More Doors Closing on Working Poor
Aging Complexes' Demise Shrinks Region's Low-Rent Options
By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 12, 2003; Page A01
When Alfred Cheadle came to Landover from the District 30 years ago, he was still fit and strong, loading trucks for a living.
The garden apartment complex he moved into, now known as Hunter's Ridge, was only a few years old then. And the apartments seemed like paradise to Cheadle and his wife, Ozella, a respite from the city with their spreading lawns and trees and swimming pool.
In the 1950s and '60s, garden apartments like the Cheadles' went up thick and fast as the federal government offered incentives to solve a housing shortage. The building boom was particularly pronounced in Prince George's County, where, at one time, two of five families lived in the low-rise, brick walk-ups.
Many families came fleeing integration in the District. Integration followed them this far, though, and many of Cheadle's neighbors moved on. He stayed.
Cheadle is 78 now and living on a fixed income of $900 a month. His wife died 10 years ago. He seldom goes out. Inside, his apartment is full of memories. But outside his door, long rows of other apartments are boarded up and dark, fenced against arsonists and vandals. Stray cats roam boldly.
No longer valued as a solution to the affordable housing problem, such apartments are more often seen as a scourge, breeding crime and poverty in Washington's increasingly affluent suburbs. The era of the garden apartment, once synonymous with suburban growth and solid middle-class living, is over.
Across the region, worn-down apartments are being replaced by mixed-income developments, single-family homes or luxury townhouses that help revitalize blighted areas. In the process, one of the last sources of housing for the working poor is disappearing, often without an affordable replacement.
Cheadle's favorite neighbors, the ones who always helped him with errands, have moved away. Cheadle figures he should be looking for a new place, too, or maybe public housing. But after 30 years, how? Where?
"God almighty," he says, "I wish I could stay here."
Spurned and Closed
Together, Hunter's Ridge and the Glenmore, its twin apartment complex next door on Landover Road, contain 1,072 units. More than 800 have been closed, deemed unfit for habitation by Prince George's officials. Efforts to save the complexes have ended in defeat, and a developer is negotiating to tear them down and build condominiums and apartments.
Their long, notorious histories -- including murders and drug dealing -- and the burden that the poverty there brings to the county's schools and social services make them objects of scorn.
In a county trying to rebuild its image and shore up its tax base, there is simply no political will to preserve the low-rent apartments. Former county executive Wayne K. Curry (D) called them "warehouses of misery," and the Liveable Communities Initiative of his successor, Jack B. Johnson (D), has targeted blighted garden apartments for the wrecking ball.
The 20 acres that comprise Hunter's Ridge and the Glenmore, within walking distance of the Landover Metro station, could produce far more tax revenue with higher-end apartments or, as some neighbors hope, single-family houses.
Yet others say there is something worth saving in many of these aging complexes. Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust, calls garden apartments "a unique housing resource that cannot be replaced," particularly as low-cost rental housing disappears from the market.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Alfred Cheadle's favorite neighbors at Hunter's Ridge in Landover have all moved. He seldom goes out.
(Photos Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)