Fenty's Relocation Plan Angers Some Temple Courts Residents

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty plans to empty the troubled Temple Courts housing complex and relocate the 211 families that live there, a decision that angers some residents, who see the action as a retreat from the city's promise to rebuild the area without displacing tenants.

The District has hired a private company to help move tenants into safer, more sanitary apartments across the region while multi-income housing is built near the Temple Courts site, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. Fenty (D) has assured tenants that they will be welcomed back and guaranteed spots in the new buildings at no additional cost.

But some in Temple Courts are fighting to stay in the rodent-infested, crime-plagued housing complex as the neighborhood is revitalized. Although many of their neighbors can't wait to leave, others say that if they relocate, it will be that much tougher to uproot themselves again when the new apartments are ready. And despite the mayor's assurances, many are skeptical that there will be a place for them in the future.

"When they tear down this building, we're not coming back," said Diane Hunter, president of the Temple Courts tenant association. "It's a lie."

Fenty calls the Temple Courts relocation a minor but necessary modification to the New Communities initiative, an urban renewal plan created by the administration of his predecessor, Anthony A. Williams. Temple Courts and the neighboring Sursum Corda housing cooperative are the first of several communities that will be rebuilt under the plan.

Under the adjusted program, tenants of Temple Courts will get vouchers allowing them to rent from landlords who accept the government subsidy. City officials expect that it will take as long as 18 months for everyone to leave Temple Courts. Planning and building the new housing is likely to take years.

In deciding to shut down Temple Courts before the construction begins, Fenty and his aides said the mayor heeded the will of the "overwhelming majority" of tenants.

The brown-brick buildings of Temple Courts have failed federal housing inspections for years. Rats and bedbugs have taken up residence in some apartments, and the stairwells smell of urine.

The building and its environs have been a magnet for crime. Temple Courts and Sursum Corda served as catalysts for the New Communities program, after 14-year-old Jahkema Princess Hansen was fatally shot at Sursum Corda in January 2004. Days earlier, she had witnessed a killing at Temple Courts.

Violence visited again 10 days ago, when a 10-year-old girl and two adults were shot outside Temple Courts on Memorial Day.

In its original form, New Communities included a "vital" principle known as "build first," which was designed to keep gentrification in check by keeping poor residents in place until multi-income housing was built around them.

The intended result: economically diverse neighborhoods where ghettos once stood.

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