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New D.C. bill seeks to prevent gentrification and displacement in ‘high-risk’ neighborhoods

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Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White is pressing for targeted services and funds

Outside the Congress Heights Metro station in Southeast D.C.
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Since 2000, the District has experienced the most intense gentrification and an outsized amount of resident displacement among American cities, according to recent research—changes that have predominately affected black and low-income residents in a city once dubbed “Chocolate City.” Now, new legislation by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, who represents many Southeast neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, aims to stem such changes by providing targeted services and funds in “high-risk displacement areas.”

White introduced the “East of the River High-Risk Displacement Prevention Services and Fund Establishment Act of 2019” last week at the D.C. Council’s June 4 meeting. The bill would create a city grant fund for legal services to help curb evictions, improve housing conditions, and protect rental subsidies. The fund would also support tenant associations and advisory neighborhood commissions, and expand foreclosure-prevention assistance.

Law school clinics and nonprofit organizations would be eligible to apply for the funding. Annual reports required by the legislation would have to include information on grantees, performance metrics “related to equity and inclusion,” services provided, and their costs.

“The harm that displacement and gentrification is having on our city is too great to be ignored,” White said in proposing the legislation. “People are being forced out of their communities and their neighborhoods.” Four other councilmembers have preliminarily signed onto the bill: At-Large Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Robert White, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, and Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray. It may get a public hearing in the coming months, and defines “displacement risk zones” as follows:

census tracts in Wards 7 and 8 showing burgeoning economic expansion and a net decline in low-income population, including [a] high concentration of economically declining tracts (neighborhoods) that have experienced decades of strong economic decline and a net increase in low-income population. ... The first Displacement Risk Zone shall be comprised of census tracts 68.04, 73.01, 73.04, 74.01 74.03, 74.04, 74.06, 74.07, 74.08, 74.09, 75.02, 75.03, 75.04, 76.01, 76.01, 76.03, 76.04, 76.05, 77.03, 77.07, 77.08, 77.09, 78.03, 78.04, 78.06, 78.07, 78.08, 78.09, 79.03, 96.01, 96.02, 96.03, 96.04, 97.00, 98.01, 98.02, 98.03, 98.04, 98.07, 98.10, 98.11, 99.01, 99.02, 99.03, 99.04, 99.05, 99.06, 99.07, 104.00.

One recent study cited by White, by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, found that over 38 percent of D.C. residents live in economically growing census tracts, in which low-income families are at the greatest risk of displacement. Another study cited by the Ward 8 councilmember, by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, concluded that about 40 percent of D.C.’s lower-income neighborhoods were gentrified between 2000 and 2013.