By: Britt Dillman

Posted: April 12, 2023

Washington D.C., the country’s first large city with a majority Black population, is now considered to be one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the country.[1] Since the 1960s, Washington, D.C. has been proudly referred to by Black residents as “Chocolate City,” because of the city’s racial composition, thriving Black-owned businesses, and Black representation in the city’s government; however, as years passed, D.C.’s racial composition shifted.[2] In 1980, seventy percent of D.C.’s population was black, which fell to sixty-one percent in 2000 and fifty-one percent by 2010.[3] The loss of nearly 40,000 Black residents has been attributed to the inability of Black residents to afford skyrocketing rents fueled by an influx of mostly white professionals flocking to increasingly gentrified neighborhoods.[4]

Gentrification happens when “the movement of more affluent classes into older, central neighborhoods transforms them, through privately financed rehabilitation, into high-priced, residential areas.”[5] Gentrification shrinks the already low stock of housing available to low-income people when deteriorating buildings are bought and remodeled by developers.[6] As affluent newcomers move into the city, existing residents from historically marginalized, low-income communities are forced to relocate just as the neighborhood improves.[7] Therefore, they do not get to share in the potential benefits of community improvement.[8] In D.C., that means low-income Black residents are the ones most effected by gentrification.

The 2020 census illustrates gentrification in the city. The development of new businesses and housing in D.C., specifically in Ward 6 which encompasses Capitol Hill, the Southwest Waterfront, the H Street Corridor, and a portion of NoMa and Shaw, caused the city’s population to grow substantially.[9] The growth in this ward accounted for about a third of the overall population growth in the city, adding 31,604 residents compared to the 2010 census, but with a ten percent decrease in Black residents citywide.[10] This influx is unsurprising considering the exponential growth of new residential buildings being constructed in this ward over the last decade, with about 9,700 rental units under construction in 2012 with 18,500 in the works.[11] In contrast, the Black population in D.C. has declined in fourteen out of thirty-nine neighborhoods from 2000 to 2010.[12] About 6,700 fewer Black residents live in the Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant area, while Petworth/Brightwood Park and Union Station/Stanton Park each lost about 5,000 to 6,000 Black residents.[13]

In addition to gentrification causing increasing rent costs, the D.C. Housing Authority has failed to provide decent and safe housing for residents and has the lowest occupancy rate of any large public housing authority in the nation.[14] To combat the lack of affordable housing in the District, the D.C. Council has introduced The Green New Deal for Housing Act.[15] The Act allows for one-third of all units in a social housing building to be reserved for extremely low-income residents, which can help residents that can no longer afford skyrocketing rent prices in their neighborhoods.[16] Social housing, a public option for housing, provides rental housing at below market rates.[17] Social housing provides homes for people of all income levels.[18] Housing for people with higher incomes subsidizes low-income units, so that the housing developments are self-sustaining and revenue-neutral.[19]

With gentrification at an all-time high in D.C., affordable units are needed to combat the displacement of low-income Black residents. A major change is needed in D.C. to assist residents who require affordable housing, and The Green New Deal for Housing Act’s social housing model could be just what the city needs to prevent low-income Black residents from being displaced by high rents. These residents could afford to live in these high-quality units, remain in the neighborhoods they call home, and ultimately not be displaced by the rapid gentrification taking place in the city.


[1] See Carley M. Shinault & Richard Seltzer, Whose Turf, Whose Town? Race, Status, and Attitudes of Washington DC Residents Toward Gentrification, 23 J. of Afr. Am. Studs. 72, 72–73 (2019), available at

[2] See id. at 73.

[3] See Washington, D.C.: Our Changing City, Urb. Inst., (last visited Jan. 15, 2023).

[4] See Shinault & Seltzer, supra note 1, at 73.

[5] See Duncan Kennedy, Reassessing Rent Control: Its Economic Impact in Gentrifying Housing Market, 101 Har. L. Rev. 1835, 1835 n.2 (1988).

[6] See id. at 1838–39.

[7] See Shinault & Seltzer, supra note 1, at 77.

[8] See id.

[9] See Martin Austernuhle, Census Shows D.C.’s Fastest Growth in NoMa, Navy Yard, and Southwest, dcist (Aug. 12, 2021, 4:40 PM),

[10] See id.

[11] See Brian Warmoth, Map Fix: See Where All of DC’s New Condos Have Been Built Over 12 Years, DCINNO, (Oct. 7, 2014, 11:21 AM),

[12] See Peter Tatian & Serena Lei, Washington, DC: Our Changing City, Urban Institute, (Last visited Mar. 8, 2021).

[13] See id.

[14] See U.S. Dept. of Hous. and Urb. Dev., District of Columbia Housing Authority Assessment, at 4 (2022),

[15] See Council of D.C. B. 24-0802, 24th Council (D.C. 2021).  See June L. Marshall, D.C. Council Pushing Legislation to Create Affordable Housing, Holland & McKnight (Dec. 2, 2022),

[16] See Marshall, supra note 15

[17] See id.

[18] See id.

[19] See id.

Posted in

Share this post