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      Ward 8 In Profile    

    After Long Slide, Hope Peeks From Ruins

    By John W. Fountain
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 28, 1998; Page J01

    This is the fourth in a series of ward profiles.

    Anacostia used to bustle with shoppers, used to thrive with movie theaters, stores and bowling alleys. It crawled with night life. A self-contained city within a city. On Saturdays and Sundays, before the river became polluted, families used to stroll down to its scenic, tranquil banks and angle for catfish, picnic on the emerald grass, lie in the sun.

    Ward 8: A Statistical Profile
    Ward 8
    The southernmost ward in the city covers more than 4,000 acres and has the smallest percentage of taxable land in the District. The tax-exempt property including St. Elizabeths Hospital, Bolling Air Force Base, the city's Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, D.C. Village and parkland leave just 962 acres that are subject to taxation. In 1990, the ward had the fewest number of housing units in the city. One of them is occupied by Mayor Marion Barry.

    Estimated 1997 population: 58,379
    Population lost since 1990: 19%

    Population breakdown

     52,566 (90%)
     3,879 (7%)
     1,083 (2%)
     703 (1%)
    American Indian:

    Supermarkets: 2

    Median household income (1997)

    Ward 8:


    Under 18:
    18 to 64:
    65 or older:

    Political affiliation


    In the ward, 32 percent of the households with children in 1990 were married-couple households.
    Citywide, 47 percent of the households with children in 1990 were married-couple households.

    Government employment
    In the ward, 45 percent of employed residents in 1990 held government jobs.
    Citywide, 32 percent of employed residents held government jobs.

    Private school attendance
    In the ward, 10 percent of children attended private school in 1990.
    Citywide, 16 percent of children attended private school in 1990.

    College attendance
    In the ward, 28 percent of the adult residents had attended college.
    Citywide, 52 percent of adult residents had attended college.

    Rental housing
    In the ward, 70 percent of the housing units were rental units in 1990.
    Citywide, 54 percent of the housing units were rental units in 1990.

    1994 Mayoral Election
    Primary election voter turnout:
     Ward 8: 44%
     Citywide: 49%

    General election turnout:
     Ward 8: 44%
     Citywide: 51%

    Primary vote by candidate, Ward 8:
    Marion Barry (D): 10,497
    John Ray (D): 1,301

    General election vote by candidate, Ward 8:
    Marion Barry (D): 14,243
    Carol Schwartz (R): 969

    SOURCES: 1990 Census, Claritas, D.C. Office of Planning

    Back then, the neighbors were black doctors or lawyers or plain old folks with big city dreams in the Capital City of dreams. Everybody looked out for everybody. And life on this side of the river shone like the pride of its people.

    "When you came across that bridge, it wasn't Ward 8, it was Anacostia, D.C.," Hannah Hawkins, 58, a longtime resident, says reminiscing on a tour of her neighborhood nestled at the city's southernmost edge. It is in this quadrant of the city that Hawkins raised five children -- three boys and two girls -- and where she also runs the Children of Mine youth center, just blocks from her home in Ward 8.

    "It's still the only part of the city that has hills and plains," Hawkins says, adding that nearby Interstate 295 makes the ward more accessible to Maryland and Virginia than any other in the city. "When you're out here, you can generally breath fresh air."

    Her words echo a sense of longing and loss.

    "It's coming back to the way it used to be," Hawkins says, encouraged by scattered signs of hope in an otherwise economic wasteland.

    Thoughts of rebirth and promises of revitalization find their place naturally in the context of an election year, and in this election year, they hold particular significance in the section of the city most in need of both.

    Today in the surrounding neighborhoods known politically as Ward 8, liquor stores and churches dot the landscape. On certain spots along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, drug dealers and thugs linger into the shadowy, neon night. Fast-food joints are plenteous. A sit-down restaurant is an anomaly.

    There is only one supermarket, a lone Safeway just south of St. Elizabeths Hospital for the mentally ill and the boarded-up brick shell that used to house a McDonald's. All around, there are classic signs of inner-city despair.

    In Ward 8, at least two things are as evident as the estimated 58,000 people who live there and the overabundant stock of public housing: pride and poverty.

    Usually referred to as Southeast or Anacostia, it is a place of dreams deferred, or forgotten, and of what many believe to be the land of far too many broken promises.

    "Millions of dollars have come over here, but they have not fallen into the hands of the needy, but in the hands of the greedy," Hawkins says.

    According to the 1990 Census, Ward 8 has the lowest median income, the highest unemployment rate and the highest number of single-parent households in the city. In fact, the median household income in 1997 was $26,300 -- 34 percent less than the $39,792 median income for households citywide.

    In 1990, 70 percent of the housing in Ward 8 were rental units. It also had the lowest number of homeowners of any of the city's eight wards. The ward ranked last in the total number of housing units -- 28,860 -- but had the second highest number of public housing units of any ward in the city.

    Ward 8 is bordered by Naylor and Morris Roads on the north, the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers on the west, and on the south and east by Southern Avenue and the Prince George's County line. Beyond St. Elizabeths, the ward is home to the 7th District police headquarters, the Anacostia Museum, the East of the River Development Corp. and its most famous resident Mayor Marion Barry.

    For some, the ward has come to epitomize the crime-ravaged, economically castrated communities across urban America that have become home to the poorest of the poor. In recent years, plans to build single-family houses in the ward, in addition to improvements to existing public housing and slated commercial development, have offered the greatest signs of hope for the ailing community. Among them is the Walter E. Washington Estates, a 141-town house community being developed by H.R. Crawford's Property Management Co. and the Ridgecrest Tenants Co-op Association.

    Crawford's work and that of a few other developers is part of an effort to help turn the ward's neighborhoods around.

    Although any renaissance will take time, residents such as Hawkins, who remember the way Anacostia used to be and love their corner of the city, say they're willing to wait. For others, it can't come soon enough.

    It's a hot and muggy afternoon. Henry McCoy lounges on his porch in the 3300 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, taking in the afternoon sun, watching the cars whiz by. His two adult daughters and a son-in-law sit nearby, overlooking the fenced, manicured lawn in a block of similar homes at the city's far southern edge.

    Henry McCoy
    Henry and Adelaide McCoy still live in the modest home where they raised four children, but would like to live elsewhere. (Joel Richardson / The Washington Post)

    "I'd love to live somewhere else if I could afford to," he says laughing, wearing wire-frame glasses, a sleeveless white T-shirt and tan shorts. "I'd like to live in Potomac."

    McCoy and his wife of 49 years, Adelaide, raised six children in the modest four-bedroom, red-brick bi-level home. Throngs of children used to fill the neighborhood, their chatter incessant, especially on school mornings as they walked by the house or filed on the bus headed to nearby Ballou, which is the ward's only high school today.

    "It was more kids. You used to see the kids getting off the bus. You don't see that anymore. It's quieted down a lot," says McCoy, a young-looking 70-year-old who has 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren and is a retired resident manager for an apartment complex.

    Like many residents, McCoy believes neighborhoods east of the river have been unfairly stigmatized.

    "Anacostia is a quiet neighborhood. I think it's got a bad rap," McCoy says. "They compare it to being a high-crime area. But I don't think it's any different than any other part of the city."

    Crime declined across the city last year. But violence in any neighborhood reverberates with lasting effects and implications for a community. In September, a 17-year-old male was fatally shot a few blocks north of the McCoys' on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, allegedly by another youth. A month later, a few blocks south, a 13-year-old girl was stabbed to death allegedly by another teenage girl after a war of words.

    Page Two | Printable Full Text

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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