A lone fire hydrant stands on a hill in Fort Reno Park in Northwest D.C. It might look old and out of place but it’s one of the last remaining fixtures of the once-sprawling, predominately Black neighborhood that once sat on the land.
Now, the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), a multi-racial, multi-faith coalition, is hoping to rectify the long-lasting effects of the displacement of that community with the development of 400 affordable, green housing units.
The group includes places of worship and community organizations in the District, including two synagogues: Temple Sinai and Adas Israel Congregation.
“My sons attend those schools. I’ve seen many D.C. musicians and baseball games at that park. Being rooted in this present means that I am also connected to that racist and unequitable past,” said Adas Israel’s social action chair, Brad Brooks-Rubin, during a Zoom meeting Sunday that the network hosted as a call to action.
The group’s goal of developing economical housing is more than just about undoing past segregationist policies. It’s also to help lower the city’s carbon footprint. Buildings contribute 75 percent of the District’s carbon emissions, according to the Department of Energy & Environment. Many public housing and older structures contribute to this.
Councilmember Mary Cheh, who has been representing Ward 3 since 2006, was also present at the meeting. She assured the meeting’s 400 participants that she will support WIN’s efforts.
“Affordable housing is among my top priorities,” she said during the call. “Clean energy is another one and I loved how you [WIN] linked the two of them.”
WIN has been using its platform of local congregations and associations to enact change and address community issues since 1996. But this is the group’s first time tackling an action specifically for Ward 3. Rabbi Hannah Goldstein of Temple Sinai encouraged the Zoom listeners to understand that there is power in their combined efforts.
“We are doing something totally new, and also very old,” the rabbi said. “Faith-based organizing goes all the way back to biblical times when Moses, God and the Israelites ran in action against Pharaoh and said ‘let my people go.’”
Getting affordable housing in Rock Creek West has been no easy task. In 2019, Mayor Muriel Bowser had set a goal to put about 2,000 units of affordable housing there, but has since made little progress. WIN is hoping that they can leverage their supporters to urge city officials to treat the initiative as a priority.
“Our Zoom boxes represent votes,” said Goldstein. “We’re non-partisan, we don’t support candidates. But we are going to get the candidates to support us.”
At the end of the call, the organizations pledged a quota of participants to attend the next meeting in the spring.
“The wrongs of the past must be addressed as a whole, not separately,” said Brooks-Rubin. “I, and everyone else who enjoys the privileges of Ward 3, must act to bring about a different future.”