollars larger in 2012", if many of these inequality gaps were closed.

However, the limit of this data analysis is in showing what, exactly, equality looks like. Citizens and policymakers need to understand how and why this inequality persists today and pursue policy agendas that would actually close these gaps.

What agendas do you think policy makers should pursue to close the racial inequality gap?

Note: Some readers have reported that when viewing this post expanded on the home page, the embedded tool doesn't work. It should work if you are viewing the post on its own page; click here to go there.

Correction: This post previously committed a word, saying "31 percent of Hispanics and only 17 percent of blacks have a high school diploma or GED" when those figures are for the percentage of each population that does not have a diploma or GED.


This program is helping some of DC's most disadvantaged residents buy houses

Very few Ward 8 residents are homeowners—only about 24 percent in fact, with many people calling it "the renter's ward" and a lot of residents believing that buying a home will never be a possibility. There are paths to homeownership in Ward 8, though. Here's one example of how residents are making it happen.

Some members of the Ward 8 Homebuyers Club are looking to buy condos here, at 1265 Talbert Street SE. Images from the author unless otherwise noted.

DC is split up geographically into eight wards, each of which has a representative on the DC Council. Ward 8 has not seen the same kind of private or public investment, both residential and commercial, as other wards in DC. The ward has the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the city, 37% and 14% respectively.

Even though it has the most affordable home prices in DC, with 2015 median sales prices for a single family home at $281,000 compared to a city average of $712,000, Ward 8 has the lowest number of homeowners.

DC's eight wards. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

This has led many to the incorrect and biased conclusion that building homes intended for homeownership in Ward 8 (rather than the expectation that the people living in them would rent) would not be successful.

It's true that Ward 8 residents face a lot of barriers to homebuying

It is, of course, very difficult for low-income and even moderate income families to pay the downpayment and closing costs on a home. Many prospective low-income homebuyers have a poor credit history, or no established credit at all. When most of the people who live in a place don't have much capital or good credit—two critical components for buying a home you wind up with a shallow pool of prospective homebuyers.

Furthermore, a large part of the renter population in Ward 8 doesn't know much about the process of buying a house, particularly those with no familial history of homeownership. It's a daunting process to navigate, especially with the recent history of predatory lending and foreclosures.

Finally, there's a low number of houses for sale in the area, which is a challenge, especially given that there is growing competition from all-cash investors for homes needing repairs. New affordable and market-rate for-sale home construction has been on the rise in the last several years, such as Sheridan Station, the Buxton Condominiums and the upcoming Grandview Estates II, and more is needed.

Putting together all of the right tools and resources isn't easy, but that's not to say that Ward 8 residents should abandon the search. People can take action to become mortgage-ready. They can improve their credit. And they can take advantage of DC down payment assistance programs and some of the new affordable homeownership that is being built in Ward 8 and elsewhere, as well as advocating for more. They just need to know where to look.

Bringing a model to Ward 8

In DC, groups called homebuyers clubs combine combine education with peer support to help people realize they can, in fact, become homeowners. People who join them work with counselors to develop individual financial and mortgage-readiness plans, reporting on their progress each month. They also attend monthly meetings that allow members to share each other's experience and bring the homebuying process into the classroom.

Topics discussed at meetings include financing/budget/mortgage process, do's and don't's with credit, the real estate market today (including the affordable homeownership market), and more.

These clubs are run through MANNA, a nonprofit affordable housing developer and educator in DC. The District's first homebuyers club was created in 1986, and since then close to 1,000 families have "graduated" (meaning they purchased a home) via one of the clubs. Of those families, only about three percent have experienced foreclosure—about a third of the city average.

These families are not just purchasing a home, but are also investing in their community, their future, and their kids' future as well.

MANNA's homebuyers club's approach, replicated by several national organizations, has become a proven one. A recent report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that homebuyer education and counseling programs like this one increase credit scores, encourage better communication with lenders, and help participants better understand how their mortgages work.

Earlier this year, the Ward 8 Homebuyers Club was established specifically for Ward 8 residents. MANNA is running this club as part of the 11th Street Bridge Park project's equitable development plan, which was designed to benefit and prevent the displacement of residents near the site of the future bridge across the Anacostia River. This club meets at THEARC in Southeast Washington, and keeps members informed about developments coming to Ward 8.

A Ward 8 Homebuyers Club meeting.

One success story

Many Americans overlook the role that homeownership can play generationally for a family. Darryl Sims, a member of the Ward 8 Homebuyers Club, says that typical concerns about income and financing held him back from pursuing homeownership.

Another stumbling block, he says, was that he simply "[lacked a] full understanding of the importance of homeownership."

Sims rattles off a long list of reasons that homeownership is important to him. Homeownership, he says, would increase his sense of investment in the community, would make him feel like a more productive member of society, and would increase both his self-respect and the respect that his family holds for him. But the biggest reason:

"[Homeownership] would afford me the opportunity to bequeath something positive to my children," says Sims.

This is not just about housing, it's about wealth building too

Homeownership builds wealth, which is even more important for the predominantly black residents of Ward 8.

For most low-to-moderate income households, home equity is their largest source of wealth. Throughout the country as a whole, African-American homeownership lags behind whites by 30 percent and the average black family's net worth is just six percent that of their white counterparts. And the racial wealth divide in the DC area is even larger.

Programs like HBC work against this trend. For instance, a report written several years ago by MANNA found that the 700 properties it had built since 1982 had collectively increased in value over $144 million, including homes in Ward 8. The median home saw almost $150,000 in appreciation. And what's more, 75 percent of the original low-to-moderate income homebuyers still owned that same home.

That increase in wealth is part of the reason why the children of homeowners are more likely to graduate high-school, more likely to go to college, less likely to end up on welfare, and more.

Expanding homeownership is important for America and for Washington, DC, just as it is for Darryl Sims.

For some, the road to homeownership is a long and confusing one. However, the benefits can greatly affect one's life and future. In Ward 8, a place where only 1 out of every 5 residents owns their property, homeownership seems unattainable to existing residents.

Strengthening and increasing programs that support affordable homeownership can make the American dream of owning your own home become a reality.


The Housing Production Trust Fund, explained

The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) is a pot of money used to build affordable housing in DC. Since 2001, money from the fund has helped to produce or preserve nearly 10,000 units of affordable housing. Unlike other programs, which rely on federal funds to increase the supply of affordable housing, the HPTF is funded entirely with money raised within the District.

Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

The HPTF is designed to focus on affordable housing for low- and extremely low-income residents. Typically, the fund provides "gap financing," bridging the gap between sources developers use to build affordable housing—including federal tax credits and subsidies—and the actual costs of building it.

In this explainer, I focus on the details of how the HPTF finances affordable housing development and some of the key challenges that it faces.

The Housing Production Trust Fund is a dedicated source of money used to finance the production and preservation of affordable housing

Many cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, and Philadelphia, have similar types of funds. Each city has different rules for actually providing the Fund with money and distributing that money.

In DC, the HPTF is controlled by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). DHCD issues a notice of funding availability (NOFA) and developers apply to use the money to build.

This process means that the HPTF is a way to leverage both private and federal funds to create affordable housing. Developers may use private financing, federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) and money from the HPTF to build affordable housing. For every dollar invested in affordable housing from the HPTF, another $2.50 is invested from other sources.

There are many examples of affordable housing in DC that was produced using HPTF money, as detailed in this recent report from the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. The developers that built Overlook at Oxon Run in Ward 8 used HPTF funding to cover about a third of the project's total cost. The building includes more than 300 units of affordable housing, many of which are specifically designed for seniors.

Using money from the HPTF, developers are able to build units that they can rent to families with lower incomes. Also, developers may use this money to construct units that they otherwise would not build given market constraints, including larger units oriented toward families.

The Housing Production Trust Fund receives funding from two sources

The main source of funding for the HPTF is the deed transfer and recordation tax, which is what property owners pay the city whenever they sell a building or piece of land.

In 2003, the DC Council designated 15 percent of revenue from these taxes to fund the HPTF.

However, this dedicated funding source fluctuates wildly based on the housing market. When people are buying and selling frequently, the HPTF sees a boost in funding; when the market slows, there are fewer property transactions to fund the HPTF.

The city can add additional revenue to the HPTF from the city's general fund, which is the pot of money used to pay for most other city agencies. In recent years, as Mayor Bowser promised to raise the HPTF to $100 million, the city added additional revenue from the general fund to reach these funding goals.

Last year, less than half of the funds for the HPTF came from dedicated taxes.

The Housing Production Trust Fund must be used to finance housing for low- and extremely low-income families.

The rules of the HPTF stipulate that at least 40 percent of funds must be targeted to assist households below 30 percent of the AMI. In DC, this means housing for families of four earning up to $32,760.

An additional 40 percent are targeted at households earning between 31 and 50 percent of the AMI. In DC, this means housing for families of four earning up to $54,600. The remaining funds can assist in the production of housing units for families earning up to 80 percent of the AMI.

However, a recent audit of the HPTF reveals that DHCD has failed to finance the required units for extremely low-income households in recent years.

A recent report from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported that 9,900 units have been produced using the HPTF since 2001.

Nearly half of these units—4,708—were produced in Wards 7 and 8, the areas east of the Anacostia River that historically have seen less investment.

Units produced with funds from the HPTF must remain affordable for a period of time. Ownership units typically must remain affordable for 15 years. Rental units must remain affordable for 40 years.

Despite helping to finance thousands of units of affordable housing, the HPTF faces continued challenges

Critics regularly contend that the HPTF needs a more dedicated source of funding to make it less reliant on the political priorities of each mayoral administration. Money from DC's General Fund is up for grabs every year, so appropriations from it are highly political.

Rather than a share of the deed transfers and recordation taxes, researchers at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute suggest a set dollar amount from these taxes.

This dedicated funding would decrease the reliance on political leaders to fund the HPTF each year. Although the Bowser administration has committed to funding the HPTF up to $100 million, proponents of the HPTF are concerned that the fund may be less of a priority for future administrations.

Additionally, critics have expressed concerns about the ability the HPTF to meet its affordability goals. Since there are few programs used to create deep affordability (for households earning less than 30 percent of the AMI), the HPTF is an extremely important tool.

Finally, observers are always looking to ways that the HPTF can better leverage its funds to increase affordable housing production.

Despite these concerns, the HPTF remains the largest—and most important—tool of the District government to protect, preserve and maintain affordable housing.


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 8

The southern half of DC's area east of the Anacostia River, Ward 8 contains neighborhoods such as Historic Anacostia, Barry Farm, Congress Heights, and Shipley Terrace. It has DC's highest unemployment and poverty, but also some beautiful parks, historic buildings, and a few terrific candidates for Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Here are four that deserve your vote.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 8, we chose four candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses of many unopposed candidates.

Anacostia's famous Big Chair. Photo by David Clow on Flickr.

In ANC 8A, we endorse LaTasha Gunnels and Greta Fuller

Historic Anacostia is the heart of ANC 8A. Forming the southern shoreline of the Anacostia River, this ANC runs diagnonally north from the Anacostia Metro Station towards Pennsylvania Avenue.

The proposed 11th Street Bridge Park is big news for these neighborhoods, as the bridge will add recreational options and strengthen connections across the river; even though it's not yet built, the bridge is already bringing increased investment and change to the area.

The continued development of the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor is also an issue to highlight, along with the ongoing debate of how to incorporate the right mix of market rate and affordable housing into the neighborhoods: neighbors often feel that Ward 8 is asked to house disproportionate amounts of social services and supportive housing compared to other wards.

Finally, to the south of the ANC lies Barry Farm (also often called Barry Farms), a large and aging public housing complex slated for redevelopment. There are mixed feelings about the proposed plans; many are wary of displacement and broken promises here, while others say the changes are welcome.

Directly in the center of this ANC is ANC 8A05, home to the historic Frederick Douglass Home. LaTasha Gunnels won our endorsement in this race.

Gunnels wants to "preserve and restore" many of the historic buildings in her area, but also is supportive of diverse types of new housing that would "ensure that long (time) residents can continue to live in our community, while at the same time attracting new residents, businesses and retail to our neighborhood. A great way to measure balance is having a community where residents of all income levels have the opportunity to rent or buy."

She is hopeful about the proposals included in the 11th Street Bridge Park project, and supports using "build-first" principles when redeveloping Barry Farm. That way, the redevelopment happens in sections and current residents can move into a new section before their homes are demolished.

On transit, Gunnels is enthusiastic. Where should bike lanes and pedestrian improvements go in ANC 8A? "Everywhere! Goal is to have a transit-rich neighborhood." Sounds great!

Nearby and to the west is 8A06, which includes the parkland along Poplar Point. This is a heavily contested race, with four candidates running for outgoing commissioner Tina Fletcher's seat. Two of the candidates responded our questionnaire, and between them we think Greta Fuller is the best choice.

Fuller believes that a "mixed income community would jump start the recovery of 8A," that "there should be a balance of affordable and market rate housing," and that some "of the development should also target home ownership." She too is "very hopeful" that the plans at the 11th Street Bridge Park "will allow current residents [to] be here to enjoy the new development."

She has "fought for over 10 years to have new sidewalks in the community" and "actively lobbied for bike share in the community." Fuller seems like a solid choice for commissioner here.

The only other candidate to complete our survey for this race was Jason Anderson, whose answers were generally short and unhelpful. When asked where he would encourage new housing to be built, his response: "In another Ward." What should the neighborhood look like in 20 years, and how will he work towards that vision? All he said was "Clean"; to help, he would "start cleaning." We hope you give Fuller your vote.

View from Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Photo by Eric Fidler on Flickr.

In ANC 8B, we endorse Diag Davenport

Southeast of Anacostia are the neighborhoods of Fort Stanton, Woodland, and Buena Vista, all of which sit in the narrow and dense ANC 8B. Besides the ongoing controversy at nearby Barry Farm, residents here want to know what commissioners hope to do about the Skyland Town Center, which until this year was the proposed site of one of the withdrawn Walmarts. Public safety is also a key concern.

For ANC 8B06, which runs along the Maryland border south of Suitland Parkway, we like Diag Davenport.

Davenport acknowledges that current residents at Barry Farm "deserve transparency and certainty about their housing future, which has not been accomplished in the past." He is "[i]n concept... a proponent of the notion of redeveloping Barry Farms to increase total housing units, increase home quality for all, and disrupt the high concentration of lower-income families. All these goals should have positive effects, if achieved responsibly."

To take on public safety Davenport wants to engage youth directly with ANC-sponsored programs, as well as work alongside the Metropolitan Police Department. Overall, he seems to be a positive and inclusive candidate.

Opponent Mitchell Hawkins III seems like a reasonable candidate as well, but in the end we were less convinced by his answers on housing and transportation and decided to give our support to Davenport.

St. Elizabeths. Photo by hellomarkers! on Flickr.

In ANC 8C, we endorse Kristal Knight

Following the bend in the Anacostia River and including Congress Heights, Barry Farm, and parts of Bolling Air Force Base, ANC 8C is a large area with a number of controversial projects underway within it.

One is the aforementioned Barry Farm redevelopment on the northeastern corner of the ANC. Another is the St. Elizabeths campus. Here, among other long-promised developments, plans for a Wizards and Mystics practice facility and stadium are underway. While the proposal promises to bring jobs, revitalization and development to the area, many have balked at the growing price tag.

Finally, terrible conditions and alleged abuse by landlords has sparked investigations at a series of apartment complexes near the Congress Heights Metro station. WMATA has considered selling nearby land here for future development, and given the proximity to both St. Elizabeths and the Metro station, the area is poised for change.

8C01 covers areas south of St. Elizabeths and a large swath of the Air Force base. For this seat, we think Kristal Knight would make a good commissioner.

Knight is supportive of the plans at St. Elizabeths and eager for the "countless new opportunities for residents" it will bring. She says that the "redevelopment of Barry Farms is well overdue," but demands "clear and actionable answers on the city's plan to provide for temporary housing for displaced residents and for when they return post-redevelopment."

When asked about the changes coming to Congress Heights area, Knight is reflective: "As a homeowner, I understand my taxes may rise, the dynamics of my neighborhood may change and some of my neighbors may be forced to move away due to rising housing costs. I am not settled with any of these potential effects. I am also concerned about what Congress Heights will become without thoughtful community revitalization; a place without access to quality and fresh food options, new employment opportunities; rising crime and the potential deterioration of property value."

In the end, Knight vows that "intentional policy making can assure longtime residents will still be here to enjoy the fruits of redevelopment instead of [being] displaced by them."

Knight says she wants "to attract more for Ward 8 residents" as commissioner, and also has specific recommendations for more bike lanes in the area.

Opponent Karen Lucas also responded to our questionnaire with detailed and well-thought out responses. While we agreed with Lucas on some areas, her stances on bike lanes ("NO BIKE LANES") and removing street parking for better bus service ("ABSOLUTELY NOT") were hard for us to swallow. We encourage you to support Knight with your vote this election.

Bolling Air Force Base. Photo by F Delventhal on Flickr.

In ANC 8D, there are no contested races. In ANC 8E, we aren't endorsing anyone.

The southern tip of DC is ANC 8D, and ANC 8E follows Southern Avenue north from there along the Maryland border.

In 8D, as per our endorsement process outlined here, we didn't offer endorsements because there are no contested races there. In 8E there is only one contested race, and based on candidate responses we did not have enough information to make a confident endorsement.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 8 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 8. You can also read about all 8 wards at our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, where you'll find links to our endorsements, our analysis, and all candidate responses.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


A more accessible Anacostia Park would mean a healthier community

Anacostia Park is part more than 1,200 acres of parks and wetlands that sit along the Anacostia River. It's not in great shape, but there are people working to turn it around. If they succeed, residents are set to reap the health and social benefits that come with quality parks.

The waterfront trail running through Anacostia Park. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Overshadowed by the Washington Monument on the National Mall, the Anacostia Waterfront, which the National Parks Service and District government manage together, is one of Washington's most undervalued landmarks.

Originally planned nearly 100 years ago, the waterfront was designed under the McMillan Plan to be a grand public park running along the river, featuring promenades, islands, and bathing lagoons.

Image from the Anacostia Waterfront Trust.

Over the ensuing century, however, Anacostia Park was neglected and underused. Despite all that it has to offer, Anacostia Park never achieved the kind of recognition from tourists or regular use from residents that places like Rock Creek and Meridian Hill do.

Part of the problem is that much of the park is bounded is by the Anacostia River on one side and a busy highway on the other, limiting access by public transportation and connection to the rest of the city.

Parks can help address public health issues in Anacostia

Communities east of the Anacostia River are plagued with elevated rates of asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, so much so that there's clearly an expanding the gulf between these underserved areas and the rest of the District. According to the city's most recent assessment, residents of Ward 8 have the highest rates of obesity and are the least likely to exercise of anyone in the city.

The health woes people in Anacostia face persist despite the fact that many people live within a mile of Anacostia Park or Waterfront Trail.

The Anacostia Waterfront trail has an aast and west branch along both sides of the river, and runs for a total of 15 miles.

There's proof that the active lifestyle parks encourage mean lower obesity rates and high blood pressure rates as well as fewer doctor's visits and fewer annual medical costs. Further benefits include lower levels of cholesterol and respiratory diseases, enhanced survival after a heart attack, faster recovery from surgery, fewer medical complaints, and reduced stress.

Recognizing what Anacostia Park can do for residents as well as how much it's been ignored, recent administrations—starting with Anthony Williams, who was in office from 1999 until 2007—have championed the park and waterfront, slowly shifting investment across the river. In the past decade, new playgrounds have gone up, and 15 miles of new trails have formed the nucleus of the Anacostia Waterfront Trail.

Both what's coming to the Waterfront and what's already there make for tremendous opportunity to serve community health needs in Wards 7 and 8.

Anacostia park lacks the public transportation options that other places have. This is the only bikeshare station located along the eastern branch of the Waterfront Trail.

New programing is a great tool for increasing park attendance. Last year, the National Park Service hosted the first annual Anacostia River Festival to promote "the history, ecology, and communities along its riverbanks." The inaugural event was an opportunity for the community and local politicians to come out in support of the Park and another is in the works for this upcoming spring.

Here's how DC can connect Anacostia Park to its community

For progress to continue, interest in Anacostia Park has to go beyond these periodic events and promising proposals. The easiest way to support active use is making sure people know about all that Anacostia Park has to offer.

According to the American Planning Association, for a park to increase physical activity it needs to be accessible, close to where people live, and have good lighting, toilets, and drinking water, and attractive scenery. Today, Anacostia Park has some of these things, but others are sorely lacking.

This is the south-eastern tip of Anacostia Park and Waterfront Trail, seen from across the river at Yards Park.

The first thing that would get more people using Anacostia Park would be creating convenient points of access. Creative infrastructure and programs could be replicated in Anacostia Park based on what other cities have used to successfully boost attendance and forge a connection with the community.

In Chicago, The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance helped community members create a "Quality of Life Plan," identifying top issues facing the community in order to craft policies that the park to meet the most pressing needs. Since 2005, the initiative has facilitated coordination between local employers, provided employment for 84 local youth, and mobilized over 10,000 residents to support a number of projects.

In New York, a collaboration between the Prospect Park Alliance, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE) High School resulted in a curriculum based on the physical and educational resources of the Botanic Garden. Such a partnership could be replicated between the National Arboretum, Park Service, and City if the interest and collective will are demonstrated.

Fortunately, creating new ways to access the park and things to do once people are there does not require large sums of money because Anacostia Park doesn't need to be built or set aside. What it does demand, however, is public and private support as well as a willingness to incorporate the communities these changes are meant to benefit into the planning process.

To foster dialogue between the community and other stakeholders, The Anacostia Waterfront Trust has recently partnered with 13 other organizations to form the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative.

While still taking shape, the APCC is designed to engage with nearby residents in order to promote active use and develop long term plans. Efforts like these can help ensure that the many projects and initiatives intended to help residents of the Anacostia Waterfront actually serve their purpose.

Other parks are blossoming nearby

Work is ongoing to create an additional 13 miles of trails connecting the park to other sites along the Waterfront, including the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Yards Park, and the National Arboretum.

Another example of a Waterfront project that can do a lot for its community is the 11th Street Bridge Park. The project will include an education center, outdoor performance spaces, and urban agriculture, and when it's finished, it will be a link Wards 6, 7, and 8.

Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park design team.


Good deal or not? DC will build a Wizards practice facility near Congress Heights Metro

Tens of millions of dollars in public money would pay for a pro basketball practice facility and small arena at the St. Elizabeths campus, under a deal reported Monday. Will it spur needed economic development or take away funds from needed public projects like schools?

Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr.

A recent candidate for public office said about sports subsidies, "We have to make the case that this is really going to generate the type of economic revenue that would make our up-front investment worth it. We still have a lot of capital needs in the District of Columbia, schools being really at the top of the list."

That was Muriel Bowser in 2014. Will she make a persuasive case for this one?

What's in the deal?

Under the deal, Events DC, the authority that runs DC's convention center, would pay up to $32.5 million toward building the facility, which it would own. The NBA Washington Wizards would use the complex as a practice facility, while the WNBA's Mystics would play games there instead of the Verizon Center. It would also host arts, cultural and community events.

The buildings could cost up to $56.3 million, and the difference could come from some combination of funds from the DC budget and from Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the entity that owns the Wizards and Mystics. The exact mix is reportedly still being negotiated, and would also need approval from the DC Council (not a foregone conclusion).

Monumental would also contribute $10 million for as-yet-undisclosed (or undecided) amenities for the nearby Congress Heights area, Jonathan O'Connell reported in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, the District would provide the land gratis, along with roads, lighting, utilities, and parking lots.

Is this a good idea?

While its sports deals haven't come close to the ridiculous giveaways of some stadium deals, DC has still been willing to throw substantial public money at pro sports despite near-unanimity among economists that such deals rarely make fiscal sense.

If there is any good spot, St. Elizabeths isn't such a bad one. DC took control of the huge east campus, which abuts Congress Heights Metro, and the Gray Administration announced grand plans for a technology innovation center there, but progress has been very slow.

If this center actually kicks off economic growth at St. Elizabeths, that could be valuable, as could drawing people across the Anacostia River to a part of the city many never see. What we don't know, and have only heard snippets about secondhand, is whether the lack of change at St. Elizabeths is due to a lack of private sector interest or just government slowness; for example, most of the site still lacks power and roads.

DC will have to put those in as part of this deal; if it simply put them in anyway, would that be enough to trigger growth without a large sports subsidy? Economic development officials have not disclosed enough to answer that.

What would candidate Bowser say?

During her 2014 campaign, I interviewed Bowser along with her competitors, and sports subsidies were one of the topics. She said,

My approach is that there is economic development that it's okay for the city to incentivize... but it has to make sense for us. ...

We also have to make the case that this is really going to generate the type of economic revenue that would make our up-front investment worth it. We still have a lot of capital needs in the District of Columbia, schools being really at the top of the list, and other public buildings. So what are we going to get out of this investment?

Now having said all that, I think that this team has been a good neighbor in the District. There are a lot of District residents that support this team. And I hope they come to a deal that makes sense for us.

Bowser was talking then about the proposed deal for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. She primarily opposed a "land swap" where the District would give developer Akridge the Reeves Center at 14th and U in exchange for land in Buzzard Point, and she later followed through and blocked that piece of the plan.

But the soccer deal ultimately cost about $150 million out of the DC budget. Supporters said it would revitalize Buzzard Point and keep a beloved soccer team in the city, while detractors noted that the budget delayed many capital projects like school renovations.

Bowser added at the time, "I think when you know we have a billionaire owner, which we do, some people have to ask the question of why do we have to give them $150 million. We have a lot of priorities for DC."

Watch this segment of my interview with Bowser here:


DC made it more appealing to drive through East of the River neighborhoods to get between Maryland and Virginia. You'll never guess what happened next.

When DC rebuilt the 11th Street Bridge with more lanes and more highway ramps, officials insisted it would make traffic better, while many worried it would only worsen the situation by encouraging drivers to cut through DC between Maryland and Virginia. Now, residents east of the Anacostia say that the change has been a disaster for their communities.

Photo by Gary Butler on Twitter.

The 11th Street Bridge connects the Southeast Freeway, which divides Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard area and is now signed I-695, with the Anacostia neighborhood and 295. North of there, the highway along the east bank of the Anacostia is called DC-295; west, it's I-295.

Before a massive project to rebuild the bridge over the past few years, there was no direct car connection from DC-295 to the bridge. Some drivers got off 295 at Pennsylvania Avenue and crossed the river there before getting back on the highway.

It made a certain sense to add a connection. Surely it's logical to have ramps connecting all of the highways, right? Some drivers in neighborhoods around DC-295 found their commutes quite awkward, and the drivers getting off the highway and back on clogged up some neighborhood roads.

However, some people warned that the cure could be worse than the disease. By building a connection, it would be simpler for people already driving this route, but could also attract more drivers to make the trip, adding to traffic and pollution for people living near the highways.

I predicted in 2008 that map software would soon move away from exclusively suggesting the Beltway to circumvent DC, directing unsuspecting itinerant travelers through DC and on the 11th Street bridge. Sure enough, that started happening.

Image from Google Maps.

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society, a preservation group, commissioned their own independent traffic study of the bridge project. It predicted that traffic would increase on DC-295, the bridge, the Southeast/Southwest Freeway (695 and 395), Pennsylvania Avenue in the neighborhoods on both sides of the river, and in other places, while decreasing on the Beltway and on 295 near Bolling Air Force Base.

Drawing by the author.

At the time, DDOT officials defended the project, saying that even if it increases traffic in DC, it should move some from local streets to the highway. The project's "Purpose and Need," in fact, said a goal was to "reduce the volume of freeway traffic that spills onto the neighborhood streets due to current traffic patterns."

By that yardstick, the project seems to have failed. Residents east of the river say traffic has gotten worse in their neighborhoods. Gary Butler, Justin Lini, and Marie Fritz told Martin Di Caro that more people are driving on 295, creating traffic jams, leading people to try getting off and taking local streets to get around the traffic.

DDOT might double down despite evidence of the danger

DDOT engineer Muhammed Khalid seems to feel that the solution is to keep doing even more of what his agency has already been doing. He confirmed to WAMU that traffic got worse on 295, but said all DDOT has to do is "adjust" the "deficiencies" to "minimize or mitigate" traffic problems. In other words, he wants to do even more road work to move more cars on 295.

That will almost surely only draw even more traffic to 295, making traffic worse somewhere else, and pushing people off the highway again into neighborhoods.

Khalid's comments sound like what you hear from a lot of transportation engineers who learned one way to do things in engineering school and haven't noticed the ways our understanding of traffic have advanced since. Traditional traffic engineering sees wider roads or more interchange ramps as the solution to any traffic problem. Unfortunately, in reality those steps only induce more traffic and make the problem worse.

If DDOT just keeps doing the same thing, the people east of the Anacostia will pay the price in worse air quality and even more traffic.

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