There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Nikki Peele, the writer behind one of D.C.’s longest-running and most notable blogs, Congress Heights on the Rise, has some news: She’s moving out of the neighborhood she’s called home for more than a decade.
Actually, she already moved. “As I speak with you, I’m in Maryland,” she says with a laugh on the phone Thursday afternoon. “It is crazy, I get it.”
Maryland isn’t her final landing place, but it is crazy. Peele has floated the idea of leaving Ward 8 before, back in 2014, but didn’t go through with it. But this time, the decision stuck. She sold her condo. She moved out on Jan. 3, her 42nd birthday.
Peele’s ubiquitous digital presence is known to most who follow D.C. politics or development. With the nom de guerre Advoc8te, a nod to her mission and ward, Peele has steadily provided biting commentary on the state of affairs in Ward 8 and east of the Anacostia River. She writes about city life with a keen eye and panache. Her topics range from roadkill to urban renewal to the Entertainment and Sports Arena, which vexed her by picking “ESAontherise.com” as its web address. (Her address has long been congressheightsontherise.com.)
And while Congress Heights on the Rise isn’t going anywhere—”I could not live without this blog,” she says—it was time to find a new place to rest her head at night.
Chalk some of the cabin fever up to running her condominium’s board for several years, a task that grew to wear on her. Some of it is simply, after 11 years, a desire to see something new.
But “I’ll be honest,” Peele says, “I was getting frustrated. I don’t think that’s a shock to anyone.”
Frustrated, she says, by the “same single grocery store” in the ward; frustrated watching the Navy Yard neighborhood, directly across the river, explode in a handful of years with elegant apartment buildings and a rich nightlife; frustrated by the energy it took just to go to the gym and the grocery store. (There’s only one existing grocery store in Ward 8, and two in Ward 7.)
“I was subsidizing incomes in other neighborhoods. I always think about it,” she says. “I went to the Whole Foods in Navy Yard and I was like, I couldn’t just shop. What I noticed was, the workers were people of color, and probably a good many of them lived east of the river. And the customers were … another demographic,” Peele says with a pause. “And I’ve watched progress come to other neighborhoods. H Street [NE] has taken off, Navy Yard has taken off, and Ward 8 has continued to struggle.”
Despite those reservations, Peele says she did look at rental properties around Anacostia and Congress Heights when she decided to sell her apartment. But by and large, she says, the newer developments had income caps for those making between 50 and 60 percent of the area’s median family income. That was disqualifying for Peele, who makes more than what the area’s income-restricted apartment complexes stipulate.
Meanwhile, back across the river, new developments don’t have equally aggressive income caps. (The Inclusionary Zoning law does require new, large residential developments to make between 8 and 10 percent of their units affordable.) Apartment hunting west of the Anacostia has been “shock[ing] to the senses,” says Peele, who was stunned to see the prices of new studio and one-bedroom apartments, particularly in the southeastern quadrant of the District.
She’s hoping to find a place for at least a year in a neighborhood like Navy Yard, so that she can continue writing for her blog about life in Southeast, but this time, about what it’s like to live in close proximity to so many amenities. She’s floating the idea of neighborhood-hopping, leaving her furniture in storage and going somewhere new every three months. The places she cites as having apartment-hunted—Brookland, H Street NE, Hill East, Navy Yard—have all seen renaissances of their own over the last decade, while Peele has lobbied for the same changes in her neighborhood.
“Maybe I’m missing something on the other side,” she says. But mostly, she says she wants to tackle fear. “There’s this thing based in Ward  about fear. Of what new things may bring—the G-word [gentrification], revitalization,” she says. “Maybe it’ll show a side [of the city] to my east of the river neighbors; maybe it’s not as scary as we think. And maybe it’ll show that living next to a grocery store isn’t the end-all be-all. Maybe we’ll find some new ways to connect.”