Forbes, July 8, 2019: District for the rich: Black-owned businesses fight for survival in gentrifying D.C.
Washington, D.C., has been declared the most gentrified city in the country, according to a study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Beyond the more than 20,000 Black D.C. residents who have actively been displaced since 2000, drastic increases in commercial rent and property taxes are also forcing long-loved Black-owned businesses to close their doors. These community institutions not only feel overlooked by local government, but actively thwarted: rising taxes on small Black-owned businesses are in effect subsidizing tax breaks for the major corporations moving into the District.
One of the community staples that many are pained to see at risk of closing is Sankofa Video, Books, and Cafe. Since 1998, this business serving the “liberated territory” around Howard University has provided residents and students “access to an abundant and rare collection of African-centered literature, offering a safe space for Black artists to display their work at little to no cost.” It’s also been ground zero for literary meet-ups, hosting locals and famed authors (Sonia Sanchez, Sista Souljah, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, to name a few) alike.
As a result of property tax increases, the small business owes $30,000 in taxes for 2019, and has decided to fight back by requesting a 10-year tax abatement with the help of D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. This request, Legislation B23-007, was picked up by the national nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization Color Of Change (COC), which has an office in D.C. and views the bookstore as a cornerstone of their community.
COC has been rallying voices and collecting stories to raise awareness to this fight, and launched a digital petition that has so far garnered over 11,000 signatures. Beyond personal investment in the local hang out, COC views this campaign as a larger conversation about what is happening in traditionally black communities across the country. “Businesses that have been anchors of the community — not just in terms of their products and services they deliver, but the ways they serve as places for people to come and organize and build a source of economic empowerment — are being displaced in places like D.C.” says Color Of Change’s Senior Campaign Director, Brandi Collins-Dexter.“[With this bill] there’s really an opportunity to set a huge precedent that could have an impact on many communities throughout the nation.”