As her constituents bemoan what she described as a dearth of retail options in Ward 7, ANC Commissioner Sherice Muhammad said lawmakers and developers must be accountable to longtime residents who’ve watched as others in the Western part of the city, and Ward 8 to a degree, enjoy new stores, restaurants and banks within walking distance of their homes.
Muhammad, running for a second term this fall, has expressed a desire to challenge a prevailing narrative about her east-end community as a wasteland that she said discourages businesses from open within walking distance of her neighbors.
“There are folks who think Ward 7 doesn’t have disposable income and the desire for retail,” Muhammad, chair of ANC Commission 7D, said as she recounted meetings she and community members had with retail marketing group Street Sense, DC Office of Planning, Metro, and other agencies that encouraged the launch of a study on the economic and social composition of Ward 7, the findings of which could be used to woo major retailers during major conferences.
“How can we as a group of communities compile the necessary data to illustrate that we have a diverse group of community members with an income level that [shows] disposable income to sustain the business?” Muhammad said. “We’ll have to get involved as ANCs to show that we have the numbers and demographics and income levels that would sustain business.”
ANC Commission 7D, specifically single-member district 7D06, which Muhammad directly represents, has two-story rowhouses inhabited by older residents, some of whose families lived there for generations and fend off realtors’ attempts to purchase their property.
Last year, Zillow projected the Mayfair area to be one of the fastest-growing in the city, as median housing value jumped 20 percent, signaling to some impending changes like those seen in areas near downtown D.C. and Anacostia.
But Muhammad said her constituents’ cries for retail have gone virtually unanswered, forcing them to spend their dollars outside of their communities.
“For whatever reason, we haven’t been able to bring retail to Ward 7,” she said. “We don’t accept [the misconception] that we don’t have the disposable income to keep these entities. We have diverse people and ranges of income. That money is going out of the ward to Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Ward 6, and other places. The people of Ward 7 are buying, but we’re not marketing and cashing those dollars in house.”
Muhammad, a lifelong D.C. resident and alumna of Clark Atlanta University, has experience in public relations and event planning, including at BET, the Chicago Urban League, and the Salvation Army. In 2015, she testified against the Pepco-Exelon merger, eventually speaking with Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) about the matter and other issues that concerned residents at a Deanwood Civic Association meeting.
Her experiences as ANC commissioner have revolved more around development.
As a liaison between her single-member district and city leaders and agencies, Muhammad has been a prominent voice in discussions around the Comprehensive Plan, a decades-long guide by the DC Office of Planning that determines aspects of future growth and development, including land use, transportation and economic development.
At community meetings hosted by Empower DC and other grass-roots organizations, Muhammad has spoken about what she described as unequal development that leaves her neighbors without nearby amenities. Earlier this year, Muhammad and other ANC commissioners converged on the Wilson Building in Northwest to challenge proposed changes to the Comprehensive Plan the DC Office of Planning submitted to the D.C. Council, admittedly without ANCs’ input.
More recently, Muhammad’s fight for 7D06 residents has pitted her against DC Water, which for years has levied “clean water” surcharges to fund the cleanup of local waterways.
She said the additional financial burden, an aggregation of more than $2 billion citywide, has squeezed the pockets of her constituents, particularly those running local churches and small businesses.
“You have this big saddle of debt around D.C. residents,” she said. “You’re being hit four times — home, church, nonprofit and telecommunication fees.”
Muhammad said she would like to see the local and federal governments pay their fair share of the amount needed to fund the cleanup.
“I’m unapologetically for the community, and beholden to the community,” she said. “[My constituents] are very engaged. They may not come to all of the ANC meetings, but they follow what’s going on in the city. There’s no question that they’ve observed and are involved and alert about what’s going on in the District.”
For Remetter Freeman, a Ward 7 resident of more than 50 years, Muhammad has been a tireless advocate, often visiting her home off of Minnesota Avenue in Northeast and immediately addressing her gripes with city agencies, the most pressing being trash collection and upkeep of alleyways.
“The Department of Public Works used to be good, but they’ve gotten lackadaisical. They empty the trash and don’t sweep [up the debris],” Freeman, 88, said as she reflected on the hurdles she had to overcome as a Black resident living in what she described as an often-ignored part of the District.
“Sherice Muhammad had to help me with that — otherwise it wouldn’t happen,” Freeman said. “[The city] doesn’t handle its problems with the Blacks like they do the Whites. I had the top of a trash can come up, so I reported it and they told me I would have to buy another one.”
Less than 10 minutes north of Freeman’s house, nearby the Kenilworth Avenue Freeway, Katherine Brown, 88, a Ward 7 resident of more than 60 years, said despite her community activism and relationship with local officers, she’s struggled to have city officials address issues in an area cordoned off by foliage and dead-end streets.
From her home, the elderly woman often makes calls to the Mayor’s Office and Department of Public Works to remove trash and cut down grass that has grown uncontrollably, oftentimes with little success.
But upon meeting Muhammad, Brown said her fortune changed, boosting her morale at a time when few residents involve themselves in the machinations of local government.
“We communicated once, and [Sherice] told me that if they don’t clean up back there, she would make them,” Brown said she recounted her first conversation with Muhammad. “She put it on Facebook and got it done. DPW came out on a Saturday because it was a special job they had to do. This happened within a week. I had been calling the mayor’s office for more than a month about the grass.”