D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s economic plan for Ward 8, which he announced on June 27, struck a sour note with some of his campaigns supporters. Activists claim Gray quickly abandoned campaign promises to include leaders from the area in key positions to oversee all projects and programs and to be part of the decision-making.

At the announcement, Gray called for a one-day summit on July 9 at Savoy Elementary School for the Ward 8 community to meet with cabinet members, agency heads and developers for input into the proposed ventures such as the rebuilding of Ballou Senior High School, several housing projects and a massive development for the U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security Department.

“There is great enthusiasm in the pipeline of Ward 8 developments. Residents must play a role in shaping these developments,” said Gray.

Ward 8 activists want more than promises. “What’s new? Many of these ideas were already outlined by Ward 8 community leaders and have been on the table under mayors Williams and Fenty,” said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Anthony Muhammad. “Our problem has been that the government is slow to move on our ideas.”

For decades, despite its beautiful high peaks and landscapes, Ward 8 has been considered the haven for outcasts and the poor and the last bastion against gentrification. But some believe the tide is swiftly turning.

“If Fenty was considered the developers’ man, then Gray is their darling,” said longtime Ward 8 activist Absalom Jordan.

Unlike other wards in the District where Black neighborhoods have suffered at the hands of developers, Ward 8 leaders want to have more involvement from the onset in deciding how the area should be transformed to enhance existing communities.

“When we look across the District, new developments with high priced condos/townhouses, retail shops and commercial businesses priced the existing Black population out of their own neighborhoods. That’s not what we want for Ward 8,” said Muhammad.

Projects outlined by the mayor that are currently under construction were:

Sheridan Station Project – 114 units of new housing with 24 units as replacements for Barry Farm residents.

Matthews Memorial Terrace Project – an additional 99 units with 35 units to be set aside as replacements for Barry Farms residents.

Coast Guard – in 2013, the main Coast Guard headquarters will open on the west campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital grounds made up of office space, restaurants and retail shops, as well as residences meant to entice federal workers with short commutes. This will bring about 4,000 employees to Ward 8.

Major redevelopment of St. Elizabeth’s 170-acre east campus, a two-year, $17 million project to begin in 2012, designed to serve Ward 8 neighborhoods with the same amenities the west campus will receive and employment opportunities.

The building of a new Ballou Senior High School, a two-year project which will include automotive and other high technology centers.

“The plan is a good first step but much, much more needs to be done,” said Councilman Marion Barry (D- Ward 8). Barry lived in Ward 8 while he served four terms as mayor but no major development took place during that time.

“There’s no easier way to put it. Ward 8 residents want jobs and with all this development, they don’t want the jobs going to people outside the ward, but especially those who don’t reside in the District. We are getting some jobs. But the unemployment in the ward is so high, we need every able-bodied person working,” Barry said.

Skeptical of Gray’s true commitment to Ward 8 residents, Jordan wondered about the driving force behind the new development, the will of the people or investors?

“When I look at this plan, it’s a top-down solution. They are not asking us what we want, but telling us what we are going to get,” said Jordan, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, who has lived in Ward 8 since 1963.

However, the mayor’s office disagreed. According to Linda Wharton-Boyd, director of communications, the mayor’s team has met with local pastors, commissioners, community groups, and public housing tenants associations. The mayor also plans to set up a website page to engage residents, hold periodic teleconference town hall meetings, set up mini-neighborhood city halls and provide updates in community newsletters, church bulletins and libraries.

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO