The District was coming off a decade in which it had lost more than 100,000 residents.
Marion Barry was in his first term as mayor and a number of city agencies were on a path of trouble that would land them under the control of the federal government.
Main commercial corridors remained hollowed out from the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 14 years prior.
Needless to say, the city’s neighborhoods — many suffering from drug-related crime and lack of city investment — were not considered a prime investment opportunity to banks and real estate developers.
Thirty years later things could not be more different in the District and one of the groups that played a big role in the turnaround, the D.C. office of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, is taking a look back.
LISC began investing in neighborhoods like Columbia Heights, Shaw and Trinidad before other investors would touch them, and some of the city’s most treasured neighborhood institutions are a reflection of that work: the Atlas Performing Arts on H Street, the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) in Congress Heights and the Howard Theatre in Shaw. Since 1982 LISC D.C. has made $64.5 million in loans and $12.5 million in grants.
LISC D.C. is holding a Monday night gathering at the Arena Stage in Southwest and releasing a book, “Becoming What We Can Be: Stories of Community Development in Washington, DC,” that provides a detailed account of how D.C. evolved and celebrates nine leaders in community development.
Some of the leaders have passed away, including Lloyd D. Smith, who ran the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization. Others are still at work, including Robert L. Moore, president of the Development Corporation of Columbia Heights, Jim Dickerson, chair of Manna, Inc., and Christopher Smith, Jr., developer and president of William C. Smith & Co.
An irony of LISC’s work and its 30th anniversary is that many of the neighborhoods where it has been investing subsequently experienced such incredible rises in real estate values that LISC’s work is focused more than ever on developing affordable housing.
Oramenta Newsome, president of the D.C. office, has been with LISC since 1996 and says many of her efforts now are aimed at making sure that senior citizens and members of the working class can remain in the city.
“What we’re tying to do now is to maintain balance,” she said. “We’re trying to maintain a city where someone who makes $100,000 can live here and someone who makes $15,000 can live here. It’s so important to be deliberate about making sure that low-income people have a way to remain here.”
In all Newsome’s office has placed $31.9 million in tax credit equity to affordable housing projects over the years. She said there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that the city’s workforce, from officer workers to tax drivers to teachers and restaurant workers, can afford to remain.
“Those people are essential to the economy and it’s important that they be able to live and thrive in the neighborhoods of the city,” she said.
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