Celebrated as a showplace “where D.C. meets its water,” Phase I of the $2.5 billion waterfront redevelopment project has fallen flat in the opinions of several Black residents of the Ward 6 neighborhood. Its developer-studded opening Oct. 12 ushered in new era of congestion, disenfranchisement and lack of security for Southwest residents, many of whom expressed feelings of sadness.
A staple in the District since the 1800s when the original Maine Avenue fish market opened, the Waterfront saw an initial redevelopment in the 1960s through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Designed as a mixed-income community of home and condominium owners, working-class renters, and public housing recipients, the neighborhood functioned as a close-knit village with civil servants, teachers, clergy, and business owners living in the community they served. With a new wave of revitalization that began in 2007, residents say the development threatens to destroy all, but the name of the area.
“This is not about nostalgia or an inability to welcome change. It is about our council member not listening, and the willingness of city leaders to sandwich some of its most vocal residents between stadiums, concert venues, cranes on every corner, and an infrastructure that cannot support it,” Ward 6 resident Elizabeth Grace told the AFRO. “I cannot celebrate more people coming into an area to party and spend money, when we still have no gas station, massive traffic jams and no parking. What happens if some real emergency breaks out down here? There’s still only one main artery in and out.”
Grace, who worked with Empower D.C. and her local Advisory Neighborhood Commission to address concerns over security and displacement even before many of the construction projects in Southwest began, said despite the growth in housing, little is reasonably priced or equitable, signaling the possible mass displacement of many Black families who have lived and worked in the area for decades. Grace’s long-time friend, Moira Schneider said the new development has reinforced a classist and racist atmosphere in the area.
“The replacement of at least fifteen retail shops – ones that everyone used; the butcher, clothing stores, hair salon, cleaners, and affordable eateries, Hectors is where we had our women’s coffee mornings – for a disgusting Safeway and a CVS means these young, Black kids don’t have jobs in their neighborhood,” Schneider told the AFRO. “They also don’t have housing because even with an affordable housing lottery – such BS – asking someone to pay $2,000 for a tea cup should be a human rights violation.”
Schneider referenced what developers call “micro-units” within the building – 60 of which were set aside as “affordable” units that are only about 330 square feet in size. According to D.C. council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), affordable housing is split into different types of units at different income levels with 131 units set aside for individuals with annual incomes between $30,000 – $60,000 per year.
Allen told the AFRO his priorities during the first phase of the wharf project were to make sure his constituents concerns with traffic, affordable housing and parking were addressed.
He said he created the Southwest Transportation Taskforce, which included the D.C. Department of Transportation and Public Works directors, advisory neighborhood commissioners and residents, to prepare for parking and traffic enforcement for the District Wharf’s opening celebration from Oct. 12-15.
“I think it was a lot smoother this weekend then it would have been,” Allen said. He said that the area will have traffic control officers to make sure that traffic keeps moving and prevent jams. There are also 1,500 new parking spaces available under the wharf and additional spaces at the L’Enfant Metro Station.
He said moving forward, he will try to make sure the area is not only accessible by car, but by public transit, bicycle and foot. “The idea behind it is to make sure there are a lot of different ways that people can get to the wharf,” Allen said. Free shuttle service to the wharf is being offered from the L’Enfant and the Southwest metro stations.
According to documents received from Empower D.C., the Wharf land had a value of nearly $100 billion dollars, but was sold to Paramount Development for $1. Furthermore, according to the report, the city provided an additional $200 billion in subsidies to Paramount – which is managed by Benjamin Soto, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s chief campaign fundraiser in 2014.
Construction continues next year with the groundbreaking of Phase II, which is expected to be completed around 2022.
AFRO Washington D.C. Editor LaTrina Antoine contributed to this article