Greater Greater Washington: Gentrification in DC is not just a black and white issue

Greater Greater Washington, September 10, 2018: Gentrification in DC is not just a black and white issue

Most conventional debates over gentrification in DC position the process as one that replaces long-time black residents with newer, wealthier white residents. Given the context, this framing makes sense: DC has a well-established black middle class and a wealth of black history. And, the most prominent visual signifiers of change — new buildings — are in neighborhoods like Shaw, which had been nearly entirely black in the postwar era.

Since 1980, Washington has gained about 66,000 white residents while it has lost about 135,000 black residents. Black population loss has potentially stabilized this decade, while the white population is still growing. But the differences here do not show a one-for-one replacement of black residents by white residents. While the black population has declined and the white population has increased, the city has also gained nearly 50,000 Hispanic residents.

In fact, from 1980-2000, Hispanic and Asian residents, up by about 17,000, were the only growing categories — in that time period, both the black and white populations in DC were falling. Additionally, Washington’s status as an “international city” has increased: Now, about 14% of DC’s population was born in a different country, more than doubling from about 6% in 1980.

The decline of the black population in Mid-City and part of the northeast quadrant (roughly Wards 1, 4, and 5) has steadily decreased over time, yet much of the eastern third of DC is still is majority black.

Concurrently, there has been a dramatic increase in the share of the population that identifies as Hispanic in that same corridor (note that the shares for the Hispanic population in the legend are lower due to lower populations). Finally, the white population has slowly spread eastward across 16th Street into those same areas, as well as around Capitol Hill.

DC is whiter than than it was nearly 40 years ago. But it’s more Hispanic, and more Asian, too.

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