- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

Property owners near the Washington Navy Yard say a Silver Spring developer is threatening them with eminent domain in its efforts to expand construction of homes, offices and stores on the site of public housing complexes in Southeast.

“They are trying to intimidate us, but my property is not for sale,” said Mohammed Salarbux, owner of an apartment building on Third Street and another on L Street in the Southeast neighborhood.

Eminent domain is the right of a government to take, or authorize the taking of, private property for public use. Just compensation must be given to the owner.

Mr. Salarbux, as well as others in the neighborhood, said he recently received a letter from Mid-City Urban LLC of Silver Spring saying that the development company claims “to have the power to enact eminent domain to take the property if we don’t sell at the market value from their appraisal.”

Mid-City Urban was chosen by the District last year to use a $34.9 million federal Hope VI grant to construct homes and offices on the Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg public housing sites. The company did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Officials with the D.C. Housing Authority said they can speak for the company with regard to the Arthur Capper-Carrollsburg project.

“I have seen the posting, and it mentions eminent domain, but it doesn’t mean the developer will be enacting it,” said Housing Authority spokesman Zachary Smith. “They are an agent for us.”

Mr. Smith said the apartment buildings on Third Street and L Street and the mostly abandoned homes on K Street would be replaced by 34 new town houses.

“The city is committed to negotiating good deals for eminent domain, but that is not a route we want to take,” Mr. Smith said.

The Housing Authority, which is responsible for the Hope VI funds, chose Mid-City Urban to be the chief developer in a joint venture with Forest City Enterprises.

The District received the Hope VI grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in October 2001, the sixth such grant awarded to the city.

The Arthur Capper-Carrollsburg project calls for replacing the 780 public-housing units there with 707 units. In addition, Mid-City Urban will build 525 affordable rental units, 330 market-rate homes, 600,000 square feet of office space and about 40,000 square feet of retail space.

The idea behind Hope VI, which was enacted under President Clinton, is to revitalize public housing. The goal of each Hope VI project is for 100 percent of the displaced public-housing residents to return to a new, more vibrant community and for some to return as homeowners.

“Our agreement is for 100 percent replacement,” said Kelvin Robinson, chief of staff for Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Mr. Robinson said the Arthur Capper-Carrollsburg project would be the first time a Hope VI development achieved 100 percent return.

He said Mid-City Urban and Forest City may be looking to use other, privately owned land to build amenities, maximizing the market value for the homes they sell outright. But Mr. Robinson said he is unaware of any such plans.

On Saturday, a pair of public-housing advocacy groups — the Center for Community Change and Everywhere and Now Public Housing Residents Organizing Nationally Together — released a joint report that criticized the Hope VI program.

“Hope VI has been around 10 years with 165 grants awarded, and we believe the program has caused more harm than good,” said Dushaw Hackett, policy analyst for the center.

Focusing on seven public housing sites, the report shows that most residents displaced by Hope VI often move to public housing in other jurisdictions, wait years for construction that never breaks ground, or end up on the streets.

“One of the bigger problems with Hope VI is it is supposed to be about building up the people living there and not about replacing them with new people, who will benefit from the new vibrant community,” Mr. Hackett said.

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