Where once there were dozens of apartments occupied by mostly poor and working-class Latino families is a rubble-strewn crater. Steel beams prop up the building’s yellow brick facade. A black chain-link fence topped by barbed wire surrounds the property’s perimeter.
Civic leaders and politicians still talk of ensuring that many of the Deauville’s 200 former residents return to a new building at their old address, 3145 Mount Pleasant St. NW, a block west of 16th Street.
But no one can say when the rebuilding will begin, frustrating neighborhood residents and business owners as well as the building’s former tenants, many of whom received financial aid from the District to relocate — monthly subsidies that have or are about to expire.
“This is really, really hard,” said Romero-Castillo, a waitress at a nearby restaurant and the head of the building’s tenants association, which still meets every month. “We ask when can we can go back. We don’t know when. But we know we will. So we wait.”
Two years ago, the tenants association bought the Deauville property with a $4 million loan from the D.C. government. The plan is to build low-income rental housing. But the tenants association still needs $10 million to begin construction, part of which may become available from the District this year.
Mount Pleasant residents have long since lost their patience for the crater at the center of their neighborhood. “Four years, and what do we have to show for it?” asked Terry Lynch, a longtime Mount Pleasant activist, gazing through the fence at the crater. “Look at all the rubble. You’d think you were in Dresden after the war.”
Jackie Flanagan, who moved Nana, her clothing boutique, from U Street to Mount Pleasant last year, said the hole is a reminder of the “sadness of that day.”
“Half the neighborhood was out there trying to help,” said Flanagan, who has lived in Mount Pleasant nearly five years. “And now it’s just languishing. It feels unsettling.”
Council member Jim Graham (D), whose Ward 1 district includes Mount Pleasant, said the recession and the difficulties of funding low-income housing complexes have conspired to slow development on the site. But he said the District remains committed to the project and preserving Mount Pleasant’s economic diversity by building subsidized housing. “No one is more anxious to see this developed than us,” he said. “It’s not going to happen at the snap of a finger because of the complexities of getting the money.”
But progress has been made, Graham said. He said he thinks the community won a victory in 2010 when the tenants association purchased the property from NWJ, a Philadelphia-based real estate company under whose ownership the building had amassed more than 7,000 code violations. At the time of the fire, the tenants were suing the landlord over the building’s conditions.