DC’s Population Growth Has Affected the Racial and Ethnic Composition of Wards 6, 7, and 8
Recently, DC experienced significant large-scale development in Navy Yard and the Wharf. This space was only available because a federal urban renewal project in Southwest DC demolished 99 percent of the buildings and displaced 4,500 Black households.
Past disinvestments make communities like the Wharf and Navy Yard ripe for new development and gentrification. This, in turn, affects the racial composition of neighborhoods, which influences residents’ experiences.
Historical and present-day policies rooted in structural racism, such as zoning, affect where and how DC’s population grows and changes. Evidence shows neighborhoods where people of color predominantly live in DC—particularly Black communities—often face public and private disinvestment and staggering wealth disparities. In Wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River, the effects of the decline in public and private investments from 1950 to 1970 continue today despite wins from community activists to improve infrastructure and transportation access.
My analysis of demographic data and ward boundary shifts shows that in the past decade, Ward 6 experienced an influx of white residents because of increased housing production. That population growth shifted Wards 7 and 8’s boundaries, and they now include a greater share of white residents.
East-of-the-river residents still make up a majority of the populations in Wards 7 and 8. But the population changes could affect the long-term political representation of Ward 7 and 8 and their Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), ultimately shifting voting power to white, wealthier residents across the river. Ensuring long-standing Black residents aren’t displaced and can shape decisions for their own communities is vital to meeting their needs.
Ward 6’s population increase changed DC’s 2022 ward boundaries
Washington, DC, experienced its first population growth in 50 years from 2000 to 2010 and continued to grow from 2010 to 2020. However, this growth was unequal across DC’s eight wards.
Ward 6’s population increased by 32,202 residents—more than a third of DC’s total population increase. Wards 7 and 8 grew the least, by 4,507 and 4,851 residents. These population shifts caused the city to redraw its boundaries in 2022 to create roughly equal-sized wards.
The new 2022 ward boundaries meant Ward 6 lost 9,272 residents and Wards 8, 2, and 7 gained 5,591, 2,626, and 1,067 residents.
Because of the boundary changes, Ward 8 now extends across the Anacostia River into Navy Yard for the first time; Ward 7 encompasses Kingman Park and Hill East, the neighborhoods in-between Capitol Hill and the Anacostia River; and Ward 2 includes part of Shaw north of New York Avenue.
DC’s Ward 2, 6, 7, and 8 Boundaries Changed in 2022 Driven by Ward 6 Population Growth
Source: DC Open Data.
Notes: Boundaries from 2012 are in yellow.
New boundaries shifted wards’ racial and ethnic composition
DC’s Asian, Hispanic/Latinx, and white populations, as well as residents who identify as another race, have been growing in the past decade across all wards. Simultaneously, the number of Black residents has declined overall, particularly in Wards 1 and 4, which experienced increasing housing costs. Ward 3 and Ward 8 are the only wards where the number of Black residents increased.
I analyzed 2020 demographic data and 2012 and 2022 ward boundaries to isolate the effect of the redrawn boundaries on Ward 6 and Ward 8’s racial composition. Both wards experienced a decrease in the share of Black residents and an increase in the share of white residents.
In Ward 6, Black residents comprise 24.7 percent of the population within 2022 boundaries, compared with 28 percent of the population using 2012 boundaries. The white population increased by 3 percentage points in 2022 with the new boundaries.
Because Navy Yard was added to Ward 8, Ward 8 experienced a decrease in the share of Black residents it would have had (it has 85.1 percent, compared with the 90.5 percent of Black residents it would have had) and an increase in white residents (Navy Yard’s population is primarily white). White residents now account for 9.3 percent of Ward 8’s population compared with 4.7 percent with the previous boundaries.
Similarly, the share of Black residents in Ward 7 decreased further because new areas of Hill East, a majority-white neighborhood, were redistricted to Ward 7.
What does this mean for Ward 6, 7, and 8 residents?
Zoning changes, public housing redevelopment, public-private partnerships, and development around Nationals Park, NoMa, and Navy Yard have fueled housing production and population growth in Ward 6, attracting white, wealthier residents. As a result, the boundaries of Ward 8, where population growth was slower because of systemic racism and economic disinvestment, spanned west of the Anacostia River into Navy Yard for the first time.
Though Black residents in neighborhoods east of the river largely still represent Ward 7 and 8 and their ANCs, ensuring long-standing community residents shape decisions for their neighborhoods and wards is vital to meeting local priorities and needs.
Local policymakers, developers, and foundations have a few options to help, including the following changes in housing policy and anti-displacement measures.
- Preserving affordability. Wards 7 and 8 have the highest number of assisted housing units in DC. Preserving affordable units (while maintaining good housing conditions) in these wards can help prevent displacement.
- Creating new affordable housing. Before redistricting, Wards 7 and 8 had the smallest increase in housing units (and subsequently, less population growth). Investing in deeply affordable housing in these areas and across DC—especially in areas where residents have access—could also help prevent displacement, plus lead to more equitable growth.
- Investing in placemaking in Wards 7 and 8. Spending public and private dollars in Wards 7 and 8 to add green space and parks, improve public transit options, increase public school funding, and implement cash transfers could begin to address the systemic disinvestment these neighborhoods experience. To ensure strategies benefit residents, policymakers should invest significant time and resources into deeply engaging with communities before making any changes and involve them throughout the process.
This post was updated to clarify that east-of-the-river residents make up a majority of the populations in Wards 7 and 8 (10/24/2022).