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Second Phase of Ward 8 Community Summit Held

James Wright | 10/5/2011, 12:32 p.m.

Iris Johnson is a woman who is committed to making Ward 8 a better place to live for its residents. As a part of her passion, she actively participated in the Ward 8 Community Summit that took place at Savoy Elementary School in Southeast this summer. It was sponsored by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray.

Johnson, 56, was one of the table captains at the July 9 event and she facilitated debate between her neighbors about the direction of the ward. Recently, she, along with about 60 people, showed up at Savoy Elementary to find out what the Gray administration was planning to do for the ward.

"My main concern is how much progress has been made since the July meeting," said Johnson at the Sept. 29 meeting. "We had a successful day on July 9. and this is the beginning of a long process," the mayor said in his introduction. "We want to sustain the type of citizens' involvement and the high-level of enthusiasm that was generated on that day."

Ward 8 has the highest unemployment rate in the District and the lowest home-ownership rate--25 percent and 24 percent, respectively. According to the 2010 census, Ward 8, which is 96 percent Black, has long suffered from a perception of high crime and low public school test scores.

There are, however, significant economic development plans for the ward with the re-location of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at Saint Elizabeth's. Furthermore, there is growing interest from developers who see opportunities in land located in historic Anacostia. Tension exists between longtime residents who want inclusive managed growth while newer residents want amenities on par with more affluent parts of the city.

Lorraine Carter, of Bellevue, said she wants Ward 8 residents to have the services that others in the city enjoy.

"There are no crossing guards at Patterson Elementary School and children have to go across South Capitol Street at their own risk because people from outside the city race down it," Carter said. "That would not be tolerated on Wisconsin Avenue. We also need the grass cut on our vacant lots because uncut grass makes the area look unattractive."

The leaders of the city department came to the meetings armed with their progress reports.

According to John Hall, the acting director of Department of Housing and Community Development, the much-desired Vision of Victory, a project of the Alabama Avenue Senior Apartments in Garfield Heights, is in the process of being built and will be finished by 2013.

Terry Bellamy, the director of the District Department of Transportation, said the Circulator bus is now "east of the River" and "it was a major effort" to make that happen. Bellamy said that improving Martin Luther King Avenue's sidewalks and roadway and working on the 11th Street Bridge will "continue to be priorities."

"We need to change the conversation when it comes to hiring D.C. residents," said Lisa Mallory, director of the D.C. Department of Employment Services. "There is a bad perception of D.C. residents as employees because they [employers] have had bad experiences."

Harold Pettigrew, the director of Small and Local Business Development, underscored businesses in the ward should remember that technical assistance is available from his agency.

The next Ward 8 Community Summit is slated for December.