- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

Milagros Hernandez fled El Salvador with her parents and 11 surviving siblings during that nation’s civil war two decades ago.

Yesterday, she helped cut a ribbon to welcome guests to her new home in the capital of the free world.

“In today’s housing market, this is nothing short of a miracle,” said Miss Hernandez, 29, a management trainee at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Standing with her parents and other relatives, she recalled five dead brothers and sisters who could not share her joy.

“The Green Line runs under my home, and I am surrounded by a cemetery, but I’m so happy,” said Miss Hernandez, who bought one of six row houses located on land acquired by Metro during its expansion in the early 1990s.

Some of the units were empty or occupied by vagrants and drug users several years ago. They were rehabilitated under the D.C. government’s Home Again Initiative.

“The properties were full of garbage, and there were quite a few squatters,” said Michael Woodson, a project director in the D.C. Office of Economic Development.

Many D.C. homes are row houses, so one unoccupied unit can erode the value of an entire block.

“Home Again is fulfilling its mission to eradicate vacant and abandoned properties,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Since 1999, more than 350 blighted homes have been rehabilitated and sold to new owners.

Miss Hernandez is paying $250,000 for her three-bedroom unit. The nearly identical home next door recently sold for $380,000.

As the city copes with a housing shortage, about 30,000 homes and apartments are under construction or redevelopment.

Half have been designated for affordable housing programs. They include 4,000 units eligible under the Home Again Initiative for buyers earning no more than 80 percent of the region’s median household income, currently $71,440 for a family of four.

Many of the homes have been acquired for delinquent taxes, or from negligent owners under the threat of eminent domain.

At one time, the District used a lottery system to dispose of surplus housing, but under that system, many units were never rehabilitated.

“When properties sit vacant, a lot of things can happen in a neighborhood — all of them bad,” said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. “We’ve got a great new homeowner and everybody’s happy because they’re getting rid of a nuisance property.”

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