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See all of DC's new affordable housing in one map

Over 2,000 new affordable housing units have gone up in DC since 2015, and another 8,000 are under construction or in the pipeline. Check out this map to explore the most up-to-date data on the last two years' worth of completed, under construction, and planned affordable housing in DC.

The data in the map is courtesy of the District's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED). New housing production and preserved units are both on the map, including units created through the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) program.

You may notice that there are far fewer affordable housing units northwest of 16th Street, and that the projects with lots of units are often grouped in the same area.

Here is a layout of the units broken down by Area Median Income:

Most of the units, whether on the way or already completed, fall above the 50% AMI range, which does not target the people most in need. However, there is a big increase in the number of units that are in the pipeline is for income range below 50% AMI.

Affordable housing is funded in several different ways. For new and preserved units that aren't inclusionary housing, projects secure some private funding and the city's role is to provide money to close the financing gap via both federal funds and the city's Housing Protection Trust Fund. IZ units, on the other hand, are 100% privately funded.

The map's data does not parse out which units are funded by the federal government, DC, or private funding.

For more data visualizations, check out DMPED's Affordable Housing Tracker.

What does this data say to you?


Plans to redevelop Anacostia's Big K site hinge on two historic houses

For three years, DC has been trying to redevelop the prominent "Big K" lot in Anacostia, and plans are finally moving forward. This week, city officials expect to host a public meeting about the project, including what will happen to two historic homes on site today.

Big K lot on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in Anacostia.

Last October, DC's Historic Preservation Review Board unanimously denied plans to develop a six-story residential and retail building on the Big K parcel on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. It would involve demolishing the former Big K Liquor store, the site's namesake, as well as relocating two boarded-up homes to a city-owned lot three blocks away on W Street, something which some neighbors have vocally opposed.

The plans were the culmination of the Department of Housing and Community Development's three-year effort to develop the Big K parcel. Now, DHCD is readying itself to go before HPRB again with a revised concept, which will have a public hearing soon.

At a recent oversight hearing of the DC Council's Committee on Economic Development, DHCD director Michael Kelly described the Big K project as a "transformative project in a very important part of town." Last week, Kelly met with members of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A to discuss Chapman Development's latest development proposal. DHCD will hold a public meeting to provide updates and discuss the proposed plans tomorrow, Wednesday, February 19, from 6:30-8:30 pm at the DHCD Housing Resource Center, located at 1800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.

Big K's recent history

DC acquired the four lots comprising the Big K site in the summer of 2010. Three of the four parcels, not including the liquor store, are located in the Anacostia Historic District. In 2012, the city demolished the 1880s-era home at 2228 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, leaving the two other historic homes intact. Officials weren't able to acquire Astro Motors, a car dealership at the corner of MLK and Maple View Place SE.

After releasing a Solicitation for Offers in June 2012, DHCD received a single qualified respondent, Reston-based Chapman Development. Chapman is known for developing the Grays, an apartment building with the Fairlawn Market on the ground floor.

If Chapman Development meets the conditions of the property disposition agreement, DHCD will sell them the Big K property for $1. According to DHCD's website, the developer's proposal will be successful if it "[results] in a vibrant, mixed use development that promotes walkability and provides neighborhood-serving retail."

Residents were hostile to Chapman's original Big K proposal at a community meeting last September. While some asked DHCD to seek another developer, the agency chose to remain with Chapman, which has tried to mend ties with the community. In recent weeks, the developer's principal donated $10,000 to the Child and Family Services Agency's Partners for Kids in Care Donation Center.

Relocation to 1328 W Street

The two homes on the Big K site today would move to 1328 W Street SE, most recently a Unity Healthcare Clinic. According to sources familiar with the ongoing process, the Department of General Services signed over ownership of the property to DHCD. Although the site has been deserted for more than a year, the temporary structure remains.

The former Unity Healthcare Clinic at 1328 W Street has been deserted for more than a year.

It's unclear if DHCD plans to relocate the historic homes to the W Street side or the V Street side of the lot, where they would rest between Engine Company 15 and Delaware Avenue Baptist Church. Moving them will require a level of technical execution DHCD has yet to demonstrate and coordination with neighborhood leaders who have been outspoken in their opposition to the relocation.

As the saga of the city-owned Big K lot continues into its 5th year, what happens next is anyone's guess.


Anacostians still waiting for a new day

A recent blitzkrieg of laudatory media reports have focused on Anacostia's residential market and arts scene. But new home signs dot vacant lots and hang from empty buildings. And store after store continues to close.

William Alston-El in Historic Anacostia. All photos by the author.

Along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Historic Anacostia are green signs announcing a "PUBLIC NOTICE OF A ZONING PROPOSAL" that has been 5 years in the making. Is it a new day in Anacostia? To find out, community activist William Alston-El and I took to the streets to visit our old haunts and investigate new leads.

"The neighborhood is changing, yeah, I can say that," Alston-El, a 45-year resident of Anacostia, says without any hint of derision. "But people aren't telling the real truth of what's going on. The real story isn't being told."

Fendall Heights Abandominiums

For 3 years, a banner has hung from the side of the Fendall Heights Condominiums on V Street SE, a short walk from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, announcing "1 & 2 BEDROOMS" with granite counter tops and hardwood floors starting at $125,000. Back in the summer of 2010, the project's 29 units were heralded as Ward 8's first "green" condos.

With financial support from the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities, Department of Housing and Community Development, and US Department of Energy, ARCH Development Corporation, along with a community partner, used construction trainees from the "Arch Training Center" to rehabilitate the building. (Although "Arch Training Center" is acknowledged on the banner, the organization "was dissolved 2 years ago," according to Nikki Peele, Director of Business Marketing for the ARCH Development Corporation.)

Real estate agents from as far away as Frederick and Leesburg listed units for prices as high as $225,000 and $240,000. Consequently, nobody bought in to the four-story Art Deco building, built during the 2nd World War.

Fendall Heights Abandominiums at the corner of Fendall & V Street SE.

According to tax records, the property was sold last month for an undisclosed sum to SCATTERED SITE II LLC. In March, the City Council advanced a $4,780,000 loan at terms of 2% over 40 years from the Housing Production Trust Fund to "Scattered Site LLC" to pay off construction loans and renovate 2 apartment buildings located at 523-525 Mellon Street, SE and 216 New York Avenue-1151 New Jersey Avenue, NW.

According to the contract, the renovated apartment buildings will contain a total of 68 units "affordable to and rented exclusively to extremely low income households with incomes not to exceed 30% of the area median income." It's fair to conclude that the Fendall Heights Abandominiums, which did not draw market rate investment 3 years ago, will now become affordable housing units.

Front entrance to the Fendall Heights Abandominiums at 2025 Fendall Street SE.

Over the past year, Alston-El and I have stopped by the property multiple times. A couple weeks ago we found the front door open. The leasing office had a desk, computer, phone, and filing cabinet, although there was no evidence anyone had signed a lease yet. Doors to units on the ground floor were wide open, and we found them to be as advertised on the banner. Water even ran from the faucet.

The property's 2014 proposed tax value of $3,799,620, up from $3,681,940 in 2013, is surely justified. Now, if it could only find tenants.

"Something is seriously awry when ARCH lets something go," says Rev. Oliver "OJ" Johnson, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and former board member for the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation. Johnson has been critical of the "ARCH" brand since the 1980's, when Pepco formed the ARCH Training Center in response to complaints that they weren't hiring local residents.

"This is an investigative matter," Johnson says. "This type of practice has gone on for years and years. The city has a major role in convoluting these types of projects. It becomes a maze to find how the city deploys money and through what sources it deploys money. If you follow the money, you'll find the truth."

Alston-El says the main reason for Fendall Heights' failure is more mundane than financial mismanagement. "They have to change Fendall Street," he says. "It's a one-way and you can't make it out of Dodge without going down V Street towards 16th Street then out to Good Hope. They have to go past the drugs to get outta here. Yep, folk aren't going for that."

Blighted properties at 1644-1648 V Street SE, owned by "ARCH TRAINING INC."

The bricked and boarded-up buildings around the corner at 1644-1648 V Street SE didn't help, either. There's no banner here, just graffiti in green spray paint letting everyone know that "MONEY GANG J.R. $" was here.

According to city tax records, "ARCH TRAINING INC" acquired the property in June 1999 and have owned it since. Though DC is supposed to tax the vacant and blighted buildings at the Class 4 "Blighted real property" rate of $10 per $100 of assessed value, intended to discourage owners from letting their properties go, the buildings are instead taxed at the lower "001 - Residential," rate of $0.85 per $100 of assessed value. In 2013, the city assessed the eyesore at $489,000 in 2013 with a proposed new 2014 value of $499,200.

Property Record for the blighted buildings at 1644 - 1648 V Street SE, owned by "ARCH TRAINING CENTER," taxed incorrectly at the Class 1 Residential Rate.

13th & W Street SE

Across the street from 19th century Italianate rowhouses is a vacant lot at the northwest corner of 13th & W Street SE, just steps from an abandoned Quonset hut that once housed a "filthy" community health clinic.

Until this spring, a "COMING SOON!" sign advertising "LUXURIOUS TOWNS & CONDOMINIUMS From the 200's" was the only thing standing on the lot. Now it's gone, priority registration closed for the moment.

The "COMING SOON!" sign at 13th & W Street SE advertising "LUXURIOUS TOWNS & CONDOMINIUMS From the 200's" is now gone.

It's easy to see, and media reports have confirmed, that many of the neighborhood's historic single-family homes have been bought and slowly rehabbed over the past two years. However, the future of this corner, a rock's throw from the Frederick Douglass home, is the bellwether of Anacostia's revitalization.

After years of starts and stops, with each turn generating interest and enthusiasm from within and outside Anacostia, the project will have to start all over again as the development's zoning approval has expired.

Retail awaits while social services entrench

In Anacostia, the 1st of the month presents heavy foot traffic for check cashing outfits and a ripe opportunity for the criminal-minded. According to a neighborhood source, the Gold Spot on 2216 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, a couple doors from the former Uniontown Bar & Grill, was stuck up for $20,000 on March 1st.

Gold Spot Check Cashing at 2216 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE is now vacant after a March robbery.

After the robbery, Metropolitan Police Department Commander Robin Hoey gave a report on the 7th District listserv. "Earlier this week a lone gunman entered the Goldspot as an employee was opening the business and robbed the establishment of an undisclosed amount of money," he wrote. "There were no injuries. The event was caught on video tape and the 7th district detectives are currently investigating. its [sic] looks very promising and I will advise further as the case proceeds."

Within a matter of weeks, Gold Spot, which recently got a new awning financed by Western Union, left the neighborhood after nearly 20 years. In response to an inquiry Monday on the current status of the investigation, Commander Hoey wrote, "We served some search warrants and have identified strong persons of interest."

Renae's Flowers & Gifts at 1924 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE closed months ago.

There was no mention of the unsolved robbery on a 2-minute segment Fox 5 ran last week promoting Anacostia's residential stock and retail. "There are a number of factors attracting folks to Southeast," the feature boasted. "Improved roadways leading to this part of the city, grocery stores, restaurants and even government buildings."

Uniontown Bar & Grill has been closed for nearly a year, though the new owners are applying for a liquor license. The Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket on Good Hope Road has been closed for months. Renae's Flower Shop at 1924 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE closed, and the city-owned Big K Site won't be sold off until late next year. The newest shop to open in Anacostia is a thrift store.

A social service provider bought the old furniture store at 2006 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE.

And a social service provider will open in an old furniture store that many hoped would become the neighborhood's incarnation of Busboys & Poets. On December 27, 2012, the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSFSC) purchased the store at 2006 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE for $2.195 million.

In 2011, the "oversaturation" of social services was a rallying cry for Anacostians. A women's shelter quietly opened on Good Hope Road SE after neighbors aggressively protested it. With this in mind, the FSFSC has moved cautiously, some believe secretly.

"Our goal is for this building to be a benefit to the Ward 8 community," Dionne T. Reeder, Community Engagement Director for FSFSC, wrote in an email to a small group of neighborhood leaders on January 31st. "We are hosting several discussions with our neighbors. We are inviting many residents from your neighborhood and are planning small meetings so please do not forward this email to other community residents. We have consulted with your ANC Commissions and community leaders who have provided us with a list of residents to begin our discussion."

Former space of Fireside Restaurant, 2028 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE, has been vacant for more than a year.

Despite favorable press coverage for the area's nascent arts scene, notably the opening of the long-delayed Anacostia Playhouse this summer, the market forces of Anacostia's retail have driven the economy to reliance on government transfer payments.

However, according to a report by the Post's Mike DeBonis, as a result of Chartered Health Plan's "dissolution," small health care providers that serve over 100,000 low-income city residents are facing paralyzing payment deficits. Up and down and around Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Good Hope Road SE are public health clinics that treat drug addiction, HIV-AIDS patients, pain rehabilitation, and diabetes. These facilities face fiscal challenges that could force their closure.

Construction on 1239 Good Hope Road SE was recently reviewed by the Historic Preservation Review Board.

In the meantime, attention in Anacostia continues to focus "on the newest and shiniest toy they say they can give us," says Alston-El, referring to an upcoming meeting on the latest plans for the 11th Street Bridge Park Project.

"It's quiet now; nobody's speaking the truth because there are too many distractions going on," he says as we ride down V Street SE to Morris Road SE to meet a friend. "Every week it's something new: one week the streetcar, another week the bridge park, Barry Farm redevelopment, Sheridan Station, the Heritage Trail, you name it. They're keeping us guessing and confused while you got working-class people in this neighborhood, like me, [who] can't find a place to live but you got the Fendall Heights Abandominiums just sitting there."

"No, John, I'm not mad," he adds. "You didn't know? It's a new day in Anacostia. Haven't you been paying attention?"


A few steps can fix Inclusionary Zoning

DC's Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) affordable housing program has suffered from serious administrative problems in its start-up phase. As a policy, however, it is still sound, and is the right policy for DC's future.

Photo from 2910 Georgia Ave.

A handful of IZ units are on the market, along with over 900 units in the pipeline. There are also 1,000 units that came through the Zoning Commission's Planned Unit Development (PUDs) process since 2000, using the same policy standards as IZ.

Unfortunately, 2 early IZ units sat on the market for more than a year, and the developer has sued the city to get out of the IZ requirement. This doesn't reflect a fundamental flaw in IZ; rather, it arises from understaffing at the DC government and rigid local and federal regulations. There's not much time to fix the sputtering implementation of this important affordable housing policy tool.

IZ brings many benefits

IZ sets aside 8-10% of new housing construction for households earning 50-80% of Area Median Income (a 50% AMI household of 3 earns $49,250 per year, a 80% AMI household earns $78,221 per year). IZ is worth fixing because we have plenty of evidence that this kind of program can produce results beyond what other housing programs can. IZ provides affordable housing in mixed-income and wealthier neighborhoods throughout a jurisdiction rather than concentrating it in a few neighborhoods.

This benefit of economic integration has been documented. Low-income children in programs like IZ perform better in school than their peers, because they live in low-poverty neighborhoods and attend local low-poverty schools. Another other advantage of IZ is that it does not require a direct subsidy from the government to construct the affordable unit, but rather lets the developer to build extra market-rate units, and uses that value to pay for the below-market ones.

Other than a nominal administrative cost, IZ is a very cost-effective way to sustain the city's production of new moderately-priced homes. There are many successful similar programs throughout the country, including Montgomery County's long-running IZ program, Moderately-Priced Dwelling Units (MPDUs).

DC IZ also has a sister program which creates affordable dwelling units through PUDs and public land deals. (Confusingly, these are often called ADUs, which is the same acronym, but not the same thing, as Accessory Dwelling Units, market-rate basement or garage units inside someone's house). This program does not appear to have problems filling units at the same income levels. That success shows that IZ can also overcome its challenges with some concerted attention.

Three problems have stalled IZ

Three debilitating problems with the program's administration can be fairly easily corrected and get it back on track: severe understaffing, rigid regulations, and rigid FHA lending rules.

Severe understaffing: Only 1-2 people administer the program inside DC's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Without a few more staff people, IZ and the sister affordable dwelling units (ADUs) cannot be administered effectively. The Mayor and DC Council need to provide a few more staff positions to manage these programs.

An alternative to administering the program entirely inside the DC government would be to give responsibility for the for-sale units to a nonprofit experienced in managing permanently affordable homeownership programs. CityFirst Homes is already doing a similar job with the District's first major housing land trust. Evidence suggests that more hands-on assistance from a non-profit like CityFirst Homes can drastically cut foreclosure rates and yield more successful homeowners.

The other component that requires sustained support is the housing counseling agencies who educate applicants and help them through the process. Ensuring the city's budget provides for this is another key ingredient to success. In all, these administrative costs amount to a modest budget item and are a fraction of what it costs to subsidize new affordable housing construction.

Rigid IZ regulations: DHCD manages a process for connecting a person who qualifies for affordable housing to available units. This involves a centralized application and lotteries. Details of that process have proven too rigid to accommodate the realities of matching housing seekers and available units.

The city is in the process of revising the regulations to give the program necessary flexibility. This revision should be in effect in a few months.

An alternative to the current lottery system would be to let the developers market the units to qualified households, and simply have the District housing agency certify the applicants as qualified and provide general oversight. This is already the process for the PUD and public land "ADUs."

With sufficient support from housing counseling agencies, residents in search of an affordable home should be able to get enough help to conduct that search, especially with the city's useful website,

Rigid FHA lending rules: The Federal Housing Administration has emerged as the predominant mortgage backer in the post-2008 affordable homeownership world. Nationwide, most local housing programs have encountered a critical conflict with FHA rules where local programs (like IZ and ADUs) often require that the affordability provisions survive foreclosure. FHA does not allow for this.

The only way to deal with FHA mortgage lending standards that conflict with local program requirements is to change the program to conform to FHA's standards, and get FHA to sign off on the changes. DC is acting to change its standards to comply with FHA. The timeline for receiving FHA's approval is uncertain but the city hopes it will happen shortly, we hope in the next month or so.

If a unit goes into foreclosure and then sells on the market, the city would lose its investment in an affordable home. There are other safeguards the city could put in place that do not conflict with FHA. They would at least allow the city to recover the value of the affordability of the unit, should a foreclosure occur and the unit sell on the market.

With these three administrative fixes in place, DC should be ready to smoothly operate a program to place the right applicant in the right unit as 900 more IZ units come online.

Mend it, don't end it

IZ's growing pains have led to some calls to more fundamentally modify or scrap the IZ program. We should consider and debate these suggestions only once DC fixes the immediate problems and the program administration is running smoothly.

Some opponents continue to question the policy itself, but experience across the country points to IZ as a valuable and effective tool to create moderately-priced housing in strong markets with virtually no direct cost other than a small budget for staffing the program.


Will economic renewal reach Anacostia in 2013?

Farm vehicles no longer have their own parking privileges in Historic Anacostia. A weathered sign offering them special treatment is now gone; a new perimeter fence and fresh asphalt recently appeared on a site where, in 2008, a developer envisioned a $500-700 million mixed-use project.

The 2200 block of MLK Jr. Ave SE. Photos by the author.

Vacant storefronts, social service providers, treatment centers, art galleries, city government agencies, carry-outs and liquor stores, barber shops and beauty salons, cash checking spots and branch banks, small contractors and creative class incubators, a coffeehouse-bar hybrid and a progressive radio station roughly define Anacostia's commercial strip. A flower shop and faded grocery store recently shuttered.

By spring, new management plans to open a restaurant in former Uniontown Bar & Grill space. The Anacostia Playhouse, leaping across the river from H Street NE, will pull back its curtains in a former training center on Shannon Place SE.

Through fits and starts, more than 5 years after President Obama spoke nearby on his way to becoming the first black President (although widely reported as being in Anacostia, Obama spoke at THEARC, a short walk from the Southern Avenue Metro), Ward 8's Anacostia remains on the periphery of the city's economic renewal.

Will the neighborhood, more than 2 decades after its own Metro station opened, finally begin to attract sustained investment this year?

Can new retail take root?

A sleepy Sunday morning in Anacostia.

What happens to the former Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket at 14th and Good Hope Road SE will demonstrate if the neighborhood economy can move from government-subsidized service delivery, such as a dialysis center and childcare, to support places of commerce such as a restaurant, bookstore, hardware store and grocery.

The former Yes! Organic Market, now the Fairlawn Market, over on Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Ward 7, has endured many struggles, perpetuating the perception of the area as being a difficult market for retail. (Chipotle turned down free rent in 2010 to serve as the anchor tenant on the ground floor of The Grays, where the Fairlawn Market is.)

The corner of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, July 2011.

Ground zero in historic Anacostia remains Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, the same corner where John Wilkes Booth met Davy Herold on his escape to southern Maryland. In the summer of 2011, renderings were released that teased at the intersection's potential. Since that time, despite the backing of Victor Hoskins, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and other city agency heads, no development of note has happened at the corner.

A public art installation has been planned for nearly a year; it would replace an art installation that was previously torn down. The waiting game continues.

Stanley Jackson, now head of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, predicted in 2005 when he was Mayor Williams' Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development that Anacostia would be "one of the hottest markets in the city" by now. Not yet.

In 2008 the Department of Housing and Community Development, whose signs adorn dozens of vacant properties in the neighborhood, moved into the $18 million Anacostia Gateway development at the northeast corner of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Initial plans were to relocate the city's Department of Transportation here but that did not materialize.

Across the street from Anacostia Gateway, the iconic "ANACOSTIA" neon sign continues to light up a corner that at night is an economic dead zone.

Anacostia's Business Improvement District is slowly coming to life; the pop-up arts festival LUMEN8Anacostia will return this June and storefront renovations are planned to begin in the coming months. In December of this year will Anacostia's BID have more members than it does now?

1300 block of Valley Place SE; preservation and demolition by neglect

To walk the residential streets of the city's first sub-division is to see up close and personal a shining example of preservation and regeneration next-door to an eyesore of demolition by neglect and neighborhood decay. On the 1300 block of Valley Place SE five homes remain that were developed in the mid-1880s by real estate investor and president of the local streetcar line, Henry A. Griswold.

1300 block of Valley Place SE in Historic Anacostia.

Over the past few weeks the exterior of 1328 Valley Place SE has been fully renovated, in part through a popular grant program coordinated by the Office of Planning that targets 14 Historic Districts citywide. Next door, 1326 Valley Place SE, is one of the properties DHCD owns. The crumbling building is literally going to seed, as nature attempts to reclaim what's left.

According to tax records, 1326 was sold in 2005 at a foreclosure auction for a throw over $2,000. Local residents provided documents in 2011 from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs indicating that Darwin Trust Properties, LLC acquired the property at that time.

Darwin Trust's CEO was incarcerated while the city pursued legal action against the company under the demolition by neglect statute. Through the litigation, the city was able to get a court order to let DCRA abate the property. After half a decade of further deterioration, the city finally bought the property in a November 2011 foreclosure sale for just under $12,000. According to a 2013 preliminary tax assessment, the land is worth $116,410 and the total value of the property is $118,520.

Based on the valuations alone, the city got a steal, purchasing the property for less than 10 percent of its assessed value. But the time to take advantage of this bargain is running short. The 2013 assessment is down nearly 15% from the 2011 value of $135,900, as the building continues to crumble.

Given the home's historic character, we can hope the city finds a way to restore what's left and continue to rejuvenate this old street in Historic Anacostia.

Abandominiums abide

Keeping a watchful eye on the vacant properties around her youth center, Hannah Hawkins has seen hundreds of squatters come and go in and out of the surrounding abandominiums over the 2 decades she and her volunteers have supported the community from 2263 Mount View Place SE. On a recent morning Hawkins caught a woman going into the Southeast Neighborhood House. Hawkins asked what she was doing. "I'm looking for artifacts," the trespasser announced before Hawkins chased her off.

The Southeast Neighborhood House, organized to combat poverty is now an "abandominium."

The portfolio of abondominiums in the neighborhood is well-known both throughout circles of the city's chronic homeless as well as real estate agents, developers and city officials. While housing prices continue to rise across the city, in Anacostia they have remained flat. Abondominiums shelter the homeless and criminal class for free while suppressing property values and property tax revenues for the city.

Big K site, 2234 & 2238 MLK Jr. Ave SE.

After demolishing 2228 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE last year, DHCD selected a developer for the Big K site. According to a press release, plans are to "construct a new office building that features commercial and retail space, as well as restore the existing historic houses on the site." Time will tell when this block, first developed by coach painter James Beall in the early 1880s, finally comes back to life.

The real estate site DC Curbed recently featured listings for 8 condos, townhouses and single family homes in the neighborhood and nearby. Asking prices topped out at $229,000 with a low of $43,000 for a condo in Barry Farm.

On the fringes of each end of the Anacostia Historic District are multi-unit residential complexes, the Bruxton Condos and a cluster of 3 vacant apartments on High Sreet SE, whose development has been too long in coming. While most eyes are focused on Anacostia's exterior, its commercial strip, the interior, the integrity of its housing stock, continues to be endangered.

Based on responses the city received at a handful of Ward 8 summits and town halls in recent years, cleaning up existing vacant residential and commercial properties is a top concern of citizens, taking precedent over new development. Multiple reports released over the years by city government and think tanks list strategies to deal with the area's blight, but if there's been any implementation of these methods, the blight largely remains. A 2004 study noted, "The area's combination of natural beauty, waterfront access, transportation resources and cultural heritage is unrivaled in the city, however, it is important as well to note challenges in existing conditions."

Now that the days of old Anacostia's farm vehicles are bygone, can the neighborhood move beyond the limitations of its past and attract new residential and commercial investment?


Development of Anacostia's Big K site is no laughing matter

Today, we have 2 articles on the Big K site in Historic Anacostia. Also see Chris Dickersin-Prokopp's piece.

"That big bad wolf hasn't come along and blown the houses down," Rev. Oliver "OJ" Johnson says of the 3 homes on the "Big K" lot in Historic Anacostia. "And now the city clearly doesn't know what to do."

Big K site on 2200 block of MLK, Jr. Ave in Historic Anacostia. Photos by the author.

To a smattering of responses at this weekend's Ward 8 Community Summit, Mayor Gray asked rhetorically, "Everybody know what Big K is?"

Attendees were certainly familiar with the site, owned by DC's Department of Housing and Community Development and left to decay for nearly 2 years.

"I tell you what we talked about, didn't we Victor [Hoskins, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development]?" Gray said, venturing off-message. "We talked about putting those suckers; picking 'em up and moving them somewhere else. And then we looked at it and thought they might fall down by the time we pick them and move them," Gray said through a laugh.

To both lifelong residents and recent arrivals the slow death of the Big K homes is neither trite nor a laughing matter.

2228 & 2234 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
Last week DHCD's Property Acquisition and Disposition Division finally released a call for solicitations "offering to sell four adjacent properties referred to collectively as the Big K Site." The four properties are the three homes at 2228, 2234, 2238 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue and the former Big K Liquor store at the corner of MLK and Morris Road, 2252 MLK, built in 1906 by grocer James Conway.

Over the past two years staff turnover within DHCD and a general malaise have allowed the properties, acquired with a Community Development Block Grant, to become further forlorn. The most basic stabilization work on the lots—beyond cutting the grass and trimming vegetation—took DHCD more than a full year.

Rear of 2228 MLK slowly crumbling.
This past January DHCD received approval from the Historic Preservation Review Board to demolish 2228 MLK, but the ever-defiant house still stands. According to people on the street and some amateur reconnaissance, the home and the one next-door at 2234 MLK are still accessible to squatters. Time is ticking as the eventual demolition of 2228 "will occur prior to closing" according to the RFP.

"The city's lack of vision on how to preserve the buildings and create a first class development is very troublesome. The city's carelessness in quickly stabilizing the properties is downright disturbing," says a resident of Historic Anacostia, actively involved in the area's preservation efforts.

"When the homes are not there, I think people in the community will feel a real sense of loss. Yes, it's been a tragedy watching their slow death but there was a hope the city could save the houses and they showed no interest or effort."

Rear of 2234 MLK leaning.

At the Ward 8 summit, Gray vacillated, saying, "I think they have a historic (emphasis added) designation" one moment and then, "But if they do we have to figure another way to get them off of that site so it can be developed."

Many cringed in response, including agency staff who know there have been no feasibility studies looking at moving the homes to another location, making the undertaking highly unlikely.

Recommendations from a community advisory group are guiding the development standards and goals. Historic preservation, mixed-use development, vocational training, architecture compatible with the existing neighborhood, and adequate financing to prevent a start-and-stop are the priority of community residents, according to DHCD.

View of 2228 MLK through the fence of next-door Astro Motors.
Implicit in the RFP is that the city "makes no representations regarding the character of soil or subsurface or the existence, location or condition of any utilities." Planned uses for the space will "contain neighborhood-serving retail and small business space, including a small business incubator" with "no housing" according to the community's suggestions. Total assessed value of the properties is $939,000, with more than 33,000 square feet to develop.

Meanwhile at 2226 MLK, at the corner with Maple View Place, is Astro Motors, a used car dealership that's been in Anacostia for parts of four decades. According to tax records the proposed 2013 value of the lot is $271,050. Without the certainty of the corner lot in the Big K site's development portfolio, potential investors might be hesitant go all in.

"They're waiting for that domino effect," says Rev. Johnson, a past Board member of local development corporations and a lifelong Anacostian, laughing only because he knows it's better to laugh it off than cry it out. "They want the one house to fall over and then knock over the other two. But as you can see those houses aren't going down like that, they've held on for quite some time."


Anacostia loses another 19th century home from neglect

For the past two decades Hannah Hawkins has watched a 120-year-old house gradually deteriorate behind the community center she runs in historic Anacostia. The crumbling home at 2228 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE will be demolished this spring.

2228 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE. Photo by Old Anacostia on Flickr.

The Department of Housing and Community Development has owned the home and several adjacent properties since July 2010. DHCD filed for the raze because, as a historic preservation official noted, "all the exterior walls seemed to be leaning and not necessarily in the same direction."

Losing this building will create yet another hole in a historic district which has more than its share of empty lots thanks to demolition by neglect. Developers say it will likely take years before anything is built here, meaning Anacostia residents will have to live with this damaged urban fabric for quite some time.

The Historic Preservation Review Board worried that allowing the raze would encourage other property owners to just let buildings deteriorate and then apply to tear them down rather than spend the money to fix the historic structures. HPRB allowed the process to continue once DHCD created a plan to preserve the other 3 adjacent properties on the "Big K site," 2234, 2238 and 2252 MLK.

DHCD's neighborhood holdings

Anacostia's Historic District has been endangered for decades. Photo by the author.
DHCD currently owns more than a half dozen properties, not including the Big K site, within the Anacostia Historic District, incorporated in the 1970s. It is looking for developers for 4 properties (1201 and 1203 Good Hope Road SE, 1615 V Street SE, and 1326 Valley Place SE).

A 3-story red brick apartment complex at 1700 to 1720 W Street SE is in the process of being sold, and 1648 U Street SE is moving through the Residential Turnkey Initiative, where the District retains ownership of properties during development.

With pressure from residents and the Historic Preservation Review Board, DHCD has "develop[ed] a more strategic approach to acquiring properties in the historic district, which would include a pre-acquisition analysis to determine the scope of work to stabilize a building," according to materials the agency submitted to the HPRB.

In other words, DHCD agrees that it shouldn't buy a building if it can't care for it.

DHCD also announced plans to work with the Historic Preservation Office to create a "pattern book" that "would suggest basic architectural styles that are representative of Anacostia's Historic District." This pattern book would guide developers of vacant lots to "ensure that DHCD-owned property is compatible with the historic district, while still providing opportunities for affordable housing," said Denise Johnson, a former HPRB member hired by DHCD to work on historic preservation issues.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which owns vacant properties in Anacostia, Deanwood, Trinidad/Ivy City, and other neighborhoods should also be guided by a similar preservation plan, HPRB members agreed.

Absent from both the community meeting earlier last week and Thursday's hearing was DHCD's Director John Hall. Catherine Buell, Chair of HPRB and a resident of the Anacostia Historic District, asked about Hall's whereabouts. The answer: Hall has to prepare for February budget hearings.

With Councilmembers Jim Graham and Michael Brown calling for an investigation into DHCD, Hall should make a conscientious effort to be as accessible and transparent as possible. However, his recent absence hints at problems for an organization that looks to be coming under newfound and needed scrutiny.


Big K lot on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Historic Anacostia. Photo by Old Anacostia on Flickr.
When Rosalind Wheeler Styles was growing up at 2228 Nichols Avenue SE in the 1960s she often sat on the front porch watching the activity of the street below.

"You could watch people going into the Safeway, going to the drug store to get an ice cream float, or going to the Curtis Brothers furniture store," said Styles, who remembers an Anacostia long since changed.

Hawkins, whose community center at 2263 Mount View Place SE is across the alley behind the wood frame home, has more immediate memories of the home and its deterioration. The Kushner family, notorious owners of the Big K Liquor store, woefully neglected the property, which was last occupied in the 1970s.

"There was trash everywhere. Homeless men were sleeping on the back porch," said Hawkins, who recalls repeatedly chasing off squatters until a fence was erected around the lot some years ago.

Although not required to notify the lot's conterminous neighbors, the city government has failed to make a good faith effort to contact Hawkins or Dale Richardson, the owner of Astro Motors at 2226 MLK Avenue, about the city's pending plans to demolish 2228.

Until a recent visit from Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry's staff, Hawkins had not heard from city officials and subsequently decried the city's handling of the property as "criminal" at a meeting at DHCD's headquarters, a short walk from the community center.

Hawkins chastised city officials as "interlopers" who antagonize residents by imposing their plans on communities not before the fact, but after. "And I don't plan to try to play catch up. If you're not going to knock on my door or call me on the telly then so be it," finished Hawkins.

"That house means a lot to me because it was a refuge for me," said Bill Jackson, who first crept into 2228 MLK in November of 2010 to seek shelter from the streets. Jackson, now in an apartment off Southern Avenue, says the home's demolition "will be a sad day for a lot of people in the neighborhood."


How the city bought a homeless vet a house

Earlier this summer, Bill Jackson Jr. sat facing the doorway on a bed sheet laid out on the floor of a second story bedroom. He had the house all to himself. Behind him, a window was boarded up, covered with a ragged white door.

Bill Jackson Jr. squats on the second floor of 2228 MLK Jr. Ave. SE. Photos by the author.

In the hallway, the second floor banister was covered with bird excrement. Most of the balusters lay broken on the floor over, under, and mixed with chunks of fallen plaster. The sun blazed down, shining through holes in the roof and attic floor, illuminating the abandoned house with streams of natural light. Besieged by the mercy of the elements, the historic home was decomposing.

When Jackson first discovered the forgotten home, the side screen door, sans screen, swung open. Using found nails and a soup can, he'd hammered the frame of the door to the door frame. To enter the house you now had to take a deliberate step over the fourteen inch base of the door and duck your head.

The back of 2228 MLK crumbling.
Jackson, an "O3-11 grunt," or rifleman in the United States Marine Corps in the 1970s, did not choose this house on a lark. "I be settin' lil' booby traps sometime. I'll break up some glass bottles and get some Plaster Paris and put it at the top of the steps. If I hear a crunchin' noise I know someone's outside on the landing," he said. Jackson, who grew up on the city's streets and has spent the past two decades scouting apartment basements, vacant buildings and even dump trucks to sleep in, said this was "definitely a good spot, one of the better ones."

Upstairs, Jackson gathered himself and his thoughts. He had a couple hours before he had to be at "801," the 350-bed shelter at St. Elizabeths East Campus. He wasn't sure when he'd be back.

The city buys Bill a house
On July 23, 2010 the Department of Community and Housing Development purchased the "Big K" lot—the three homes at 2228, 2234 and 2238 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, and the liquor store at 2252 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE—for slightly less than 1 million dollars from the long-time owners, the Kushner family. The Office of Planning had previously denied Ann Kushner's request to demolish the properties after decades of neglect.

Mother Nature is having her way with 2228 MLK.
Newspaper accounts and city records indicate the house Jackson's occupied, 2228 MLK Ave., had been vacant since the late 1970s or early '80s. The Kushner family had let Bill's home and next-door 2234, vacant since the early 1980s, putrefy for thirty years.

Though the old homes were purchased under the auspices of preventing their further dilapidation, DHCD has yet to structurally stabilize the properties or even seal them off from Mother Nature's continued encroachment. In its neglect, the city effectively "bought" Jackson the house he was occupying unlawfully.

DHCD seals fence openings, still accessible
At an evening meeting on Aug. 3rd, held at DHCD to discuss potential uses for the "Big K" properties, I decided it was in the best interest of the city and Jackson to disclose the openness and subsequent dangers of the home at 2228 MLK Ave. I told DHCD officials, including the Director, what I knew about Jackson's and his use of the property.

During conversations with Jackson, I asked if revealing his use of the vacant home would jeopardize him. He said, adamantly, he wanted his story told. During Jackson's time at the house, since last November, he said it was occasionally frequented by other homeless men he knew. At night, he said, people would get high downstairs and he could occasionally hear "tricks doing their thing."

"After being alerted that there is a squatter on the property, the maintenance crew inspected the property on Thursday, Aug. 4. At this time, they cut back more brush, re-boarded 2228 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE (although the front door was securely boarded), and examined the fence for holes," Najuma Thorpe, DHCD Special Affairs Specialist, wrote in a follow-up email.

Front of 2228 MLK Jr. Ave SE.
The following day, it appeared the side door Jackson used to enter the house was securely boarded up. Jackson called a week or so later to tell me there were still other ways to get in the house. "It's still Bill's house," he said.

As late as this weekend DHCD had not sealed an opening between the chain link fence on MLK Avenue and an adjacent pole in front of the former Big K Liquor store, allowing people to squeeze in and out. Sometime early this week, a welder sealed the gap. However, through the alley and other openings in the fence the properties are still accessible.

Earlier this week, DHCD reached out to nearby ANCs to inform them 2228 MLK Ave. might have to be knocked down. A representative with HPO confirmed their belief that 2228 is "leaning" and structurally damaged beyond repair. In the nearly 14 months, DHCD has held the property, they have not structurally secured it. There is no record that the property has yet to come before DCRA's Board of Condemnation.

In neglecting the properties, DHCD engendered Jackson's squatting. In its neglect, the city effectively "bought" Jackson the house he was occupying unlawfully.

This story was first published in the September 2011 edition of East of the River Newspaper.

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