Racial & Economic Equity in Washington, DC

The city’s “poor folk [are being forced] out of their neighborhoods” by the city’s “active role in development, selling or leasing publicly owned land, changing zoning laws, closing alleys and providing developers with inducements to construct new – or refurbish old – buildings…with resultant racial and class tensions.”

Colby King, The Washington Post, May 2019

Equity is defined as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair.” The concept of equity is synonymous with fairness and justice. It is helpful to think of equity as not simply a desired state of affairs or a lofty value. To achieve and sustain equity, it needs to be thought of as a structural and systemic concept. Equity involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives. 

Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.

Systemic equity is a complex combination of interrelated elements consciously designed to create, support and sustain social justice. It is a dynamic process that reinforces and replicates equitable ideas, power, resources, strategies, conditions, habits and outcomes. 

Definitions above from Annie E. Casey Foundation https://www.aecf.org/blog/racial-justice-definitions For additional definitions, see CORE https://www.dcracialequity.org/equity-term-glossary



From 2000-2020, as the population of the District of Columbia increased by 117,00, the city lost nearly 30,000 Black residents.  

In 2011, D.C was declared no longer to be “Chocolate City,” with its Black population falling from a high of 71 percent in 1970 to below the majority at 49.2 percent (the current figure is 45.4 percent.)

From 2000-2016, the District was among the “few cities in the country where economic growth” resulted in “displacement of low-income populations,” according to a study from the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity in 2019…. During this time frame, more than a quarter of low-income people who lived in District neighborhoods experiencing economic expansion were displaced…. This shift in D.C.’s Black population was caused by both positive and negative factors.

On the positive side, suburban redlining practices (i.e., racial restrictions stemming from the Jim Crow era) began to lift in surrounding suburbs, allowing Black middle-class residents to move beyond the city’s limits into surrounding suburbs. On the negative side, however, many Black residents were displaced from their city homes by forces of gentrification and economic dislocation, especially following the Great Recession of 2008. Historic Black D.C. neighborhoods began to see soaring numbers of new White residents. As D.C.’s economy recovered strongly following the recession, real estate prices began to soar, driving many marginalized and younger residents from the city to the outlying suburbs as well.”  Christopher Jones, Georgetowner, December 27, 2021 

Alarmed by the economic and racial inequities embedded in many city policies and programs, EmpowerDC and the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition fought for substantial changes to redress these inequities in the mayor’s proposed draft policies and actions for the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. In January 2021, their critique was underscored when the newly formed Council Office of Racial Equity (CORE) issued a Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA) that blasted Bill 240001 as introduced, stating:

 ….it will exacerbate racial inequities in the District of Columbia…The Comprehensive Plan, as introduced, fails to address racism, an ongoing public health crisis in the District. As introduced, it appears that racial equity was neither a guiding principle in the preparation of the Comprehensive Plan, nor was it an explicit goal for the Plan’s policies, actions, implementation guidance, or evaluation. These process failures laid the groundwork for deficiencies in policy: proposals are ahistorical, solutions are not proportionate to racial inequities, and directives are concerningly weak or vague.

The report also commented on the Committee Print as amended by Chairman Mendelson’s office and under consideration by Council:

The Committee Print …. makes impactful and significant changes to the Comprehensive Plan. These changes elevate racial equity as a policy priority and state that decisions must use a racial equity lens. These changes do advance racial equity. However, in the aggregate, the Plan’s sheer size reduces the impact of the Committee Print’s positive changes. CORE anticipates that the Committee Print is not enough to disrupt the status quo of deep racial inequities in the District of Columbia.  

Our collective challenge in implementing the still-imperfect 2021 Comprehensive Plan and Supporting Documents is to go beyond equity rhetoric to effective equity action.  NW Opportunity Partners Community Development Corporation is committed to this work.

We believe in the power of shared vision and sustained commitment to create dynamic communities for all people, regardless of income.

NW Opportunity Partners Community Development Corporation