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One Big Question: With More Neighborhood Amenities East Of The River, What Will Happen To The Rents?

Historic Anacostia

Over the last few years, residents in D.C. have become aware of an unsettling truth: over half of D.C.’s food deserts, areas with little or no access to healthy food, are located in Ward 8

Last year, members of the Ward 8 community took to the streets to raise awareness of this issue that has impacted the health of so many residents east of the river. Residents staged a 2-mile walk from Giant in Congress Heights, demonstrating the distance people have to walk to Ward 8’s only grocery store. 

It seems the concerns about the lack of food access have been heard. Several new projects are bringing food and retail options to Wards 7 and 8. But while many longtime residents are excited to see what these developments have in store, others fear it could drive up the price of living in their neighborhoods. 

One reason for the shortage of retail and shopping centers in Ward 8 is a lack of suitable building stock. 

"Except for the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor, there was really no retail to speak of, period," Papadopoulos Properties principal Tom Papadopoulos told Bisnow. "There was just no commercial property, a lot more residential.” 

That is beginning to change. Papadopoulos is one of several D.C. business owners who have taken advantage of commercial development opportunities east of the river. His team is leading the retail leasing for two major neighborhood developments.

Columbian Quarter, located across the street from the Anacostia Metro station, will offer 1.7M SF of office, 700 residential units and 50K SF of retail. In nearby Congress Heights, a 2M SF redevelopment of St. Elizabeths East will offer 38K SF of retail. 

Deanwood neighborhood is Washington, D.C.

In Deanwood, a neighborhood approximately 5 miles northeast of Anacostia, commercial development has been slower. Many residents of Deanwood have to cross the border into Maryland just to get to the closest shopping center. 

“I wish they would build up around here,” Deanwood resident Leo R. Hector Sr. said to AFRO. “We need more stores around here for people to shop and not have to go to other parts of town or Maryland. The city is building up other neighborhoods, why not mine?”

As Deanwood residents continue to demand more amenities in their neighborhood, the city is working with developers to provide retail offerings. In January, WMATA approved plans to build a mixed-use development in place of the Deanwood Metro station parking lot. The concept includes a parking garage with 150 spaces, a building with 138 apartments and 10K SF of retail. WMATA is working to implement several community requests into the project, including senior and mixed-income housing and street-activating commercial space, UrbanTurf reported.

But as the number of amenities in neighborhoods like Deanwood increases, so does the cost of living. For longtime residents, this can often lead to displacement. 

“There is an apartment building here where a resident was evicted,” Hector said. “The tenant was paying $950 a month for a two-bedroom apartment but when the new tenants moved in, the rent was $1,850.”

Bringing in more affordable and workforce housing assets to mixed-use developments could help solve this problem, but it may also mean increased competition as people continue to move to these areas. 

East of the river residents looking for more retail amenities in their neighborhood will have to pay a price.