Men and women wander up and down North Capitol Street. Some are holding signs asking for money; others are just baiting their time until a shelter reopens. The evident amount of poverty that is seen in the Ward 5 is an issue D.C Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie is trying to fix.
McDuffie is a third-generation Washingtonian of the Ward 5 neighborhood of Stronghold. Ward 5 is a predominantly black community, as an African American and native, McDuffie says he can better recognize and address the problems that have more often plague them in the District.17.2% of Ward 5’s population lives in poverty.
McDuffie’s quest for social justice began when he attended Howard University, where he graduated in 2002. He then attended law school at the University of Maryland. Following college, he spent time as a prosecutor for the State Attorney and finally as a Civil Right Attorney for the Department of Justice.
During his tenure, he’s worked closely with The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development to further his city projects.
“It’s really looking at where the District of Columbia is today, how far we’ve come, our increased prosperity but recognizing that there are thousands of people in the District of Columbia who have not benefited from that prosperity,” said McDuffie.
CNHED President Stephen Glaude said, “a lot of people look at his background and say ‘oh he’s from law enforcement.’ People on the housing community development side might not see the strength in that.”
“He can see both his necessity,” he continued. “He can also see his fragility. He can also see the unintended harmful impacts. I think he makes him a great reformer of those laws and of those regulations and those practices.”
In his seven years in office, McDuffie has worked on many initiatives to prevent and alleviate poverty in D.C. He has worked on creating accessibility to fair housing, tenant equality (Expanded Access to Justice) and housing equality for those with criminal records (Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act). It’s made it possible for people who have troubled backgrounds to find a sense of safety and normalcy that shelters can’t offer. It also falls in line with the “Housing First” model that recognizes people need housing to become successful down the line. McDuffie also worked on legislation to prevent people from trying to persuade or force seniors out of their homes (Senior and Vulnerable Resident Protection against Unlawful Trade Practice Amendment Act of 2017).
McDuffie’s also been looking at how black Americans can build and sustain wealth. One of the ways is through homeownership. However, McDuffie says “We have in the District of Columbia these racially restrictive covenants that limited the ability of black people to buy and own homes.”
McDuffie’s own family home was passed down to him and became a form of financial security. That’s something many black DC residents aren’t getting the chance to do, and when they are their property values are often lesser than their white counterparts. McDuffie says that as long as he is pushing to dismantle race-based tactics, people will begin to have access to housing and employment that will prevent the cycle of poverty.
McDuffie was recently re-elected to DC Council in 2018 to continue his work in Ward 5.
“You know he’s homegrown talent,” said Glaude. “I think he just he represents an important set of values that the city struggles with today.”
McDuffie’s take on his work is a bit more simplistic. He says “I’m trying to make the district a place everyone can call home.”