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The Group That Plans to Give Ward 8 Residents a Seat at the Economic Development Table

by Nena Perry-Brown

While the Office of Planning embarks on several planning efforts citywide, one ward is taking their destiny into their own hands.

Last week, the Ward 8 Community Economic Development Initiative (W8CED) made its public debut, launching a planning process that aims to give Ward 8 residents in DC and stakeholders a greater collective voice in what happens in their ward.

Specifically, W8CED wants to ensure that the influx of private investment into Ward 8 benefits rather than displaces those who live there and improves the quality of life for current and future residents.

"No one knows how Ward 8 is going to grow, and if the community positions itself correctly, the community can grow with it; if not, [Ward 8] will grow without the community," Mustafa Abdul-Salaam, who facilitates W8CED and is also an ANC 8C commissioner, explained to UrbanTurf.

The seeds of this planning effort were planted a decade ago when then-Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry created advisory groups as the Department of Homeland Security began moving onto the St. Elizabeths campus. While those advisory groups were a mixed success, the idea of an organized coalition taking a grassroots approach to advocating on behalf of Ward 8 residents gained steam, culminating in what has become the W8CED.

The steering committee has been meeting every month since late 2019, and another 11 subcommittees are currently being formed, each with a focus area like housing, education, workforce development, and transportation.

Some of the ideas already on the table include the desire to empower renters in the ward to convert their buildings into cooperatives, a push to support efforts around universal basic income, encouraging residents to create businesses that use communal ownership models, and capitalizing on Ward 8's majority-Black population by branding the ward as "Little Africa". 

"Our strength is the African culture that we're all connected with, so rather than minimize that, we need to maximize that, make it a very prominent part of our assets culturally," Abdul-Salaam explained, likening the concept to a Chinatown or a Little Italy. He noted that the area also has a large African immigrant population that should be encouraged to open businesses in the ward, and that the ward can also court embassies of African and other majority-Black countries to relocate there.

The W8CED has received sufficient financial backing to begin conducting surveys in the ward to assess residents' needs. Some of that funding will also go toward establishing a Ward 8 Community Investment Fund, which will raise funds to make loans and micro-loans in the ward and become a development partner on projects in the ward. The idea is that the fund will grow more self-sustaining as it recoups on its investments and builds equity.

W8CED is currently doing outreach to spread the word about the planning process and recruit for subcommittees. The planning process will be iterative, and the first draft could be under review at the end of this year.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the-group-that-plans-to-give-ward-8-residents-a-seat-at-the-economic-develo/17940

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