H Street NE Corridor Struggles for Identity

WI Staff Writer | 2/2/2012, 11:33 a.m.

With the areas high unemployment rate, especially among African-Americans, the presence of Latino workers on the streetcar construction became troublesome.

"A lot of African-Americans feel they are backed up in a corner," said Shuford.

Others Welcome the Change

But for many other blacks, a reshaped H Street is a desirable.

The H Street NE corridor, once known as a wasteland of poverty and despair, is now home to a more affluent, diverse and well educated resident. Brandon Johnson, 43, said he wishes the corridor had been reshaped a decade sooner.

The corridor is no longer an enclave of exclusively African-Americans, but there are a significant number of whites and a growing number of Latinos who have come to the area to work, do business and live.

The unwelcome feel that the area is poor, unsafe and unattractive is quickly slipping away.

According to a 2008 District government report, the city has invested more than $65 million on the corridor in street improvement projects, including curbs, benches, street lighting, sidewalks, bus shelters and trash receptacles.

Johnson, who has lived in the area for decades, enjoys the cultural and racial diversity he is experiencing.

"Where just a few years ago there were mostly barber shops, liquor stores and churches, now the entire area has changed," Johnson said. "It's a plus to have different kinds of people come to this area that wouldn't normally because it wasn't safe."

Johnson also sees it as a "blessing in disguise" to have a lot more options for dining, shopping and bar hopping.

"It's like this area is going through an urban renaissance that's been long overdue," he said.

Johnson also sees prices go up, his own rent included. But he chalks it all up as one of the "casualties of having all of this" while admitting, "some people will not be able to afford the changes that happen."

Joanne Acevedo, who lives in the Congress Height section of southeast, enjoys the restaurants and bar scenes on the corridor.

"I come and support the businesses," Acevedo said. "It's a great addition to this community."

Acevedo, 27, also has heard that some people in the community are not happy with the changes.

"I would not know why anyone would be against that," Acevedo said. "It brings more tourism to the area. It's actually a time for the residents to take advantage of that."

Joseph Pereira, 41, sees the reshaping of the social fabric of the H Street community as a "catch-22."

"It's been a long time coming, very slow progress. But progress in the right direction for most people," but he added, "not [for] everyone. It's a catch-22 position: You have to raise taxes in order to support the city and all of the things that go on with the operation of the city but also alienating and pushing out people who have been here when no one else wanted to be here."