Posts about Barry Farm
The southern half of DC's area east of the Anacostia River, Ward 8 contains neighborhoods such as Historic Anacostia, Barry Farm, Congress Heights, and Shipley Terrace. It has DC's highest unemployment and poverty, but also some beautiful parks, historic buildings, and a few terrific candidates for Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Here are four that deserve your vote.
What are ANCs, and why should I care?
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.
Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote, every vote, really counts.
Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.
Here are our endorsements
After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 8, we chose four candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses of many unopposed candidates.
Anacostia's famous Big Chair. Photo by David Clow on Flickr.
Historic Anacostia is the heart of ANC 8A. Forming the southern shoreline of the Anacostia River, this ANC runs diagnonally north from the Anacostia Metro Station towards Pennsylvania Avenue.
The proposed 11th Street Bridge Park is big news for these neighborhoods, as the bridge will add recreational options and strengthen connections across the river; even though it's not yet built, the bridge is already bringing increased investment and change to the area.
The continued development of the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor is also an issue to highlight, along with the ongoing debate of how to incorporate the right mix of market rate and affordable housing into the neighborhoods: neighbors often feel that Ward 8 is asked to house disproportionate amounts of social services and supportive housing compared to other wards.
Finally, to the south of the ANC lies Barry Farm (also often called Barry Farms), a large and aging public housing complex slated for redevelopment. There are mixed feelings about the proposed plans; many are wary of displacement and broken promises here, while others say the changes are welcome.
Directly in the center of this ANC is ANC 8A05, home to the historic Frederick Douglass Home. LaTasha Gunnels won our endorsement in this race.
Gunnels wants to "preserve and restore" many of the historic buildings in her area, but also is supportive of diverse types of new housing that would "ensure that long (time) residents can continue to live in our community, while at the same time attracting new residents, businesses and retail to our neighborhood. A great way to measure balance is having a community where residents of all income levels have the opportunity to rent or buy."
She is hopeful about the proposals included in the 11th Street Bridge Park project, and supports using "build-first" principles when redeveloping Barry Farm. That way, the redevelopment happens in sections and current residents can move into a new section before their homes are demolished.
On transit, Gunnels is enthusiastic. Where should bike lanes and pedestrian improvements go in ANC 8A? "Everywhere! Goal is to have a transit-rich neighborhood." Sounds great!
Nearby and to the west is 8A06, which includes the parkland along Poplar Point. This is a heavily contested race, with four candidates running for outgoing commissioner Tina Fletcher's seat. Two of the candidates responded our questionnaire, and between them we think Greta Fuller is the best choice.
Fuller believes that a "mixed income community would jump start the recovery of 8A," that "there should be a balance of affordable and market rate housing," and that some "of the development should also target home ownership." She too is "very hopeful" that the plans at the 11th Street Bridge Park "will allow current residents [to] be here to enjoy the new development."
She has "fought for over 10 years to have new sidewalks in the community" and "actively lobbied for bike share in the community." Fuller seems like a solid choice for commissioner here.
The only other candidate to complete our survey for this race was Jason Anderson, whose answers were generally short and unhelpful. When asked where he would encourage new housing to be built, his response: "In another Ward." What should the neighborhood look like in 20 years, and how will he work towards that vision? All he said was "Clean"; to help, he would "start cleaning." We hope you give Fuller your vote.
Southeast of Anacostia are the neighborhoods of Fort Stanton, Woodland, and Buena Vista, all of which sit in the narrow and dense ANC 8B. Besides the ongoing controversy at nearby Barry Farm, residents here want to know what commissioners hope to do about the Skyland Town Center, which until this year was the proposed site of one of the withdrawn Walmarts. Public safety is also a key concern.
For ANC 8B06, which runs along the Maryland border south of Suitland Parkway, we like Diag Davenport.
Davenport acknowledges that current residents at Barry Farm "deserve transparency and certainty about their housing future, which has not been accomplished in the past." He is "[i]n concept... a proponent of the notion of redeveloping Barry Farms to increase total housing units, increase home quality for all, and disrupt the high concentration of lower-income families. All these goals should have positive effects, if achieved responsibly."
To take on public safety Davenport wants to engage youth directly with ANC-sponsored programs, as well as work alongside the Metropolitan Police Department. Overall, he seems to be a positive and inclusive candidate.
Opponent Mitchell Hawkins III seems like a reasonable candidate as well, but in the end we were less convinced by his answers on housing and transportation and decided to give our support to Davenport.
Following the bend in the Anacostia River and including Congress Heights, Barry Farm, and parts of Bolling Air Force Base, ANC 8C is a large area with a number of controversial projects underway within it.
One is the aforementioned Barry Farm redevelopment on the northeastern corner of the ANC. Another is the St. Elizabeths campus. Here, among other long-promised developments, plans for a Wizards and Mystics practice facility and stadium are underway. While the proposal promises to bring jobs, revitalization and development to the area, many have balked at the growing price tag.
Finally, terrible conditions and alleged abuse by landlords has sparked investigations at a series of apartment complexes near the Congress Heights Metro station. WMATA has considered selling nearby land here for future development, and given the proximity to both St. Elizabeths and the Metro station, the area is poised for change.
8C01 covers areas south of St. Elizabeths and a large swath of the Air Force base. For this seat, we think Kristal Knight would make a good commissioner.
Knight is supportive of the plans at St. Elizabeths and eager for the "countless new opportunities for residents" it will bring. She says that the "redevelopment of Barry Farms is well overdue," but demands "clear and actionable answers on the city's plan to provide for temporary housing for displaced residents and for when they return post-redevelopment."
When asked about the changes coming to Congress Heights area, Knight is reflective: "As a homeowner, I understand my taxes may rise, the dynamics of my neighborhood may change and some of my neighbors may be forced to move away due to rising housing costs. I am not settled with any of these potential effects. I am also concerned about what Congress Heights will become without thoughtful community revitalization; a place without access to quality and fresh food options, new employment opportunities; rising crime and the potential deterioration of property value."
In the end, Knight vows that "intentional policy making can assure longtime residents will still be here to enjoy the fruits of redevelopment instead of [being] displaced by them."
Knight says she wants "to attract more for Ward 8 residents" as commissioner, and also has specific recommendations for more bike lanes in the area.
Opponent Karen Lucas also responded to our questionnaire with detailed and well-thought out responses. While we agreed with Lucas on some areas, her stances on bike lanes ("NO BIKE LANES") and removing street parking for better bus service ("ABSOLUTELY NOT") were hard for us to swallow. We encourage you to support Knight with your vote this election.
The southern tip of DC is ANC 8D, and ANC 8E follows Southern Avenue north from there along the Maryland border.
In 8D, as per our endorsement process outlined here, we didn't offer endorsements because there are no contested races there. In 8E there is only one contested race, and based on candidate responses we did not have enough information to make a confident endorsement.
Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 8 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 8. You can also read about all 8 wards at our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, where you'll find links to our endorsements, our analysis, and all candidate responses.
These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.
Public housing has long been a tool for governments to create and preserve affordable shelter, but many public housing complexes today are under threat.
After decades of neglect, many public housing developments have fallen into disrepair. Others have been demolished and replaced with market-rate housing units, especially as surrounding communities experience gentrification.
Once the most important tool for housing low-income families, public housing now makes up a shrinking share of the affordable housing options in the DC region and nation. Today, about 7,300 families in the District live in 40 public housing developments managed by the DC Housing Authority (DCHA).
In this explainer, I examine the challenges facing the current stock of public housing in the District.
Public housing developments were the United States' earliest form of affordable housing
In 1937, Congress passed the National Housing Act, which authorized the construction of public housing. The program was viewed as a way to jumpstart a slow economy in the aftermath of the Great Depression.
Initially, many public housing developments housed moderate-income families. However, demographic shifts resulted in changes to the composition of public housing. As poorer families moved to the city, where much of public housing was, and middle-class ones fled to the suburbs, public housing developments came to house an increasingly poorer set of households.
By the 1970s, the federal government halted the construction of new public housing developments
At this point, many existing developments had fallen into disrepair because they were poorly maintained.
Critically, policymakers realized that public housing concentrated poverty in certain neighborhoods by creating dense buildings comprised exclusively of low-income families. It contributed to racial segregation and limited opportunities for households to move to better communities.
Over the next couple decades, many public housing developments would continue to provide affordable housing, despite their deteriorating conditions. Others would be torn down and replaced with mixed-income housing developments.
During this period, housing vouchers would replace public housing as the primary tool for housing low-income Americans.
About 1.2 million households live in public housing in the US. Here are the numbers for our region:
As noted above, only 7,300 families in the District live in public housing developments. There is a long wait-list of families waiting to get into public housing.
Some of these are low-rise complexes spread over multiples buildings, like the Barry Farm development in Ward 8. Others are single, high-rise buildings, like Claridge Tower in Ward 2.
While the DC Housing Authority manages the public housing stock in the District, much of the funding to maintain and repair these buildings comes from the federal government. In the region, housing authorities in Fairfax, Alexandria and Montgomery County also manage a substantial number of public housing units.
Public housing provides stability for many families that would face the highest risk of housing instability or eviction on the private market
Like households with housing vouchers, housing costs are kept affordable for public housing residents by limiting the rent to thirty percent of their income.
According to a recent report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the average income for a family of four living in public housing in the District is $16,050. (The federal poverty threshold for a family of four is $23,850.)
Ninety percent of households in public housing have an income below $32,100 annually, which is 30 percent of the AMI.
Households living in public housing are disproportionately headed by the elderly and people with disabilities. In fact, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that fully one-third of households in public housing are headed by a senior citizen.
About twenty-two percent of households in public housing are headed by an adult with a disability.
Public housing developments across the country are struggling with maintenance and upkeep
In the District, the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) estimates that there are more than $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance costs, including repairs to buildings.
These concerns are shared in other cities, as well. In New York City, the public housing authority estimates more than $16 billion in deferred maintenance costs.
Critics argue that this neglect of public housing has resulted in buildings being uninhabitable. They refer to this deterioration as demolition by neglect.
Plans to redevelop public housing developments have been controversial
In 1996, Congress authorized the HOPE VI program to redevelop severely distressed public housing developments. Through HOPE VI, private developers redeveloped public housing sites, usually creating a mix of affordable and market-rate units.
In the District, one of the public housing developments to go through HOPE VI was Arthur Capper Carrollsburg. The low-rise public housing development underwent a massive redevelopment, creating a new mixed-income neighborhood.
Critics contend that the project, which took nearly a decade to complete, resulted in widespread displacement of existing public housing residents.
Although the HOPE VI program has now ended, researchers are actively trying to understand the consequences of redeveloping public housing developments into mixed-income neighborhoods through the program.
In the District, the New Communities Initiative similarly aims to redevelop public housing developments. The program is slated to redevelop more than 1,000 public housing units in three large developments across the city—
The program aims for one-to-one replacement of affordable housing units. This means that residents of public housing would have the opportunity to stay in their communities following the redevelopment.
However, the New Communities program has struggled amid concerns about the disruption of community ties and the displacement of existing residents during the redevelopment process.
Zoning in cities like DC is starting to get expensive. Maybe trillions of dollars too expensive.
Economists Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh find that if we lowered restrictions that keep people from building new housing in just three cities (New York, San Jose, and San Francisco) to the level of the median American city, US GDP would have been 9.7% higher in 2009—
The intuition is straightforward. These cities' strict zoning rules limit their housing supplies. That sends rents soaring and prevents people from moving in. But because these cities are hubs of finance, healthcare, and technology, they are unusually productive places to work and do business. When people have to live elsewhere, they miss out on all this.
As a result, displaced workers, who can't move to New York or San Jose, are less productive and therefore earn lower wages. The country misses out on their untapped potential--fewer discoveries are happening, fewer breakthroughs are being made--and we're all poorer as a result.
Just changing zoning practices in those three cities would lead to some massive shifts, according to the authors. One-third of workers would change cities (although they wouldn't necessarily move to those three metros). Even under a less drastic scenario, in which 20% of US workers were able to move, GDP would be 6.5% higher. Fewer people would live in places like Detroit, Phoenix, or Atlanta, but those who remained would earn higher wages. And, of course, the likely reduction in sprawl would help address local air pollution, global warming, and habitat loss.
Zoning rules have clear benefits, but it's a question of balance
Zoning and land-use regulations have benefits. Some ensure basic health and welfare; they keep toxic dumps away from your child's school, for example (though this works better if you're well-off). Others aspects of zoning provide more marginal benefits, and to say these laws safeguard your health would be a stretch, like rules that keep duplexes and other multi-family housing out of your neighborhood.
Large swaths of Wards 2, 3, 4 and 5 have these types of rules: they're zoned "R-1-A" or "R-1-B," which only permit suburban-style detached homes. As the "general provisions" section of the zoning regulations say, "The R-1 District is designed to protect quiet residential areas now developed with one-family detached dwellings."
This, of course, is not an accident: DC's zoning map also shows who has power in the city, and who does not. Parts of Georgetown, for example, have a unique zoning designation called "R-20"; it's basically R-1, but with stricter controls to "protect [Georgetown's] historic character… limit permitted ground coverage of new and expanded buildings… and retain the quiet residential character of these areas and control compatible nonresidential uses."
Meanwhile, equally-historic Barry Farm is zoned RA-1, which allows apartment buildings, like many other parts of Ward 8. And, of course, Barry Farm abuts a "light industry" zone, sits beside a partly abandoned mental hospital, and was carved in two by the Suitland Parkway. While Washington's elite can use zoning with extra care to keep Georgetown the way it is, the same system of rules hasn't exactly led to the same outcomes for Barry Farm.
What to do?
Addressing this problem doesn't necessarily require us to put skyscrapers in Bethesda or Friendship Heights, turn the Palisades into Tysons Corner, or Manhattanize Takoma. More human-scale, multi-family housing in these places, currently dominated by single-family detached homes, could be a massive boon to the middle class and poor.
If half of such houses in Chevy Chase rented out their garages, or became duplexes, I'd estimate that could mean 25% more families living near world-class transit, fantastic parks, good jobs, and good people.
As Mark Gimein wrote recently on the New Yorker Currency blog:
The cost of living in New York, San Francisco, and Washington is not just a local problem but a national one. That these cities have grown into centers of opportunity largely for those who already have it is not good for the cities, which need strivers to flourish. It would be a shame if the cities that so resiliently survived the anxieties of the atomic age were quietly suffocated by their own success.
If you're curious for more on Moretti and Hsieh's work, see this short description of their paper and this PBS interview with Moretti. For an in-depth discussion of zoning's effect on the economy (with less math), see this speech by Jason Furman, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
An entirely new neighborhood is rising just a minute's walk from the Anacostia Metro station. Nearly two dozen townhomes and apartments have sprouted at Sheridan Station, where public housing will become a mixed-income community. But will it be an economic catalyst for the community, or a new face for the area's existing struggles?
A view of Sheridan Station rising from the hillside across Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Photos by the author.
When it first broke ground more than 4 years ago, Sheridan Station was supposed to have 344 units, equally split between market-rate homes for sale and rentals for low-income households. But in the fall of 2012, developer William C. Smith asked to reduce the ratio of for-sale homes to 25%, arguing that potential buyers would have trouble securing mortgages.
Today, 327 homes are planned for Sheridan Station, just 80 of which will be for sale with the rest for rent. Of the remaining 247 units, 200 will be affordable, and 100 are set aside for households on the public housing waiting list. Priority will go to residents of Sheridan Terrace, which used to occupy the site, and Barry Farm next door, which will be redeveloped in 2016.
New residents are hopeful, but anxious
James grew up in the neighborhood and lived in Sheridan Terrace, the public housing complex that predates Sheridan Station, in the 1980s. The units were falling apart. "I came home one day from work and the ceiling was on the floor," he said. Hazardous building conditions and street crime precipitated the departure of hundreds of families.
James, a resident of Sheridan Station, has been watching the quick rise of an entirely new neighborhood yards from the Anacostia Metro station. Photos by the author.
I ran into James, who is wheelchair-bound, while recently surveying Sheridan Road. When housing became available in the first phase of Sheridan Station, he was able to secure a unit due to his sister's network.
"I've been coming out here everyday just to watch," James said. "It's about time they started. They never said why it took so long to begin. They blamed the weather. People began putting pressure on them and asking questions. There's more demand for housing than there is supply. This looks like it is decent housing." He pointed out a building and said once completed he would be moving to the first floor.
Market-rate homeowners are excited about the development too.
Darin Tuggle, an attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development Chris Miller, a 29-year-old business consultant, saw the signage for Sheridan Station on Suitland Parkway while commuting from Upper Marlboro. "When I decided to purchase a home, I looked at various neighborhoods but the rapid rise in prices in more 'trendy' neighborhoods priced me out," he says. Sheridan Station won him over with the proximity to Metro and the views of downtown DC.
"After moving in, I switched from driving to work to taking the Metro," he says. "The commute has been a big quality of life upgrade for me."
Miller Tuggle says he loves the "great urban neighborhood vibe and look" of the street where his new home is. "We are a microcosm of the city, young, less young, professional, artistic, black, white, Hispanic, foreign-born, single, couples, inter-racial," he says. Miller looks forward to the area becoming more walkable and getting a grocery store.
But there's been some tension between new residents and those who already lived in the area. Miller says kids have smashed his house windows three times, while neighbors have had their cars vandalized. "These incidents of vandalism can be attributed to some of the tension that existing members of the community feel towards the new development," says Tuggle.
Is this a sign of change, or more of the same?
Sheridan Station serves as a preview of future development east of the river, from the reconstruction of Barry Farm to Skyland Town Center, the 11th Street Bridge Park, and Saint Elizabeths East Campus. But in contrast to the splashy opening of Sheridan's first phase, the groundbreaking and construction of Sheridan's second and third phases have gone on quietly. At a press conference earlier this month, Mayor Gray highlighted his outgoing administration's commitment to developing affordable housing, but did not mention Sheridan Station.
William C. Smith's uneven promotion of for-sale units led homeowners to speculate that the development's initial goals would never happen. "I had to look for Sheridan Station; it didn't look for me," says Tuggle, noting that he'd received ads for other new developments in the area, like Arts District Hyattsville and Dakota Crossing.
He and other homeowners only found out recently there were only 20 homes for sale in the development's last phase, with the rest being rentals. "[My neighbors] had advised friends and associates that there would be a lot more opportunities to buy in the last phase," he says.
Furthermore, many public housing tenants I've spoken with express a fear that when the new buildings are filled with disparate families from various public housing developments, long-standing feuds, similar to the Hatfields and McCoys, may erupt.
Although private investment has hesitated to cross the Anacostia River, long-term residents point to developments like this, as well as the new schools and recreation centers that have been built recently, as infallible evidence of "the Plan," which seeks to make the area attractive to a new demographic who will displace them. But Sheridan Station and its inability to deliver a mixed-income neighborhood as first promised illustrates the tenuousness of the "new Ward 8," as Councilmember Marion Barry calls it.
The need for tenant and workforce housing in Ward 8 is overwhelming. Despite Sheridan Station's success in attracting affluent professionals, the continued concentration and retrenchment of disadvantaged people in this area has the potential to suppress the economy of communities east of the river for yet another generation.
Across Howard Road SE from the Anacostia Metro station, the DC government wants to develop a vacant lot for affordable housing. The site was not always vacant; to build the Metro station three decades ago, 11 houses were razed. Here is their story.
According to a detailed report from the Historic American Buildings Survey, Howard Road, SE was originally developed as part of the 375-acre Barry Farm, a model community for freed slaves initiated by General Oliver Otis Howard of the Freedmen's Bureau in 1867.
By the turn of the 20th century, better transportation and citywide population growth had led many owners to subdivide the original one-acre lots. Housing from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was distinctly urban, following narrow, side-hall plans suitable for the narrow street frontages of the new lots. In the Howard Road District, housing from the 1880's to the 1940s demonstrated how the once pastoral landscape gradually urbanized.
1023 Howard Road SE, razed to make way for the Anacostia Metro Station. Photo from the Library of Congress.
At the time of the survey in the mid-1980s, the buildings in the 1000 and 1100 block of Howard Road ranged in condition "from extremely deteriorated to fairly well kept." Four buildings were vacant and "had suffered varying degrees of vandalism." Six of the seven occupied properties "appeared to be adequately maintained." Nearly all of the homes had porches with lots that included small sheds and garages.
Due to the physical deterioration of the homes and their association with a criminal element it was apparently justified to demolish and clear the properties.
1010 Howard Road
In April 1929, Maggie Sharp of 1010 Howard Road SE died at the age of 61. Nearly a decade later, in June 1938, her husband, Lloyd, died in the home. He was 76.
Police raided 1010 Howard Road in September 1953. They arrested Daniel Ferguson on charges of operating a lottery, and his wife, Lucille Ferguson, on charges of keeping and selling whiskey without a license. According to a story in the Post, "Police said Ferguson, who had three numbers books and a quantity of numbers slips in his possession, ran into an undercover man as he attempted to run out of the back door." In October 1954 Ferguson was indicted as part of a "$1500-a-day lottery ring."
Lucille, apparently living by herself, died on September 20, 1972, according to a death notice in the Evening Star. According to property records the home, which was built in the early 1880s, sat vacant for more than a dozen years before WMATA seized it.
1004 Howard Road SE
In early November 1981, two men entered the home of 86-year invalid Rosella Newman. The would-be-robbers found Newman, who had grown up in the home, in her bed and shot her dead. The home remained empty until WMATA seized and demolished it.
Howard Road Then & Now
1959 Baist Real Estate Map showing Howard Road SE where today is the Anacostia Metro station and bus terminus. Photo from the DC Public Library, Special Collections.
Before the the Anacostia Metro station opened in 1991, the houses faced another demolition threat from the then-new Bolling Air Field in 1943. A legal notice printed in newspapers said the government may take the homes "for the construction of a military access road from Bolling Field to the District of Columbia." But subsequent newspaper accounts and period real estate maps show that residents of Howard Road were momentarily spared.
As plans the current Metro system were developed during the 1960s and 1970s, residents in the greater Anacostia and Barry Farm communities did not apparently object to losing the homes on Howard Road. According to a 1979 article in the Post, "The new proposal [to build the Anacostia Metro station] would require a relocation of 12 residential units, most of them in tiny, decrepit apartment buildings on the south side of Howard Road; three business, one church and the J. Finley Wilson Memorial Lodge No. 1731."
At a meeting that attracted 50 area residents, "Nobody fought for the buildings, but some expressed concern about the impact of heavy Metro traffic on children attending nearby Nicholas [sic] Avenue Elementary School (today Thurgood Marshall Academy]."
Although a federal judge's 1983 ruling temporarily halted construction of the Green Line through Anacostia, the future of the homes on Howard Road SE was a foregone conclusion. Bernard Gray, an attorney and long-time community activist in Historic Anacostia, said people did not try to save the homes on Howard Road, because they had become a source of blight and concern.
According to the 1985 report, "Preliminary examination of city directories, census and tax records for two periods (1899/1900 and 1909/1910) indicates that the subdivision and redevelopment of lots in the Howard Road neighborhood was not the work of large disinterested outside developers, but to a significant degree that of local, small-scale entrepreneurs, both male and female, many of whom lived on, or near, their subdivided lots."
Nearly thirty years later, life and residential and commercial use may finally return to this small corner of Howard Road SE.
For denizens of the Barry Farm community in Southeast Washington, the 19th century still holds strong at the corner—
Zabia Dews, the "Mayor of Barry Farm," outside Charlie's Corner store at the junction of Sumner and Wade Roads SE. Photo by the author.
"Look up at these street names," says Zabia Dews, 63, of the 2700 block of Wade Road SE, pointing to signs above for the junction of Sumner Road SE and Wade Road SE. "There's a history here people don't know about, or they forgot. We can't let it disappear."
The original names remain today: Howard Road SE, which runs past the Anacostia Metro Station, for General Oliver Otis Howard; Sumner Road SE for Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner; Wade Road SE for Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade; Pomeroy Road SE for Kansas Senator Samuel Pomeroy, an early member of Howard University's Board of Trustees; and Stevens Road SE for Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, prominently featured in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."
The James Barry farm
In 1801 the board of commissioners of the embryonic capital city wrote to the principal landholders "asking to be furnished with lists of lots sold by them." Benjamin Stoddert, the first Secretary of the Navy, Notley Young, a prominent plantation owner, and more than a dozen other men including James Barry, "one of the incorporators of the Washington Canal Company," received the letter.
"Mr. Barry was largely invested in business, both foreign and domestic, and he was very zealous as an advocate of the interests of the eastern section of the city, in opposition to the claims of the western section," according to the Records of the Columbia Historical Society.
More than 60 years later, in April 1864, the surveyor of Washington County (all land in the District east of the Potomac, outside of the L'Enfant Plan and Georgetown) was "instructed to stone the new road between the northwest and southwest boundaries of the Barry Farm, known as the Stickfoot Branch road," reported the Daily National Republican.
In September young men were drafted off the farm to fill President Lincoln's call for a half million more Union troops. By now the Barry Farm, across the Eastern Branch from the Washington Navy Yard, was sandwiched between the United States Government Hospital for the Insane (Saint Elizabeths) which saw its first patient in 1855 and Uniontown (Anacostia), the city's first subdivision.
At this time, during the Civil War, the city was brimming with "the floating colored population" of runaway slaves from "Maryland, Virginia, and farther South," according to General Oliver Otis Howard's autobiography. In 1865 Howard became Commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau, a government agency established to aid freed slaves and their families.
"What would make you self-supporting?" asked Howard.
"Land! Give us land!" several replied.
In the spring of 1867, Howard used $52,000 in Freedmen's Bureau funds to purchase all 375 acres of the Barry Farm. He sold 1- and 2-acre lots. Within 2 years, 266 families called Barry Farm home, including the sons of Frederick Douglass.
Old Barry Farm develops
"The land all the time was constantly inquired for by working freedmen," Howard recalled. "It was taken with avidity, and the monthly payments, with very few exceptions, were promptly and regularly made. The prospect to the freedmen of owning a homestead was a great stimulus to exertion." A schoolhouse for 150 pupils was quickly erected. Barry Farm was a self-sufficient, self-contained community.
An 1894 Hopkins map (plate 34) of Barry Farm shows streets names still in currency today. Photo from the DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division.
Today, Barry Farm is almost exclusively associated with the faded 26-acre Barry Farm Dwellings, a 432-unit (nearly a third vacant) property of the DC Housing Authority. The name association hasn't always been that way, says Dews, known as the "Mayor of Barry Farm" for his familial roots on Wade Road SE for nearly a century and his mentorship of neighborhood youth. "It's been a long time since we've been a tribe. But that's what we were and it's important for the younger generation to know this history."
As the city restarts its redevelopment planning process for Barry Farm Dwellings, at an estimated cost of $400 million over a timeline of two decades, the Barry Farm Resident Council, with assistance from Empower DC and local activists, has communicated to the DC Housing Authority that alongside issues of public safety, displacement and employment, a heritage preservation plan is a key concern. 140 years ago, Barry Farm residents and the city were similarly at odds.
According to the Baltimore Sun's Washington correspondent writing in the summer of 1872, "The board of public works propose to open streets in the village and as the residents there have each a deed of one acre of land for his cottage, they are not disposed to surrender any portion of their homesteads for streets or anything else without compensation." When a contractor "appeared in the village to cut up the lots, he was beset, the horses taken from the street plows, the wagons upset, and the laborers driven away. In the afternoon the work was begun under the protection of the police."
Then as now, self-preservation and kinfolk survival is the indigenous creed of Barry Farm, Dews says. "These street names are what's left of the tribe that represented the hard work and sacrifice necessary to build families and businesses. We need to get back to the old way of living."
Talk to anyone returning to DC who's been away for a few years, and you'll get an earful about how much the city has changed. Even to residents, DC has been rendered unrecognizable by the changes, setbacks, blunders, and improvements of the past 50 years.
But there are those who have been around long enough to recall another time entirely. Leon Dews, 62, has been on-hand to witness multiple transformations in his own neighborhood of Barry Farm.
"It was like voodoo," says Dews, recounting memories of his childhood in Barry Farm. "When the sun ducked down behind the trees, there was no kids in the street. Nowadays you see kids out at 11, 12, 2 o'clock in the morning. Kids talk back to the parents, cuss the parents out and all that (expletive)."
In the Barry Farm community there are two historic homes on the 2700 block of Wade Road, SE that are not included in the city's thus-far unrealized redevelopment plans. Dews' home at 2717 Wade Road, built in the early 1920s, is one of the two.
"When they do that redevelopment, it doesn't matter to me. I plan on having my senior citizen's apartment," said Dews. "See, this is not part of the dwellings," he says, referring to the neighboring public housing project of Barry Farm Dwellings.
Yet, Dews has noticed recent changes that have affected his family's two-story home, one of the last remaining houses in the neighborhood with a basement. In recent years, a sidewalk was installed out front of the house. During his childhood and adolescence, Dews said it was a dirt road.
"I've watched them change the houses down there twice since I was coming up," he remembers, citing an influx of refugees from the urban renewal efforts in Southwest Washington. "At first it wasn't those big houses. It was little what we called shotgun houses. Open the front door and see through the back door. Back in the 40s & 50s."
Born in 1949, Dews says, "Most of the neighbors I know died."
Even with turnover in the area's housing, there was always a tight community. "It really didn't change the neighborhood that bad. See Barry Farm was always like a tribe," he said. Then, referring to the nearby Garfield Heights neighborhood, he added "they had the Garfields on the other side of the bridge. They didn't come over here and we didn't go over there. It was no guns, it was sticks and baseball bats back then, and fists."
During our conversation, along with local filmmaker and artist Tendani Mpulubusi, Dews shared some insights into his background. "I'm one of the original Teenorama dancers," Dews says reticently of the popular local teenage dance show of the 1960s. "I got on the cameras a couple times."
Dews and his extended family are well-known in southeast Washington. They were members of the Seafayers Yacht Club, founded in 1945 as the nation's oldest black yacht club. At one time, Dews owned a 55 foot boat.
He credits his life's success to his father. "My father had a third grade education. I thought he was the dumbest mother-(expletive) in the world, back then. But after I grew up I realized he was the smartest man in the world with a third grade education," Dews recalls fondly. "He always lectured us and whooped our ass."
Here's something you don't see every day; a dozen urban planners from the Netherlands walking through Barry Farm, a large public housing complex in DC's Ward 8. Through a collaboration of the Dutch Embassy and the city, Barry Farm and Northwest One (the area around First and K Sts. NW) are receiving the attention of leading new urbanists.
An amalgamation of six companies that combine the skills of architects, planners, and social scientists, members of the "GoDutch Consortium" were in DC to run workshops and meet with residents to develop a model of lasting sustainability. Urban renewal in the Netherlands is "not just about bricks but about the social" and is "three dimensional," according to members of the Consortium.
Diminished municipal budgets on both sides of the Atlantic have created a hard-edged reality where policy makers realize that to repeat the failed social policies of the past fifty years would be not only socially disastrous but financially ruinous.
The "national government's policy of building housing for poor people stacked all together, sociologically and culturally" has not worked, according to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was subdued as he addressed the group.
Originally settled by emancipated former slaves, Barry Farm is a hilly 25 acres that holds 432 public housing units, more than two dozen of which were boarded up on the recent walk through. The neighborhood was selected as one of four New Communities during Mayor Anthony Williams' administration, making it the focus of a proposed public-private development partnership. But Barry Farm activists rejected the Fenty administration's effort to begin the redevelopment process.Sheridan Station on Sheridan Road SE, and Matthews Memorial Terrace on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, within the next 6 months for Barry Farm residents.
Eventually each existing home will be replaced, with current residents of Barry Farm guaranteed the right to return, because "they have nowhere else to go," according to Bishop Matthew Hudson of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church. The redevelopment of Barry Farm is expected to deliver 1500 mixed-income units, according to Reyna Alorro, Project Manager for Barry Farm within the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
"Cities are continually interchangeable, because of the whole concept of cities changing," said Arie Vooburg. His native Rotterdam is similar to DC with its poor separated and "isolated on the southside" due to a waterway. "If you want to have a dynamic city, a city that can adapt to change, you must do it in a physical structure but also in its people."
"How do you say? Ah, yes, merry-go-round," said Vooburg. "Each program on its own is good, but together they don't work." The Consortium seeks to maximize the triple bottom line in redeveloping Barry Farm. To do this, there must be a human capital program, a physical revitalization plan, and a redevelopment and finance strategy that can withstand fluctuations in the credit market and changes in administrations.
These problems have undermined the redevelopment of not just public housing in the United States but "social housing" communities across the world. For new urbanism to evolve and succeed, there must be a degree of certainty in planning that is repellent to political or market pressures.
Behind the United Kingdom and Japan, the Netherlands is the third largest investor in the United States and fourth largest investor in DC with $350 million in total investment, said Renée Jones-Bos, the Dutch Ambassador to the US. The city is not paying the Consortium; it has paid its own way, offering its services and expertise in an attempt to establish stronger connections with the city.
Ward 8, the poorest ward in DC and often the most misunderstood or overlooked, needs a voice. It needs strong community leaders who want to devote their energy to improving the ward's neighborhoods and building consensus among residents.
It needs people ready to put the good of others ahead of their own political advantage. It needs community leaders who are not only passionate and vocal but who are also capable and qualified. Ward 8 is in need politically of what it has long advocated in services and business: more quality and diverse options.
Unfortunately, Ward 8's ANCs generally do not have this. Either languishing due to a lack of community buy-in, or frustration, or both, historically most Ward 8 ANC positions sat vacant or hosted the same cast of characters year after year, often with more emphasis on petty infighting than community progress.
As a result, many ANC meetings feature more drama than accomplishments and direction. Some commissioners spend more energy trying to silence the voices of others they disagree with rather than find new solutions and perspectives to old problems. Unfortunately, in too many Ward 8 ANCs there is no such thing as constructive criticism or accountability.
For every consensus building, forward thinking, qualified commissioner there are often too many others eager to drown them out in order to maintain the status quo. And the cycle of apathy continues. In a ward where the councilmember is often referred to as "Mayor for Life" it should be no surprise that there are some ANC commissioners who feel they should be "Commissioners for Life."
But change is coming. It's not just in the form of new 30-something professionals moving to Ward 8, but in the form of native Ward 8 residents who sat on the sidelines waiting for opportunities and allies to make a positive impact on their communities.
This year, the list of challengers has more than doubled from the last election. Neighbors have become the cheerleaders and recruiters for change in their own neighborhoods, from both sides of the generational gap.
We therefore are endorsing the majority of challengers in Ward 8 ANCs. In many races, we know the challenger's specific ideas and how they would do a better job; in other cases, it's simply valuable to get some new faces and new ideas into moribund ANCs.
ANC 8C perhaps the District's most dysfunctional ANC, which is saying a lot. It has been been investigated by the DC Auditor for a number of problems, including allegedly paying rent for an office they never use, which was never approved by the commission according to ANC statue, and hasn't had a working phone line in over six years. This led to the DC government withholding the annual appropriation it normally gives to all ANCs.
Chair Mary Cuthbert, whose district 8C03 spans St. Elizabeth's East to capture small sections of Barry Farm and Congress Heights, was involved in disbursing the questionable funds and called her opponent, Larry Pretlow, a "dumb n*gger."
We don't think Pretlow is dumb but some constituents say they would prefer a ham sandwich to Commissioner Cuthbert. At the very least, the ham sandwich would be less combative. We urge voters to do better than a ham sandwich and pick Pretlow.
Adjacent commissioner Dion Jordan doesn't attend ANC meetings or meet with residents of his SMD, 8C02, which also covers small parts of Barry Farm and Congress Heights across St. Elizabeth's West. Residents can do much better with LaShaun Smith, a former blogger who wrote under the name Southeast Socialite and who has made clear her desire for a more transparent, functional and inclusive ANC. Some may accuse her of being direct and harsh on crime, but in a SMD that has seen a recent uptick in car jackings and armed robberies, residents need a commissioner who is not only available for meetings but is direct enough to do something about the crime.
One exception to ANC 8C's dysdunction is treasurer (and unofficially secretary, sergeant-at-arms, and community liaison) William Ellis in Barry Farm's 8C01. After a bumpy start, he has proven to be the only commissioner willing to follow DC laws and the DC Auditor's recommendations, and willing to admit publicly and honestly, when and where the commission falls short. We support him for another term over challenger Zaccai Free.
Residents compare southern Congress Heights 8C07 Commissioner Cardell Shelton to Grandpa on The Simpsons for his way of constantly yelling, complaining and fist shaking, but with less grasp of facts. He is the formal secretary of the commission but doesn't take meeting minutes and didn't even respond to the DC Auditor's findings. Meanwhile, Brenda Shields is executive director of a nonprofit and owns her own business. She could bring business and organizational skills that 8C desperately needs.
Anacostia is Ward 8's most diverse and growing neighborhood, and while their ANC is probably the most successful at accomplishing community and ANC tasks, ANC 8A needs to reach out more to new residents. Our hope is that David White would do this as an ANC commissioner in 8A05 in Historic Anacostia. The incumbent, Carolyn Bridges-Ward, is not a change agent; she in fact publicly defended Marion Barry after the most recent scandal, saying nobody was perfect. That's true, but the ward can do a lot better in many ways, including with their 8A05 commissioner.
Darrell Gaston, who represents the Woodland neighborhood in 8B03, is a common sight around the community and aspiring politician (he ran against Marion Barry in the last Ward 8 Council election), but hasn't accomplished much and seems to focus more on raising his profile than solving problems. Gaston has also been quoted several times complaining of the influx of "newcomers" who have moved into the Ward. Gaston seems to focus more on the percieved differences in socioeconomic status among residents than the things that bring them together.
Shipley Terrace's 8B06 commissioner Mitchell Hawkins, by his own admission, doesn't read about or keep current on community issues and lacks good comprehension of simple concepts. In fact, residents in this area say that ANC 8B meetings are very painful, and few commissioners seem to know what is going on.
While we don't have a lot of information about several challengers, we feel this problematic ANC needs some changes, and therefore recommend challengers India Blocker (against Gaston in 8B03), Charles Turner (against Hawkins in 8B06), and Louise Thorne (against 8B07 commissioner Von Pariss in the Shipley Terrace and Douglass neighborhoods).
Commissioner Karlene Armstead in 8E06, split between Congress Heights and Washington Highlands, is another longtime activist who seems more focused on being in charge than being right. Residents have voiced concerns about her inability to listen, few accomplishments, and combative tone with others. She does appear passionate and committed to a safer community but her attitude can turn off residents, especially residents voicing a different opinion or perspective. She seems resistant to any changes that she is not personally in charge of.
We endorse challenger Angela Hooker, who (if campaign signs are any indication) also has the support of at least one current commissioner and a fellow candidate in ANC 8E.
We are hopeful and inspired at such an overwhelming show of community activism across the Ward 8 ANC races. Regardless of who wins or loses the individual SMD races as a whole, the perspective and perception of Ward 8 politics as foregone conclusion is changing—
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