High Hopes, and Higher Home Prices, in Anacostia

With developer Andy Botticello, Karen Beddoe tours her new house at the Homes at Woodmont. At $360,000, she said she couldn't pass up the four-bedroom home.
With developer Andy Botticello, Karen Beddoe tours her new house at the Homes at Woodmont. At $360,000, she said she couldn't pass up the four-bedroom home. (By Melina Mara -- The Wasington Post)
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

The newest government-supported housing in the District is a landscaped development of four-bedroom homes with Palladian windows, cathedral ceilings, hardwood floors and prices that reach $584,000.

The District gave the builders of the Homes at Woodmont about $1 million toward the $14 million project on Good Hope Road SE because it wants to attract professionals and their money to the most economically distressed section of the city.

The project inverts the traditional notion of housing subsidies because it isn't aimed at low-income buyers.

"We're trying to create diversity in the southeast quadrant of the city, to break up pockets of poverty," said Leo Clarke, special projects coordinator at the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, which gave the developers a grant toward the cost of preparing the land for construction. "We're trying to encourage investment in an otherwise blighted area."

The city is trying to use tax dollars, housing policy and, in one instance, legal power to inject middle-class elements into the long-distressed area, which is east of the Anacostia River at the northern tip of Ward 8 and has the city's largest concentration of public housing and the lowest median income.

Earlier this year, in a controversial move, the city used eminent domain to seize a worn shopping center less than a mile from the Homes at Woodmont. Over the protests of storekeepers, District officials are trying to replace the liquor stores and dollar stores in the Skyland shopping center with higher-end shops and restaurants.

City officials hope the Homes at Woodmont will help the neighborhood by raising property values, encouraging landowners to rehabilitate shabby buildings and adding residents with money to spend at higher-end shops.

"We already have an overabundance of low-income and affordable housing," said Albert R. Hopkins, executive director of the Anacostia Community Development Corp. "What we need is market rate."

Attracting higher incomes to the neighborhood is key to more shops and better services, Hopkins said. "Local and national retailers, they look at demographics and income levels," he said.

Along the streets surrounding the Homes at Woodmont, 42 percent of families live below the poverty line; the median income was $19,950 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census. Most of the homes are modest brick rowhouses or apartment buildings with bars on the windows. Many date to the 1960s and look worn.

"Southeast Washington needs a whole lifestyle change," said L. Yvonne Moore, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who lives across Good Hope Road from the new houses. "It's time that people see Southeast is not just a dumping ground for social services and apartments with Section 8" public housing subsidies, said Moore, a retired teacher. "We have to have more choices. My kids are educated professionals. Where does my son live? In Arlington, Va. And my daughter lives in Southwest, in a condo."

Moore lives in Marbury Plaza, an apartment complex built in the 1970s for upscale black professionals. Much like the Homes at Woodmont, Marbury Plaza was intended to attract people with disposable income. But the complex began to deteriorate in the 1980s, and now residents in the soot-stained building complain of repair and security problems.

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