A new committee will seek to fortify Hyattsville's racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity by creating an equity plan for the city.
The Race and Equity Task Force — an ad hoc committee unanimously approved by the Hyattsville City Council in January — was conceptualized to give residents a voice in how the city can improve, Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth said.
The task force will have eight members consisting of Hyattsville residents and up to one non-resident appointment, such as an expert who may not be a city resident, Hollingsworth said.
Within a six-month timeframe, they'll meet at least six times and be asked for ideas on specific policies and programs to improve the city's equity. Those ideas will be made into a plan and adopted by the council.
Hollingsworth said one of the biggest issues facing the city is that some residents, particularly those living in western districts, have felt marginalized.
"One of the things that has always been a question in this city — or a sore spot in this city — is some people feel geographically disconnected to the city," Hollingsworth said. "It pains me when I hear people who live in what is typically considered the west side of the city say that all the benefits happen on the east side of the city, or the historic district."
Councilwoman Erica Spell, who represents Ward 5 in West Hyattsville and co-sponsored the task force initiative, said development in her ward has lagged behind other parts of the city. She specifically cited Ward 1, which she said has received new housing, apartments and businesses in recent years — such as the Busboys and Poets on Baltimore Avenue.
"In West Hyattsville in particular, it's been no secret that the development that has happened in Hyattsville has been slow on our side," Spell said. "It's really important for Ward 4 and 5, that are very diverse, to represent the beautification of all of Hyattsville."
Even though the city of Hyattsville is diverse at its core — its population is about one-third white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic — Ward 5 has a large black and Hispanic population, Spell said.
"I don't think I could be truthful and honest and tell you that part of it wasn't a race issue," Spell said. She added that people who walk through West Hyattsville, which contains a Metro stop, can see dilapidated buildings and open-air fields.
"Our city has so many cool things to offer residents who live here," she said. "I just want more people from other parts of our community to be able to benefit from those programs."
Joseph Solomon, another representative of Ward 5 and president of the Prince George's County Municipal Association, said he also sees a disparity between West Hyattsville and other parts of the city.
But recent developments in Ward 5, he said, demonstrate the city's growing commitment to improving the area.
In May, the city invested $10 million to relocate the Hyattsville City Police Department — which is currently located in the city's Municipal Building in Ward 1 — to a building located in Ward 5, Solomon said.
Additionally, the city is preparing upgrades for Hyatt Park, also located in Ward 5, Solomon said. Hyattsville received a $75,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for the park redesign, according to the Hyattsville Life and Times, and the city council allocated up to $325,000 in funding to be put toward the project.
"We're starting to see that shift, and I'm happy to see it," Solomon said.
Spell said another concern she has is that civic engagement, including voter turnout, is low in Wards 4 and 5. Hollingsworth said she's noticed disproportionate engagement at city events in the past.
"It's important for us to be honest with ourselves in the ways we don't see the community reflected in what we do. The ways we don't advance equity," Hollingsworth said. "That's why I feel is the most important part of growth — being honest and kind of facing the issues head-on."
Both Hollingsworth and Spell see the task force as a way to boost representation and engagement in the city, and they agree the committee needs to be an accurate reflection of Hyattsville's demographics to do so.
This means selecting residents of different wards, races, ethnicities, ages, genders and socioeconomic statuses.
"If people aren't coming to us, then we have to go to them and make the concerted effort to get people to serve on this task force," Spell said. "I don't think there's anything wrong with us saying we want this race and equity task force to be just as diverse as the people we represent."
Those interested in serving on the task force can apply through the city's website until Feb. 14, Hollingsworth said. She said she wants to have the task force's appointments ready before the council has their first meeting in March.
The task force will have their first meeting after that, she added.
"Moving forward, hopefully gone are the days where certain parts of the city receive more attention," Spell said. "Hopefully this task force will make sure that doesn't happen ever again."