Nam-Viet in Cleveland Park, which closed on June 25
The bill, supported by Councilmembers Elissa Silverman (At-Large), Robert White (At-Large), Trayon White (Ward 8), David Grosso (At-Large), and Charles Allen (Ward 6), would provide restaurants that have been in the same location for at least a decade with up to $50,000 of assistance a year for up to five years. The restaurants must also be certified small business enterprises.
With this bill, CM Nadeau is trying to not only stop the displacement of longtime DC eateries, but also to prevent the cultural gentrification that many life-long Washingtonians say makes them feel like strangers in their own neighborhoods.
CM Nadeau’s website says that she hopes the bill will help mitigate “commercial gentrification [that] risks the vibrancy and continuity of our neighborhoods…”
In one study on the topic, researchers at the City University of New York found that longtime restaurants in a gentrifying majority-black New York City neighborhood were likely to receive online reviews portraying them in a negative light.
Reviewers used words like “sketchy” or “ghetto” to describe the neighborhood’s black owned businesses, language that is almost always a coded racial condemnation of a majority-black space.
The CUNY researchers termed this practice “discursive redlining,” noting that the public branding of black-owned institutions as undesirable is an important part of the neighborhood takeover.
While rental assistance alone can’t shift newcomers’ perceptions, it can give longtime restaurants—and by extension, residents—a better chance to feel secure in a changing neighborhood. Perhaps a longer time frame would even convince newcomers to try longtime establishments, increasing chances of connections forming between the old and the new.
In any case, CM Nadeau’s bill would help otherwise sound restaurants deal with rising rents. And that in itself may be enough to make it law.