Two voices from the District’s Southeast

Michael Mack and Lokitas Price, two native Washingtonians raised in the District’s Southeast quadrant, have seen their neighborhood - or at least part of it - change in the last decade.

They enjoy the convenience of a Giant that opened five years ago— the first grocery store to come to the District’s Ward 8 in years.  New retail and eateries have opened at the Shops at Park Village on Alabama Avenue and Stanton Road. And THEARC, a $27 million arts and recreation center, is just blocks away.

Development is transforming the area, said Mack, who works for the D.C. Department of Public Works.  He and his family live in a modest corner townhouse at the mixed-income Henson Ridge development, at Alabama Avenue, S.E. and Stanton Road. 

The quiet street where they have lived for three years lies in the heart of what used to be the Frederick Douglass Dwelling, a dilapidated and crime-ridden housing project that was torn down about a decade ago. The $122.4 million development of mix of market-rate and subsidized homes rose up in its place.

“Growing up I used to come through here and it wasn’t pretty,” Mack told me as he washed his pickup truck on a recent Saturday morning. He recalls problems of drugs and prostitution in the area.

“All of that is gone,” he said.

But two blocks away, drugs and crime remain the norm, said Price, a 22-year-old single mother of two, who lives in a deteriorated apartment building off Stanton Road.

On weekends, Price walks the kids to the public library around the corner, in the Shops at Park Village.  She finds the new stores convenient, but she still worries about her kids growing up here.

“It is different across the street,” she said, referring to Henson Ridge. 

Funded with public and private money, Henson Ridge was launched by a $29.9 million federal grant designed to replace troubled projects with mixed-income communities.

There’s a middle-class, neighborhood feel at Henson Ridge, with police and taxi cars parked around the community, children riding bikes and women walking to and from the shops.  But nearby are aging buildings and an abundance of abandoned homes. Some residents say safety remains a concern.

For Mack, his wife and their two daughters, the development was their chance to own a home in the District and where he grew up. For Price, she said, it is where she hopes to live.

“The houses are nice,” said Price “If only we had an opportunity to move into one of those new houses.”

This story is part of a partnership between The Washington Post and students from American University. To read more stories from this collaboration, click here.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

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