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Washington DC Beckons Latino Population Amid Opportunities in Business, Politics, Economics & Education

First Posted: Jul 22, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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Washington D.C. has seen the doors of the Cuban embassy open for the first time in several decades, signaling a new era for Cuban-American relations. Nonetheless, the city, once termed "Chocolate City," has long been the stomping ground for motivated Latinos, from Cuba and beyond, searching for nothing more than opportunities in business, politics, economics and education.

The District of Columbia, which is the capital of the U.S., is a landing ground for diverse communities who flock to the city from cities across the nation and across the world. D.C. is a scenic city that has river-side views, wide-open avenues, dozens of free museums, and several marvelous cultural landmarks. But, more than that, the city is a budding hotspot for Latino growth, in regards to jobs, home ownership, entrepreneurship and community investment.

Earlier this year, D.C. ranked among the highest in the nation regarding home ownership rates, median household income, share of total self-employment and population shifts for Latinos. According to reports, 45.4 percent of Latinos living in the district own their own homes; they earn $65,736 on average, approximately 11 percent are self-employed; and between 2000 and 2013, the city witnessed an 105 percent increase in population.

"Overall, Washington, D.C. is attractive to Latino and non-Latino populations primarily because of opportunities to get a good paying job, benefits, find a place to live where you can afford to pay the rent, raise a family, send your children to a good school, good health care, and have a good life." Jackie Reyes, Director of the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs in Washington D.C., said to Latin Post. "Other facets of life that are attractive to people choosing to settle in DC: the cultural diversity, public transportation, walkable, liveable neighborhoods, parks and recreation, shops, cafes, book stores, music venues, theatre, restaurants, museums, public libraries, colleges, universities, public health clinics, hospitals, senior care, and places of worship such as churches, temples, synagogues, etc."

In contrast, Reyes also shared that the city's dramatic population incline within the past 15 years has a created an increased demand for housing. The housing challenge keeps many from recognizing that D.C. is a world-class, prospering city. To correct this, the city must build more housing and preserve existing affordable housing. Also, the housing assistance programs requires revamping in the face of neighborhood development, property value increases and gentrification. High prices could put home ownership out of reach for many first-time homebuyers.

According to Reyes, who emigrated to D.C. from El Salvador in 1990, a majority of the Latino population in D.C. is Salvadoran. Data from the Urban Institute confirms that Latino immigrants in the D.C. Metro Area are predominantly from El Salvador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Nonetheless, the Latino presence in the metropolis is comprised of diverse roots and complex history. Latinos living in the District are more likely to be immigrants than non-Latinos. Latino immigrant are more likely than non-Latino households to have married-couple households, and they tend to include more children and extended relatives. Each, or most, participate in the local workforce and/or own their own business.

According the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs, 10.5 percent of the workforce is Latino and 9.1 percent are unemployed. Also, high-earning Latinos are generally employed in management, business, science and the arts, earning an average of $40,000 to 44,999. However, a majority of Latinos in D.C. work in the service industry.

"D.C. is a very hospitality driven city, and the force behind that is the Latino population," Reyes said. "Also, we have a lot entrepreneurs that own restaurants. We have 400 Latino-owned businesses in the district, which include restaurants, construction companies, renovation and different categories, and we've seen growth in all of those areas. Growth is steady, and with the second generation, who are more educated about getting loans, doing work plans, and getting grants for funding non-profit businesses, success endures," Reyes added. "We also have a mix of ages and people who come from different places...we see a lot of Latinos coming to work in politics, and move into those positions."

D.C. is committed to encouraging equitable economic development; fostering small business development and entrepreneurship; and growing the D.C.-wide economy, according to Reyes.

The Latino Economic Development Center, the D.C.-based organization designed to equip community members with the tools and financial skills to improve Latinos' futures and communities, offers programs that help residents to buy and stay in their homes, become financially fit and independent, understand the fundamentals of small business expansion and improve individual and communal quality of life.

Additionally, the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is another engine to help grown Latino businesses in the area. The network connects 1,500 organization and business, providing opportunities for advocacy, networking and education. On an ongoing basis, they host events, such as the "Business Matchmaking" and "IT Industry Mixer" to lure and welcome business leaders who are interested in not only expansion, but advancement.

Furthermore, Carecen Latino Resource and Justice Center is another Latino-focused group that looks to address the needs of D.C.'s Latino population. They offer a number of direct services, including housing services, immigration legal services, community support services and citizenship.

"Concerning Latino entrepreneurship and wealth, in recent years the numbers of Latino-owned businesses continue to grow as well as their revenue. The industry sector with the most Latino-owned businesses was construction, about 27.77 percent; as well as administrative and support and waste management and remediation services with 19.09 percent. Also, professional scientific and technical services is 11.42 percent," said Reyes.

Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC), an Office of Latino Affair grantee that tends to serve smaller businesses with lower revenues, indicated that 75 percent of the 388 D.C. entrepreneurs they served in the 2014 fiscal year were Latino, as well as 60 percent of those in the business planning phase. Again, 75 percent of the 393 D.C. entrepreneurs in FY15 happened to be Latino, with 60 percent in the business planning phase.

The Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs also provides support to Latino residents through collaborative efforts, funding opportunities, community relations, internship opportunities and summer youth employment. The office has also implemented a Language Access and Advocacy Program, which meets and establishes relationships with frontline employees at local non-profit organizations who serve limited or no-English proficient residents to proactively identify areas that need improvement within D.C. government agencies. That work will likely lead to improved access to jobs, services and business opportunities.

Reyes added, "The economy in the District of Columbia is stronger than ever, stable and continuing to grow steadily. Thankfully the new Mayor is committed to the continued maintenance protection and build out of affordable housing units. Consequently, the future is promising for Latinos looking to settle in DC."

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