A June 21 article and photo caption incorrectly referred to the D.C. housing development of Wheeler Creek as being in Anacostia. The development is east of the Anacostia River but is not in the Anacostia neighborhood. The story also referred to a shooting as drug-related. The victim of the shooting says she does not know the nature of the dispute.
Door May Close on Housing Program
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
There are times, Jacqueline Massey said, when the quiet of her Anacostia neighborhood reminds her of the dark days of nearly a decade ago, when only eight families remained at the public housing development of Valley Green, huddled in the center of a virtually deserted complex of 34 crumbling buildings.
But it is not the silence of the ghost town it was back then, when it was abandoned by the residents, the police and even the drug dealers. Now, the 58-year-old said, the silence she feels on those same streets is the calm of a community at peace.
"I love going home," Massey marveled. "God is good. He sent us on a journey like the children of Israel. And if you wanted to get to the promised land, you had to work hard to get there."
The journey that turned the blighted apartments of Valley Green and nearby Skytower into the bucolic development of Wheeler Creek appears to exemplify the promise of President Bush's ownership society. Yet the Bush administration is seeking to eliminate the program largely responsible for Wheeler Creek's creation, known as Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere, or Hope VI.
"This is truly an opportunity without a handout," said Ronald Jones, 47, a consultant at the defense contractor Whitney, Bradley & Brown Inc. and one of the higher-income homeowners who bought into Wheeler Creek at market rate. "Hope VI meets you halfway, and then you want to do away with it? The president has never visited Wheeler Creek."
In far Southeast Washington, Skytower and Valley Green were once considered the city's preeminent symbols of public housing failure, "Pork Chop Hill" up top, "Death Valley" below. Ayyisha Turner, 40, survived a Skytower drug shootout in 1995 by lying flat on the front seat of her car with a neighbor on her back. A bullet grazed one arm, drawing blood. Another blasted through the car door and came to rest four inches from her head.
All of that is long gone, plowed under to make room for open streets and tidy clapboard townhouses, many of which, in turn, were offered for purchase to low-income families who had taken a rigorous course on homeownership. The $53 million project was financed in large part by the federal Hope VI program, which has tried to demolish blighted concentrations of poverty and replace them with mixed-income developments such as Wheeler Creek.
Scott Keller, deputy chief of staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would not speak ill of Hope VI, which started in 1993 as a follow-on to efforts launched by the Reagan and first Bush administrations. But, he said, taxpayer dollars could be used better.
Bush has proposed replacing the $500 million program with an expanded $200 million American Dream Downpayment Initiative, which would finance house down payments, and a $40 million homeownership counseling program. Much of the Hope VI funds are used to demolish distressed buildings and to rebuild in their place. The most blighted projects are now down, Keller said, adding that it's time to move on to simpler, smaller efforts.
"We're not going to say this is a bad program," Keller said. "It's a good program. It's done good things. But what we have to do is make sure the taxpayers' money isn't lost in a morass of bureaucratic red tape."
The administration has its defenders in the housing community. Jair K. Lynch, president and chief executive of the Jair Lynch Cos., which specializes in affordable housing development, said it may be time to break up Hope VI and farm some of its pieces to social services agencies that would be better equipped to handle the cultural support efforts needed to keep new homeowners afloat.
"Personally, I think Hope VI projects have started to become so big, they're trying to address physical plant and human capital issues," Lynch said. "I'm not sure HUD is the best agency to do both."