Pr. George’s executive promotes “Buy Suitland” housing campaign

November 23, 2013

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III on Saturday pronounced Suitland “the next big thing” in regional reinvestment, comparing the community to such resurgent D.C. neighborhoods as U Street, H Street and the 14th Street corridor.

“When I go around talking to people, I say, ‘You want an inside tip? I don’t gamble . . . but an inside tip is, this area, right here in the Suitland community, is going to be redeveloped,” Baker said during a “Buy Suitland” program Saturday morning at the Suitland community center. “And that is not an applause line. I’m totally serious.”

Suitland is one of six areas designated for special attention under the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, a plan to reduce crime, improve student test scores and generally raise the quality of life. Other areas are Langley Park, Kentland-Palmer Park, Hillcrest Heights-Marlow Heights, Glassmanor and East Riverdale-Bladensburg. Teams of county officials have been assigned to spur their transformation.

For years, some home buyers shied away from Suitland and other inside-the-Beltway communities in Prince George’s — areas plagued by foreclosures, abandoned homes and high crime rates. Officials say Suitland is already showing signs of revival. Roads and sidewalks have been improved, they said, and crime is down 12.6 percent from last year.

Proposed development over the next three years includes 325 housing units and 12,000 square feet of retail space. The county has budgeted $250,000 for a “Buy Suitland” campaign, intended to help home buyers with down payments and closing costs. The county Redevelopment Authority helped buy and renovate 12 abandoned houses. The county also demolished 26 apartment buildings on Nova Avenue that had become “a community nuisance.”

Baker asked the audience to set aside negative assumptions about Suitland, which he compared to the attitudes that many investors had 30 years ago toward now-trendy Washington neighborhoods. Baker said his first “real paying” job was at a community development corporation working in those D.C. neighborhoods.

“We had the assignment of redoing U Street in the District of Columbia, 14th Street, Georgia Avenue, the Shaw neighborhood, which, actually, at that time extended down to H Street,” Baker told the room of about 50 real estate agents, bankers and potential home buyers. “But during the ’80s, when I was working there, the Metro was not in place. They were tearing up U Street. In the ’80s, it was a mess. . . . At the time, my boss had a vision. He said, ‘This is going to change.’ ”

Now those corridors are thriving. “I tell that story because they had to build U Street. They had to build H Street. They had to build the Metro,” Baker said. “Very few places have what we have in Suitland. We have stable, nice-quality housing in the area. We have federal agencies, and you have Metro stations already built. . . . What we haven’t had in this community . . . is a commitment for the long haul. This is not about a short-term vision.”

Baker said he has discussed with D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) the possibility of collaborating on developing areas that straddle the D.C.-Prince George’s border.

After the briefing, real estate agents, lenders and a few buyers boarded a tour bus to visit six renovated houses for sale in the Suitland area by three housing agencies: United Communities Against Poverty, the Housing Initiative Partnership and the Redevelopment Authority.

“The housing stock you will see today is incredible,” said Diane Turner Edmonds, a mortgage banker with PrimeLending. “The first home is on Dynasty Drive. The purchase price of this house is $140,000. All qualified home buyers need is $1,000 from their own pocket. This is about buying the Suitland area. Eventually, you will be able to walk to stores and walk to shops.”

The tour bus pulled into a parking area, and people poured up the steps of a house renovated with granite countertops and energy-efficient windows. They walked upstairs and downstairs and declared it beautiful.

The bus stopped next at a detached house with pale green siding and a big porch trimmed in white. The house had been in such poor condition that it was completely gutted. Members of the tour inspected the gleaming kitchen, the adjacent laundry room and three bedrooms with plush beige carpet.

Rhonda Mayo Lewis, a loan officer for PrimeLending, said the tour was important to help get the word out to real estate firms. “When working with borrowers everybody wants the northern end of Prince George’s,” Lewis said. After the tour, “Realtors can talk to potential home buyers about purchasing a home in Suitland that is renovated,” she said, and for sale at an affordable price.

At the third house on the tour, a potential home buyer, Hajar Bencherki, 24, a special education teacher in Arlington County, stood near the doorway looking out at the quiet tree-lined block. The house was listed for $212,850.

“You wouldn’t find a house in Virginia for this price,” Bencherki said. “It’s just not realistic for people who don’t make a lot of money — even with a degree and a job as a full-time teacher.”

Bencherki said Suitland might be a good place to live with her family. “I like the neighborhood,” she said. “I like that it is quiet. I want a cozy, small home with a back yard.”

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.
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