In Anacostia, Giving New Life to Worn Historic Area

If they're sufficiently old, homes such as these along 13th Street in Anacostia might qualify for revitalization through a D.C. Historic Preservation Office grant program dedicating up to $300,000 to the area.
If they're sufficiently old, homes such as these along 13th Street in Anacostia might qualify for revitalization through a D.C. Historic Preservation Office grant program dedicating up to $300,000 to the area. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007

The grand front porches, wrought-iron fences, elaborate windows and Italianate, cottage and Queen Anne-style architecture tell the story of historic Anacostia. But decades of damaging weather and a lack of money have left much of that history in a state of disrepair.

Some have spent thousands to renovate their Anacostia homes in Southeast, but many homeowners can't afford expensive repairs. So the city, through the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, is providing up to $300,000 in grants to renovate historic Anacostia homes.

"The need is definitely here," said Charles E. Wilson, president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association, a social organization made up of new and established neighbors. "We're looking forward to seeing some improvements."

Homeowners can apply for grants worth up to $35,000 for projects that "contribute to the character" of the neighborhood, such as repairing exterior walls, siding, windows, roofs, cornices, porches, steps, fences and masonry. They may also reconstruct a porch that was once part of the house, repair a sagging or collapsed floor or rebuild a foundation.

Many of the homes in the Anacostia Historic District -- which the preservation office defines as the neighborhood between Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, Good Hope Road SE and the Frederick Douglass historic home -- were built between 1850 and 1930 for Navy Yard workers and their families. The Anacostia Community Museum refers to the area as "one of the District's first suburbs."

The money for the grants was formerly budgeted as local tax credits for low- and middle-income homeowners and hardly ever used, said Brendan Meyer, historic preservation specialist with the preservation office. At the urging of local preservation and neighborhood groups, the City Council changed the tax credits into a grant program.

"Not many cities give direct cash grants of this size," Meyer said. "It's usually just tax incentives."

The Anacostia grants are a pilot program, and the preservation office hopes to extend the grant program next year to 11 more areas: Blagden Alley/Naylor Court, Capitol Hill, Greater 14th Street, Greater U Street, LeDroit Park, Mount Pleasant, Mount Vernon Square, Mount Vernon Triangle, Shaw, Strivers' Section and Takoma Park. Once the program is tested and perfected, the office would like to give grants twice a year, Meyer said.

To qualify for the Anacostia grants, homeowners must complete a two-part application. The first part, which is due Monday, asks for general information, income bracket, a photograph of the home and a short description of the planned work. The goal of this step is to make sure the homeowner qualifies before they collect bids and complete a more complicated grant application, Meyer said. It also helps the preservation office weed out homes that do not qualify as historic.

"There may be buildings dead in the center of the historic district, but they were built in the '70s or '80s," Meyer said. "Those are 'noncontributing buildings' and don't qualify."

Some grant recipients may have to match about 15 to 40 percent of the grant money, and others may make too much to qualify. For example, an Anacostia household of four making less than $65,016 would not have to match any costs; those making up to $97,524 would match 15 percent of the cost; and those making up to $108,360 would be required to match 40 percent of the cost. Those making more than that would not qualify.

Once homeowners make it past the first qualification phase, they can begin to collect bids for the work. Meyer said the office hopes to announce grant recipients by late September.

Those interested in applying for a grant can find the application form and a list of frequently asked questions athttp://planning.dc.gov/planning/site/default.asp, or call 202-442-8800 for more information.


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