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Increasing racial mix in D.C. neighborhoods comes at a cost

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Local,DC,Real Estate,Liz Farmer
The white population in the District's historically ethnic neighborhoods has ballooned in the past decade following major revitalization efforts. But the change has come at a price for residents as the cost of living has increased and some businesses are faced with revamping or shutting down.

D.C.'s most racially mixed neighborhoods fall primarily near the Metro's inner Green Line, according to the latest census data. Places where Latinos and blacks had long combined for a majority share of the population are now seeing whites become an increasing part of the mix and, in some cases, becoming the majority.

"It was a hub of black culture in the late 1980s when this neighborhood was black government workers [and] business owners," said longtime D.C. resident Misty Brown. "You never saw any whites on Georgia Avenue."

Over the last decade, Shaw and U Street underwent massive redevelopment efforts that accompanied a resurgence in nightlife there. In 10 years, the non-Hispanic white population grew from less than one-third to roughly half.

D.C. neighborhoods' growing racial mix
White population increases in traditionally minority-majority areas.
Hispanic White* Black*
200020102000201020002010
Mount Pleasant (Tract 27.02)**34%25%37%56%19%12%
Columbia Heights (Tract 28.02)51%43%8%26%32%24%
U Street (Tracts 43 & 44)18%12%30%56%47%24%
Shaw (Tract 49.01)5%9%12%33%78%51%
Petworth (Tracts 24, 25.02, 32)24%30%2%15%71%51%
*Populations are non-Hispanic
**Tracts refer to Census-designated population areas
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant, havens for Hispanic immigrants, have seen a similar shift. One neighborhood adjacent to the Columbia Heights Metro station has dropped to 43 percent Hispanic from a majority in 2000. Meanwhile, the white population there jumped from 8 percent to 26 percent.

Mount Pleasant increased from slightly more than one-third white to majority white by 2010.

The changes are driving up the cost of living for many -- even the transplants. William Starr, a restaurant worker, said he moved to Columbia Heights from Arlington several years ago because it was more affordable. But he said costs are again getting too high.

"I actually think it's getting less diverse now because you see the lower-income people getting pushed out," he said.

Roberto Mejia, a Columbia Heights resident whose family moved here in 1981 from El Salvador, said the increasing racial mix has alleviated the racial tension present when he arrived as a kid. It's also much safer.

"I wouldn't walk by myself to the Metro -- or anywhere else around here alone [at night]," he said when asked what it like 10 years ago. "Now I would, though."

Redevelopment has come more slowly to Georgia Avenue's Petworth area. Neighborhoods there, home to many Caribbean and African families, are still, for the most part, majority black. However, the white population has increased to about 15 percent from less than 5 percent over the past decade.

Brown, director of business development for Sweet Mango Cafe across from the Petworth Metro, said the dine-in/carryout establishment is one of the only longtime businesses left after the Metro opened in fall 1999. But with new developments under construction and chain businesses moving in, Sweet Mango is revamping itself to cater to the changing population.

"We look to what Ben's Chili Bowl or Busboys & Poets is doing -- and that is provide a serious cultural experience in a more upscale presentation," she said.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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