Posts about Bellevue
On March 30, 2010, three teenagers were shot to death while hanging out in front of an abandoned, 4-unit apartment building at 4022 South Capitol Street SE. Last week, five men were convicted of murder for their involvement in the string of events that culminated in the deadly attack.
The fact that the victims had been gathered on the stoop of, and presumably at some point inside of, a vacant and unsecured building neglected by its owner has nothing to do with why they were killed. But that this was the setting of the worst massacre in recent District history is symbolic: the scene represented the intersection of decades of disinvestment in both people and place.
The disinvestment in the young men who perpetrated the attacks, their families and the institutions responsible for forming them is the truly devastating issue here. However, disinvestment also applies to the built environment.
There are 2,232 addresses on the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs' (DCRA) vacant and blighted properties list, the principal data source for the maps above. The list includes 4022 South Capitol Street as well as the two apartment buildings immediately adjacent to it.
These are not normal short term vacancies, simply between leases. They are the buildings that are unleasable in their current state of disrepair. Some are bank owned, some are city owned. Some have absentee owners, some have local owners who live in poverty and have no means with which to fix up their assets.
In some cases, the owner listed on the title is deceased and there are multiple heirs to the property. Many require a significant investment of time and money before they can again be occupied.
The purpose of DCRA's list is to identify targets for the District's first line of defense against dilapidated buildings: taxation. By threatening to raise property taxes to 5% for vacant properties and 10% for blighted properties, the city encourages the owner to either bring the property up to code or sell it to someone who will, probably at a price less than what the owner would otherwise be willing to accept.
Ultimately, if the owner neither takes action nor pays the elevated taxes, the property goes to tax sale and is awarded to the highest bidder. If no one bids, ownership rights go to the city, but that doesn't mean that a fresh title magically appears in the name of the District of Columbia. The District, like any other winning bidder, must first go through foreclosure proceedings, sorting through existing liens on the property and attempting to resolve any other title issues that exist.
In other words, no one, least of all the District government, wants it to get to that point. This approach is a relatively new, boutique initiative that seems to have promise, as Lydia DePillis has thoroughly described.
In the grander scheme of things, there are really three variables that affect the rehabilitation or redevelopment of nuisance properties:
- Acquisition cost: the cost of purchasing the property, which may include substantial legal fees, and interest or investor payments on borrowed money.
- Redevelopment cost: site preparation (potentially including demolition), design and construction costs, interim maintenance and taxes, debt payments.
- Income from the redeveloped property: the income that the property generates once it is redeveloped and operational, whether in the form of net operating income if the owner chooses to lease it out, or income from the sale of the property minus any costs associated with the sale.
For redevelopment to make sense, the sum of the first two variables must be less than the third, and when it doesn't, the free market won't mitigate vacant properties and blight.
The first two solutions presented require a taxpayer subsidy. Is it justified?
It is easier to quantify the costs associated with rehabilitating blighted properties than it is to quantify the benefits. The broken windows theory suggests that blight can encourage and support illegal activities, but it is difficult to measure to what extent that is the case.
Blight may lower surrounding property values and deter new investment. It can also contribute to the stigmatization of a neighborhood if dilapidated properties are seen as representative of the entire community. Across the country, the consensus seems to be that investing public funds in individual nuisance properties in order to battle the negative effects of disinvestment is a worthy cause.
The Gray administration, like previous administrations, uses a combination of the three strategies discussed in the previous graphic to combat long-term vacancy and blight, though there seems to be an intentional focus on Solution #3. Dedicating a greater share of energy and resources to large-scale economic development projects, which in Ward 8 tend to revolve around St. Elizabeths, is certainly a more glamorous approach and it probably will have a greater impact on the District's bottom line in the long run.
However, it is interesting that there has not been a more coordinated, ambitious, or heavily-funded government proposal for dealing directly with vacant and blighted properties where they are most concentrated. After all, this is the topic that Ward 8 residents ranked as their top development-related priority at the Ward 8 Community Summit, and unfortunately it is an issue that will forever be intertwined with the tragic events that occurred two years ago at 4022 South Capitol St SE.
Residents of the Bellevue neighborhood in far Southwest and the DC Library Board of Trustees have called for the new library there to be named after the neighborhood. But Mayor Gray, who initially stood with the residents, has changed his position to name it after a former school board member.
Mayor Gray is now supporting controversial legislation to re-name the neighborhood's new 22,000 square foot library after former School Board member William Lockridge.
"The Mayor has flipped his position," Dionne Brown, President of Bellevue Library Friends and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for SMD 8D07, says.
At a hearing last week to consider separate bills, introduced to the City Council more than six months ago, designating the library and five blocks of Valley Avenue SE after Lockridge, Francisco Fimbres, Director of the Office of Neighborhood Engagement, delivered testimony of behalf of Mayor Gray:
"[W]e are aware that the DC Public Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Washington Highlands Library have taken recent actions in support of re-naming the Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library as the Bellevue Library instead of the William Lockridge Library, and that the Library Board of Trustees has had a general policy to name buildings after the geographical communities in which they are located."Fimbres noted the District's public space naming statute prohibits two spaces from having the same name. Without endorsing which public space, the street or the library, should bear Lockridge's name, Fimbres offered, "the Gray administration supports the Council moving forward with only one public space designation bill," that the community and Lockridge family can support and rally around.
Later in the day, however, Gray back-stepped from his earlier statement and supported the re-naming of the library after Lockridge in a letter to Council Chairman Kwame Brown.
In fact, a public space has already been named for Lockridge; the baseball diamond at Oxon Run Park on Wheeler Road SE and Mississippi Avenue SE. The Mayor dedicated it himself. A plaque bearing Mr. Lockridge's likeness is installed there. Given the Mayor's stated position on naming only one space, no further legislation should be considered.
"[W]e respectfully request this bill not be given further consideration on the grounds that Mr. Lockridge did not tirelessly work on libraries in his community," John Hill, President of the DC Library Board of Trustees and CEO of the Federal City Council, wrote in his public testimony. Hill and others expressed that naming one of Ward 8's 21 schools after Lockridge would be more befitting.
Initially, the Bellevue Civic Association proposed renaming the library after Wilhelmina Rolark, noted Civil Rights attorney and four-term Ward 8 councilmember. They deferred to the library's policy, only to have the Mayor ignore the Board's policy and recommend a less accomplished individual.
In doing so, neither the Mayor nor City Council consulted the local Friends organization, Chief Librarian, Library Board of Trustees, Council Committee on Libraries, Parks, and Recreation or other library stakeholders on advocating the library bear Lockridge's namesake.
"The Bellevue Library Friends and the library community in general have been totally marginalized and disrespected in this process," contends Brown.
On July 27 the Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename Washington Highlands Library "Bellevue" to reflect the actual neighborhood where it is located. In the fall of 2009, the Bellevue Civic Association and Friends of Washington Highlands Library submitted a name change request to Ginnie Cooper, DCPL's Chief Librarian. Cooper agreed the new library represented an opportunity to make an impact on the community's identity.
With the March 2010 shooting on South Capitol Street, across the street from the library, positive branding is needed to distinguish the Ward 8 neighborhood according to residents.
In remarks Tuesday at George Washington University, Gray attempted to delineate Ward 8 neighborhoods. "And for those who may not know, and I'm not trying to be flippant, but Anacostia and Ward 8 are not synonymous, alright? Anacostia is part of Ward 8. There's Congress Heights, there's Bellevue."
Although Mayor Gray apparently recognizes and promotes Bellevue when speaking to a downtown, academic audience, he doesn't support the neighborhood's new library bearing its own name.
"Petworth is in Petworth, Cleveland Park is in Cleveland Park, Shaw is in Shaw, Deanwood is in Deanwood," says Brown. "The library in Bellevue should be in Bellevue especially given that most city residents, including those who live in the neighborhood, don't even know where Bellevue is."
While the community has played by the rules and established processes for renaming branch libraries, the Mayor and Council Chairman are abusing their power for political patronage.
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