The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


In 1979, was your neighborhood "sound" or "distressed"?

DC looked very different in 1979. A map of neighborhood housing conditions shows just how much. In many neighborhoods in Washington now in high demand, 35 years ago the housing stock was in danger.

Image from the DC Public Library, Special Collections. Click for larger version.

This map is from a report by the Department of Housing and Community Development in June 1979, during Marion Barry's first mayoral term, entitled "Housing Problems, Conditions & Trends in the District of Columbia."

The report sounded the alarm for "Petworth, Parkview, Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood and most of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River." Those areas already had, or were in danger of developing, "deteriorating building conditions because resident incomes are not keeping pace with increasing costs of home ownership."

Here is the explanatory text and key for the map:

This map clarifies neighborhoods according to the categories shown in the legend. They are based on the following factors which are illustrated in subsequent maps: ownership patterns, yearly income of residents, real estate sales and prices, welfare assistance and the condition of housing.

Sound [Yellow]: Residents in these neighborhoods have high enough incomes to maintain their properties without public assistance. Northwest areas west of Rock Creek Park are classified as sound neighborhoods together with Capitol Hill. The only sound neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are located south of Fort Dupont Park.

Distressed [Blue]: Residents require considerable assistance because of low incomes and poor housing conditions. Many of these areas also contain a concentration of public housing in need of significant improvement. Distressed neighborhoods west of the river include Ivy City and portions of the Southwest. East of the Anacostia River, the poorest housing conditions are found in Deanewood, Burrville, Northeast Boundary, Greenway, Anacostia, Congress Heights, Washington Highlands and Douglass.

Stable / Declining [Green]: Neighborhoods are in stable condition, with households of moderate income and high ownership, requiring little or no public assistance; or, are beginning to show deteriorating building conditions because resident incomes are not keeping pace with increasing costs of home ownership. West of the River, neighborhoods in this category are south Petworth, Parkview, Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood and most of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Transitional (early or advanced) [Red]: Neighborhoods in the early stages of transition are characterized by a surge in reinvestment and rehabilitation; whereas, neighborhoods in the most advanced stages are those experiencing extensive displacement of low and moderate income families by higher income households. Change began in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan and spread east into Shaw and north along 14th Street, as well as into LeDroit Park and Eckington. The change which began in Capitol Hill spread further east into Lincoln Park, south to the Southeast, and north to the Stanton Park. No radical changes are occurring east of the River, though real estate activity is becoming significant but at a lower level of intensity.

This map further serves to highlight the different characteristics between areas east and west of the Anacostia River. West of the River and west of Rock Creek Park, neighborhoods are in basically sound and stable condition. The most concentrated real estate activity is found in and around the central city. Displacement is, therefore, the major problem west of the River; whereas the main concern east of the Anacostia River is the declining condition of the housing stock. Also, the majority of distressed and declining neighborhoods are found east of the River.

It's also interesting to look at the neighborhood names. NoMA didn't exist; it was "NE 1," adjacent to "NW 1" across North Capitol Street. What we now call U Street is "Westminster." And "Stanton Park" extended all the way across H Street. East of the River, neighborhood names such as "Good Hope," "Buena Vista," and "Douglass" have fallen out of currency.

The Green and Yellow Metrorail lines had not yet opened, the Red Line didn't go beyond Dupont Circle, and the Blue Line stopped at Stadium-Armory.

What else do you notice? How was your neighborhood categorized in 1979? Would it be categorized differently today?

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


Add a comment »

Bring back "Westminster!" That's a much better name than what I have to say now, which is "Shaw/Logan/U."

by LowHeadways on May 13, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

That's a lot of affordable housing!

by Thayer-D on May 13, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

Image is not directly linked.

by DaveG on May 13, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

Wow, terrible color scheme. Each color is used for just about the exact opposite of its standard cultural meaning.

by Tom Veil on May 13, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

NoMa definitely did not exist. It was a rough part of town then, a place you did not hang out in after dark. U Street NW, H Street NE, all rough areas.

by Crickey7 on May 13, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

Looks like it answered an earlier debate on "Bloomingdale".

Interesting that the "Washington Circle" is now what I would call the west end, and the "West end" is probably resident free.

by charlie on May 13, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see an updated version of this map.

by AJ on May 13, 2014 3:03 pm • linkreport

Connecticut Ave and the Gold Coast were more desireable then relative to the rest of the City. Young female professionals were steered to the venerable apartment buildings on Connecticut Ave., under the watchful eyes of the elderly widows who lived there. Successful black professional couples moved out to the Gold Coast as a way of showing they'd made it.

by Crickey7 on May 13, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

This is where a lot of the disagreement between older and younger urbanists comes in. Even in 1979 perhaps a quarter of the houses in my block and most around Dupont/Logan were empty and boarded up. Urbanism meant renovating and re-establishing urban neighborhoods.

Now that that's done it seems strange to many of those people to talk about changing them to something else because that's what the urban renewalists were trying to do and had to be fought by the renovaters.

Younger people today don't realize how many houses in DC were empty and abandoned for so long after '54.

by Tom Coumaris on May 13, 2014 3:14 pm • linkreport

I also find the color coding very confusing.

by BTA on May 13, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

My impression was that most gentrification happened in the 90s. I am surprised to see so much of the city classed as 'transitional' already in 1979. According to this map, Dupont was already settled by 1979, and Logan and Columbia Heights were already transitional.

This leads me to wonder if maybe things got worse before they got better. There was no crack in 1979. Perhaps if you drew the same map in 1989, more neighborhoods would be 'distressed'.

by renegade09 on May 13, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

Probably more yellow, more red, more blue and a lot less green all around.

by BTA on May 13, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

In 1979, the riots were only a decade passed. You could still see scorch marks on buildings, and gaps where buildings had been burnt out.

by Crickey7 on May 13, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

In the 80s you could purchase a boarded up house from the city for $20,000. Fixer uppers that a lot of energetic young entrepreneurs took advantage of to get the ball rolling. Talk about cheap real estate.

by dc denizen on May 13, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

I think that map was done by neighborhoods, not block by block. Some areas are shown as transitional that only had a few fixed up houses ten years later.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 13, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

sad note - it shows historic anacostia as transitional.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 13, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

There is some change though, some of that red like North Dupont Logan and Mt Pleasant should be solidly yellow now. A lot of that green in the are would now be red verging on yellow in some places in Columbia Heights/Bloomingdale/Brookland vicinity. I'd assume a lot of the green outside of downtown could now be classed as blue

by BTA on May 13, 2014 4:00 pm • linkreport

Also sadly I'm not sure Brightwood or SW pass for yellow right now, probably red/blue

by BTA on May 13, 2014 4:02 pm • linkreport

dc denizen- The market price for "shells" around 14th was under $25K until '77. Everyone thought I was nuts to pay $25K for mine in '76 because it had sold for $12.5K 6 months before and $5K one year before. Empty shells were flipping like jumping beans.

The Logan Circle homestead program was the only DC one I know of. In 1976 DC sold about 15 houses around Logan for about $25K each. I "won" one but refused it in favor of a btter deal I got at market rate privately. Other cities, especially Baltimore, had a much bigger government-run homestead program.

by Tom Coumaris on May 13, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

No people lived roughly south of Massachusetts Avenue NW, west of 4th street NE, north of SE/SW Freeway, and east of 17th Street. That problem of not having enough residents in the DC core persists today, although it has slightly improved. We should do something about that.

by Randall M. on May 13, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

"Shells" is a great way to describe it. Unlike Baltimore, that at first tried to condemn and tear down "shells" that would become fire hazards/drug dens/etc. DC really tried to bring life back by taking them on and selling them at a low rate. Baltimore eventually went in that direction after realizing how much worse they could make it tearing down a rowhouse in the middle of a set of rowhomes. But a lot of what I am describing is from the 80s...the crack epidemic really scarred DC.

by dc denizen on May 13, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

Tom + 1,

Having lived here since 83, I am constantly amazed at how wrong most recent arrivals are about DC. Even in the late 90s, the places that the younger set flock to to spend relative fortunes on their small plates and craft beers were burned out parts of town with block after block of dilapidated commercial and residential buildings, sections of town where you didn't go unless you were looking for drugs or "companionship".

And to Renegades point, it got much worse before it got better. Crack didn't hit DC streets enforce until1984-85, and the poverty, drug use and murder got steadily worse until 1992 when DC earned the title "Murder Capital" of the nation. Then things started to subside, but that 8-10 year period in DC had a pretty visible and detrimental effect on DC neighborhoods and building stock.

Heck, it was so bad I was able to buy a fully (nicely) renovated town home (3 stories above, English basement below) at the corner of 9th and east Capitol in 1993 for 182K ($70/sf). It had been on the market for 5 months, just to give you perspective on the current housing market and now row homes are selling for $600/sf.

by CapHill on May 13, 2014 4:20 pm • linkreport

dc- DC was criticized back then for not having any real homestead program like Baltimore did. There were empty shells everywhere that DC owned from tax liens and the the normal (slow) process to unload them was through tax foreclosure sales. Even then the new owners would just sit on them as empty investments.

House prices plummeted after '54 and remained constant and low until the late '70's. I know sales in my block in the late '50's were around $5K for livable houses and stayed at that price until the late '70's when they shot up rapidly. Between '75 and '76 they went from $5K to $25K in my block and $100K in '77. A lot of fortunes were made flipping shells in '75-'77, including our biggest developer today.

by Tom Coumaris on May 13, 2014 4:35 pm • linkreport

I am constantly amazed at how wrong most recent arrivals are about DC.
In what way?

And yes, as others have pointed out, what makes this map interesting is that it really only shows the affect of suburban flight and doesn't yet show the impact of the crack/crime epidemics which were still 6 or 7 years down the road. In 1979 crime rates had actually come down from a high around 10 years prior.

by MLD on May 13, 2014 4:37 pm • linkreport

Except for yellow and stable, even the definitions behind each color are not specific enough.

by DaveG on May 13, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport

CapHill -- while you moved here a bit before I did, I don't think your characterization is fully accurate, at least it doesn't jibe with the city that I came to in Sept. 1987.

Yes, most commercial districts were block after block of dilapidated buildings, but that wasn't so much true of the residential districts. Under and dis- invested in sure, but not bombed out. At least not compared to the Baltimore districts that you see today off Greenmount Avenue or West Baltimore. Those places are entirely derelict.
2. wrt the query about a comparable map for today, I don't know where you could find it but Alice Rivlin did a report early in the Williams Administration that the office of planning used, which categorized neighborhoods in a similar way, 4 types, healthy, transitioning, emerging, distressed.

It's based on a typology that was developed for HUD in the 1970s. Some cities have 6 (or even 7, I think) categories, which I think is a little more accurate, because you can have "late" and "early" stages for transitioning and emerging categories, probably even for distressed.

3. MLD's point about crime vs. suburban flight is scary to remember. Yes, in 1979, the city's municipal institutions hadn't slid to the level they did later, and crime wasn't as bad. And crack hadn't yet been invented... The late 1980s and early to mid-1990s were really really tough. I remember seeing the movie "New Jack City" in that theater on 8th St. SE and I had to have been the only white guy in the audience. It was somewhat disconcerting.

by Richard Layman on May 13, 2014 4:50 pm • linkreport

14th and S was pretty much ground zero for the crack attack and it drove us nuts but didn't really slow down renovation. It did destroy many local black families and/or increase their desire to get out of DC, leading to more houses to be sold to renovators. I'm sure the devastation in all-black areas was terrible.

by Tom Coumaris on May 13, 2014 5:38 pm • linkreport

I lived pretty close to Rayful Edmond's main distribution area. About 30 people were murdered in an 18 month period pretty soon into my living in the area around 4th and I Streets NE. Again, H Street was pretty crappy and yes there were persistent vacant properties--I remember properties that were vacant when I first moved to the city that have only been renovated in the past few years. Some are still vacant (like 406 H Street NE).

It's funny, I was talking to the wife of a couple who've been here longer than I and she was recounting her son's experience recently walking on H Street, and being somewhat out of sorts "with all the white people on the street."

That's how I feel on blocks all over the city now. Not just "white people" but white people with baby carriages, like on the 500 block of M Street NE. Totally mind blowing, still.

by Richard Layman on May 13, 2014 7:18 pm • linkreport

The phrase "resident incomes are not keeping pace with increasing costs of home ownership" strikes me as an odd way of putting it. The problem through the 60's, 70's and 80's was disinvestment -- nobody wanted to live in the city, so nobody was investing in city neighborhoods. It was getting cheaper and cheaper to live in the city, particularly in real terms. The problem wasn't increasing costs, costs were declining, it was disappearing demand.

Often there is an agenda implicit in reports like this, that drives the language and even things like the choice of colors. I wonder what DHCD's agenda was in 1979.

BTW, I moved into Shaw in the early 1990's and the term "Northwest One" was still in use. It referred to the small portion of the MPD First District that was in northwest. A tacit acknowledgement, perhaps, that at that time MPD was the only government agency operating in that area.

by contrarian on May 13, 2014 7:37 pm • linkreport

That's how I feel on blocks all over the city now. Not just "white people" but white people with baby carriages, like on the 500 block of M Street NE. Totally mind blowing, still.

When I see that I find myself muttering "that's messed up, man."

by contrarian on May 13, 2014 7:38 pm • linkreport

When I see that I find myself muttering "that's awsome".

If you loved cities, seeing block after block of boarded up victorians could be heart breaking. Like crapping on your own family history, abandonong our own urban history always seemed depressing, especially when it's so beautiful and so suited for human habitation.

I wish the city could have done more for those still living in these neighborhoods at the time but...Marion Barry. Now, I'd be happy if martians moved in, as long as they maintained their lovely homes. It's everyone's heritage.

by Thayer-D on May 14, 2014 4:55 am • linkreport

I was being ironic.

It was impossible to live in the old city in the 1990's without a strong dose of gallows humor.

by contrarian on May 14, 2014 8:31 am • linkreport

contrarian, I imagine that the term Northwest One doesn't have to do with the MPD, but is the term that was likely used to define the area for the post-riots urban renewal plan that was likely created for the area afterwards. Obviously, developments along North Capitol St. and in that area (the old Thomas Apartments), Sursum Corda, were elements of such a plan. (E.g. the H St. Urban Renewal Plan called for the various elements, like the senior housing buildings, the 600 block office buildings, the strip shopping center, etc., that were built in hopes they'd spark a turnaround.)

by Richard Layman on May 14, 2014 10:18 am • linkreport

Northwest One lives on in the names of the redevelopment project for the area and the new public library.

by David R. on May 14, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

@Richard Layman
Not sure if this is the report you're talking about, but it references the DCOP report:

by MLD on May 14, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

Tom Coumaris mentions 1954 in two posts. Please pardon my ignorance, but what happened in DC in 1954 that would be so detrimental to housing prices?

by orulz on May 14, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

Please pardon my ignorance, but what happened in DC in 1954 that would be so detrimental to housing prices?

Brown vs. Board of Education?

by Alex B. on May 14, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

Of course, owing to our federal enclave status, DC had a separate school segregation case also before the Supreme Court, and also decided in 1954:

by Alex B. on May 14, 2014 11:47 am • linkreport

Cool to see an early reference to Truxton Circle.

by Mari InShaw on May 14, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

orulz- The revisionist history accepted by most now is that whites fled DC after the '68 riots. In fact, as we went through here on a column on the '60 and '70 census of white and blacks, whites fled DC in huge numbers immediately after school integration in '54 (many in '54 itself). By '68,as the '70 census shows, few whites were left in most of DC and that's when the black exodus began (also helped by the '68 civil rights open-housing laws opening up suburbs to blacks).

Soon after '54 home prices in many areas east of the park fell to the price of a new car and stayed there until the late '70's. The going price for houses around 14th and S was @ $5K in the late '50's, '60's and early '70's.

by Tom Coumaris on May 14, 2014 6:55 pm • linkreport

As always, cue the commenters trying to outdo each other and everyone on how "old school" they are, "I remember when", yadda, yadda, yadda. The same conversation you here all the time -- "can't believe there are white moms pushing strollers down this block, I remember when...". It's a city. Cities and places change. Sometimes 5, 10 times over. I could join in contest too, but prefer to just enjoy watching the changes to my city, year after year, decade after decade, and accept.

by tui on May 15, 2014 8:30 pm • linkreport

Gentrification works, and this map is proof of that. Now lets make it happen citywide. 'Affordable' is overrated. If a city is 'affordable' to the poor that means it is backsliding economically. Dc was when it was 'affordable'.

by mew on May 16, 2014 2:45 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

We are switching over to our new website. Commenting on the old site is now disabled. Thank you for your patience and pardon our dust!

Support Us