D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has long articulated the need for better city services for residents east of the Anacostia River.
During her first term, she had a deputy mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity that had the charge to improve the lives and services of Wards 7 and 8 residents as well as other economically challenged areas of the city.
In January, Bowser took a different approach, creating a new position, the executive director of the Office of East of the River Services, and picked Tim White to serve in that capacity. White has been on the job for three months and loves it.
“The mayor decided to modify the Deputy Mayor’s position and make it where this office works with all agencies,” White said. “It is my job to improve city services east of the Anacostia River. The best way to do that is to get back to the basics and go out and talk to the community.”
Statistics and think tanks have consistently shown Wards 7 and 8 with the lowest levels of home-ownership and median incomes in the city and the highest levels of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty. The combined population of Wards 7 and 8 have an approximate population of 150,000 and yet only has three full-service grocery stores while Ward 6, immediately west of the Anacostia River, presently has more than 10 and is adding more.
White serves in his position as Ward 8 undergoes economic transformation with the addition of a Busboys and Poets and projects such as Maple View Flats and Reunion Square in the pipeline and Ward 7 seeks to develop the Skyland Town Center and the Penn Branch retail area, while Deanwood has a national reputation of being a gentrifying neighborhood.
White, who has worked as the interim chief of staff for the D.C. Department of Employment Services and has had stints with the D.C. transportation department and as the deputy chief of staff for the deputy mayor for Planning and Economic Development, said a lot of East End residents aren’t aware of the services that are available to them through the District government.
“Many residents east of the river don’t know that they can get assistance from the city to buy a home through HPAP [Home Purchase Assistance Program],” he said. “There are many programs like that but many people don’t know they exist.”
White said he wants to educate residents east of the Anacostia about how to use the city’s 311 call system effectively. The 311 system takes calls from residents on non-emergency matters and facilitates solving problems based on complaints and feedback.
“Ward 8 has the lowest volumes of 311 calls in the city,” he said. “I want the ward’s residents to be more proactive in dealing with that system. For example, if there is a pothole that is bothering people, we need to move quickly to fill it.”
White notes that residents of different age groups and generations interact with government differently. Younger residents, he said, will use the web or social media to voice their concerns while older generations will use cellphones or telephone and go to offices to deal with issues.
He also said many residents east of the river don’t have extra time to deal with the government because of their work schedules.
“They have a finite amount of time to deal with government and we want to make sure that they get the service or response that is needed,” White said.
The overwhelming majority of commercial enterprises in the East End are small businesses and White said he wants to educate them on what the District government has to offer.
“Small-business owners should understand that there are grant opportunities for them and workshops on how to make effective grant applications to grow their businesses and to do business with the District government,” he said.
White said he cares about the East End because he lives in Ward 8 and his daughter attends school in Ward 7.
“I am excited about our ability to have a real impact in the city,” he said, adding that he relishes his role in fixing things and solving problems and doesn’t actively seek the public spotlight.
Tyrell Holcomb, who serves as the chairman of the 7F advisory neighborhood commission, speaks highly of White.
“He and I have a similar understanding of what government should be doing,” Holcomb said. “I am happy he is bringing that perspective of helping Ward 7 and 8 residents with interacting effectively with D.C. government. White is also in the position to put pressure on D.C. agencies to serve residents better.”