The director of LISC DC, Oramenta Newsome, is in the parking lot of a Giant supermarket in Southeast DC. It’s a hot day and it’s the middle of the day, but the parking lot is packed.
“If you were here 10 years ago, you would be standing in Camp Simms,” a former DC National Guard training site, then a polluted brownfield. “To your left was public housing,” Newsome says. “It would have been extremely deteriorated.” Now, here in Congress Heights, there’s a Giant–the second-largest in the city–and a shiny revamped strip mall with a bank, shoe store, and an IHOP.
If Newsome is a little gung-ho about Congress Heights, where her nonprofit has been investing in quality-of-life improvements since the mid-1990s, can you blame her? While the neighborhood still suffers, like much of Ward 8, from high crime and high unemployment, it does seem like Congress Heights is on the rise.
But as DC invests millions in new developments like the events pavilion and tech center at St. Elizabeths East, as Millennials begin to look east of the river for inexpensive housing, should we also be worried about the negative effects of growth?
Congress Heights isn’t going to turn into 14th Street overnight. But everyone’s watching to see what it will turn into.