- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001


It seemed like a good plan.
The D.C. government decided in the mid-1990s to renovate Southeasts four public-housing projects and turn them into moderately priced units for sale and rent.
That would spur the development of vacant land east of the Anacostia River and the rehabilitation of private rental properties. Businesses would move in and create jobs. And the District would offer job-training programs so the residents could win those jobs.
But only parts of the plan have worked.
The housing is being developed, but only a few businesses have opened — and they have been west of the Anacostia River, shunning the overwhelmingly black neighborhoods across the muddy water. The promises of job training and new jobs have gone unfulfilled, and residents are moving from their longtime homes because they cannot afford the higher-rent, renovated area.
"You cant just improve the housing and make that kind of investment without raising rents," said Marc Weiss, an economic development consultant who helped draft the housing plan in 1997.
But "a huge part of revitalization also revolves around job training and promoting community-based businesses … and helping low-income people getting skills, better jobs, more money and better housing."
Some 25,000 black, mostly poor residents left areas east of the river between 1990 and 2000, according to census data. As rents in the area continue to rise, more poor blacks are moving in search of more affordable housing.
The city has encouraged urban development and home ownership but has provided little job training and opportunities.
Two career centers have opened in the 13-square-mile region, and the D.C. Marketing Center is trying to open another in the area.
The first opened last year in a shopping center on Alabama Avenue. The second opened in late January, but it is on the southwest side of South Capitol and Atlantic streets.
The new center, which provides job training and is on the street that separates the two quadrants, "should attract people in that area," said Diana Johnson, spokeswoman for D.C. Department of Employment Services, the agency that runs the centers.
The career center is part of $7.7 million the department has allotted for work programs in Southeast until 2004.
"It would be wonderful to have a training program for tens of thousands of households [east of the river]," said Lynn E. Cunningham, associate professor of clinic law at George Washington University. "But that hasnt happened. And its not the whole way out."
The D.C. government also has started a program that gives those businesses preference for city contracts.
"Lots of small businesses are looking to have their locations east of the river now," said Albert Hopkins, president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. "But what would really assist is if the city can move government operational centers. That would have a stimulating effect on economic growth on areas east of the river."
The area received its first significant good news about commercial development last week. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said Wednesday that the real estate developers who are renovating public and private housing in the region are teaming up to buy Camp Simms National Guard site. Part of a $28 million proposal, the long-forgotten site will be turned into 80 single-family houses and a 25-acre shopping area with a Giant Food grocery store and pharmacy, retail stores and office space.
But aside from this deal, most of the Southeast businesses that have opened in recent years have stayed close to Capitol Hill, not crossing the river.
The development of the Navy Yard along the Anacostia is the biggest of those projects, a massive $200 million construction effort. The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is scheduled to move in by summer, doubling the areas workday population to nearly 11,000.
Real estate brokers expect that NAVSEA contractors will bring another 5,000 workers with up to a million square feet of office space.
Commercial developers are slow in investing east of the river for several reasons, Mr. Cunningham said.
"For one thing, gentrification wasnt really started until the mid-1990s. And the crime rate was pretty, high so they were scared away," he said. "And lots of businesses made the decision that they werent going to market in the black community, despite studies that show theres plenty of cash there."
Even if job training were provided, there wouldnt be enough jobs to go around, said Dwight Cropp, a public administration professor at George Washington University.
"The jobs still arent there," said Mr. Cropp, 61, who was born and raised in Southeast. His mother and sister still live there.
"As that land out there becomes more marketable and more valuable, what we are going to see is that in spite of training and in spite of education programs and what have you, those people are going to be pushed out," he said.

Repeating history

City revitalization has been driving poor blacks out of their homes for decades. It started in Southwest in the 1950s, when the District cleaned out the waterfront area.
Some of the residents moved to the suburbs, which were opening to blacks under fair-housing laws. But most of them remained in the city by resettling in Southeast, as did others in the subsequent revitalizations of Northwest neighborhoods like Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and later U Street.
Mary Jackson remembers the cycle from half a century ago, when her family was one of the first to move to Southeast as the city cleaned up Southwest. Once predominantly black, today two-thirds of that areas residents are from other ethnic groups, mostly white.
"They told those people that they could come back, too, but they could never come back because they couldnt afford it," said Mrs. Jackson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for Ward 7, the southernmost corner of the city that borders Maryland. "They all went east of the river."
By the 1970s, gentrification "was a phenomenon going on in a number of places, with the District being one of the lead cities," said Jeffrey R. Henig, director of the Center for Washington Area Studies at George Washington University.
He cited the citys redevelopment of Southwest as a perfect example of this type of urban agenda: It was the largest urban-renewal project in the country; it relocated 25,000 people and 1,400 businesses from 1951 to 1961; and it leveled most of the areas historic, old buildings.
Revitalization did the same to some Northwest neighborhoods. For instance, once-shabby condominiums in multiethnic Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant now sell for $250,000.
The U Street corridors rehabilitation also raised prices, with its median home price rising to $177,000 in 1990 from $73,000 a decade ago, according to the census.
As the Southeast areas surrounding Capitol Hill developed, sought-after housing and businesses moved in, poor blacks moved farther east. Eventually Anacostia and its surrounding neighborhoods became the spot most heavily populated by blacks in the District.
But now, as that region is revitalized, many longtime Washingtonians are moving to Maryland.
"The economic development people look at this area, and all they see is dollar bills," said Mrs. Jackson. "They are drooling at the mouth … but its not going to benefit the people that live here because once those places are fixed up, they wont be able to live here because the rents will be too high."

Border battle

The migration of the Districts poorest residents to Prince Georges County has raised the ire of officials in the county, which has the largest stock of affordable housing in the Washington area.
"The number of people pouring in from the District has risen in the past several years, and the families coming in are larger and poorer," said Jalal Greene, director of the countys Department of Housing and Community Development. "Its an issue for us because that puts pressures on other services that the county provides and on school systems.
"Our position is, dont move certain socioeconomical problems from one jurisdiction into another. We have to be treating some of the root issues."
But officials from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development say that they dont mean to displace poor blacks, and that those moving to the Maryland suburbs want to leave the city.
The agency "has been on the forefront of ensuring there is affordable housing throughout the city, especially east of the river," said Tia Matthews, an agency spokeswoman. Mayor Anthony A. Williams office referred questions to the agency.
Housing agency Director Milton Bailey says displacement should not be occurring, because former residents get the first chance to move into the rehabilitated public housing. More loans were awarded to residents east of the river than anywhere else in the city last year.
Arthur Jones, spokesman for the D.C. Housing Authority, acknowledged that some of the residents have migrated to Maryland.
"Number one, the line is across the way. And economics tell you they wouldnt go in the other direction," he said. "But there is also this link to the city, and the community remains intact because in most cases they returned on Sundays to worship."
But he added that "a lot of times people dont want to come back. They resettle."
Blacks now comprise a smaller majority in District at about 60 percent of the population, compared with 66 percent in 1990, according to census data.
The change is partly because of the Districts overall decline in population: It now numbers 572,059 persons — a 5.7 percent drop from a decade ago.
But the shrinkage is also because of the exodus of poor blacks from Southeast, which lost some 26,000 black residents during the 1990s, according to CACI Marketing Systems, an Arlington marketing company. Ward 8 was particularly hard hit: Nearly 15 percent of its residents left.
D.C. officials say that number is higher but has been offset with a recent influx of residents that has diversified the population.
During the 1990s, the east side of the Anacostia gained more than 1,000 residents — white, Asian and Hispanic — raising the average per capita income to about $17,000 from $11,000.
D.C. officials point to the trend as a success, saying higher incomes are important because they help raise the tax base, bringing in money to provide services for the poor.
CACIs data shows the trend will continue, and per capita income will surpass $20,000 by 2005. But it also shows the continuing exodus of poor blacks.
That region needs more affordable housing, Mr. Cunningham said. Otherwise, poor people end up paying more than half of their income in rent.
"They crowd in together … They leave the District and move to Prince Georges County … and they suffer from bad housing conditions, basically," he added.
Recently built developments with both apartments and condos include Oxon Creek, the Village of Parklands and the Walter Washington Estates near the intersection of Good Hope and Naylor roads. The area is a bus ride away from the Metrorail and a short walk from a 2-year-old shopping plaza with a Safeway.
Public-housing rehabilitation work includes Wheeler Creek, formerly the Valley Green projects, where more than 300 units were demolished and the complex was redeveloped with 180 rental units and 134 town houses for sale. The community is on the Maryland border and near another public-housing project, the East Capitol Dwellings.
"Some of the developments have [been revitalized] in a very sensitive manner, with the tenants who left having the first shot to come back when [the work is] completed," said Rob Fossi, director of housing and community development for the Fannie Mae Foundation. It works with nonprofits, educates people about home ownership and offers mortgages.
Another big, planned development is the renovation of Frederick Douglass and Stanton Dwellings. The complex will remain partially subsidized by the federal government, but residents can buy the 320 new houses for more than $100,000.
The new rents at the 280 refurbished apartments will range from $500 to $900 a month, more than the former residents were paying.
"Those who desire to come back — I believe with various programs in place can find assistance to become homeowners if they so desire," Mr. Hopkins said. "Its just an issue of individual desire to come back."
Revitalization east of the Anacostia River is a work in progress, he said. "I dont think you can measure it by looking at a year or so and say whether it was a success or not. Its still a work thats ongoing."

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