Not long ago, the Anacostia neighborhood had a reputation of an economic basket case where businesses opened at their own risk. No one thought a sustainable job with decent wages could be found in the historic but crime-infested Ward 8 area.
Times have changed, however. Residents of Anacostia are increasingly finding that they don’t have to go west of the Anacostia River to find a good job.
“I love jobs,” said Troy Donte Prestwood, the chairman of the 8A advisory neighborhood commission in Anacostia. “Even more so, I love seeing jobs in Anacostia. It’s exciting to see more employment opportunities come across the bridge where residents have longed for the day when they too can literally walk to work.
“Not only does working in your community save money and time, it can also help build a strong sense of community identity and pride,” Prestwood said.
Ward 8 has traditionally had the city’s highest unemployment and, despite D.C.’s booming economy, that remains the case with 11.6 percent joblessness rate, according to statistics from the D.C. Department of Employment Services. The ward also has the lowest rate of homeownership, a key indicator of wealth.
But the Southeast neighborhood, which lies near the river and has experienced economic growth for almost 10 years with a receptive small business environment on corridors such as Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Good Hope Road and the feeder streets that house its thriving arts scene and encompassing a booming real estate market.
The St. Elizabeths West campus with the U.S. Coast Guard base of operations and the future headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are in the neighborhood, as gentrification brings new businesses and developments such as Maple View Flats and the Anacostia Metro Station on the Green Line.
Earlier this month, the Busboys and Poets restaurant and bar opened its newest location on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Andy Shallal, Busboys founder and CEO, said he desired to hire Anacostia and Ward 8 residents.
“We absolutely did a concerted effort to hire people from Ward 8,” Shallal said. “Some of our current staff who live in Ward 8 asked to be transferred to work closer to home.”
Shallal said his Anacostia employees “for the most part have been very enthusiastic.”
“Some were not used to the volume of business we had,” he said.
Shallal said bringing on more employees is now a priority.
“We will be hiring another 20 employees for the space which would bring us to about 90 total when we are fully staffed,” he said. “Almost every one of them is from Ward 7 and 8. Mostly 8.”
Anacostia Organics, the only medical marijuana dispensary of east of the river, has also set up shop on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, next to Busboys and Poets. Its owner, Linda Greene, is one of the few African Americans on the retail side of the medical marijuana business.
Anacostia Organics started operations this year with Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city leaders attended the opening.
Greene said she held a job fair at the Anacostia Arts Center in September and was pleased with the quality of the applicants and their enthusiasm for a relatively new industry.
“Normally in this industry, because it is so specialized and not legal on the federal level, we get our experienced employees from other states such as Colorado,” Greene said. “I made a conscious effort to hire people from D.C. and especially people who live east of the river to give them a chance in this industry.”
Greene proudly said most of her eight hires thus far reside east of the river. She had to tap into special resources to train her employees since no programs from the D.C. Department of Employment Services could aid her because of the industry’s legal standing on the federal level.
As far as Busboys and Poets, a community organization, the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC), facilitated the opening of the restaurant and bar.
“Our role was one of partnering with Busboys and Poets,” said Perry Moon, FSFSC executive director. “We were responsible for outreach and engagement. All the information sessions were held in our program space in the community.
“From what I heard, about 200 people attended the sessions,” Moon said. “We also hosted some of the training in our space.”
Moon stressed that all hiring decisions were made by Busboys and Poets.
In the near future, the Maple Flats View project on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue will have 15,000 square feet that will be anchored by the first Starbucks in Ward 8.
Prestwood said Anacostia’s time has come and jobs will continue to be created for its residents.
“For far too long, we’ve seen our friends in other sections of the District enjoy this convenience,” he said. “Now we’re on the cusp of it happening here and that’s a good thing.”