Straining in the Stadium's Shadow

Positive Nature Inc. is a non-profit organization created to help at-risk youth in the Washington DC area. Since the new baseball stadium was officially announced, Positive Nature Inc. has struggled to pay its rising property taxes and may soon be forced to close its doors. Video by Akira Hakuta/
By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

As the District prepares to celebrate the grand opening of a waterfront baseball stadium, Positive Nature is preparing to close two blocks away.

The agency is a daily rest stop, almost a second home, for children, some of whom have been sexually abused, shuffled from one foster home to another or sent to counseling because they fight or act up. The nonprofit group moved into the Southeast Washington neighborhood in 2004 when it was a haven for addicts, prostitutes and nightclubs with nude dancers.

The lease came with a caveat: It had to pay the property taxes.

Taxes were manageable when Positive Nature was next to a methadone clinic and take-out restaurants. But with new neighbors, including a Marriott hotel, Starbucks and the Washington Nationals, taxes skyrocketed from $9,000 in 2005 to $83,699 last year.

"We thought it was a good move, not recognizing what this place would become," said Brian Bailey, a Positive Nature co-founder. "Maybe we were naive."

Higher tax revenue to pay for schools, roads and subsidized housing is how the District marketed the $611 million stadium project to reluctant city residents.

To make way, some businesses were bought and leveled. It has been a struggle for those who remain.

One cab company is moving next week because the building it leases has been sold. A deli owner said that rising taxes, now at $50,000 a year, are eating away at his profits.

At Ann's Beauty Supply and Wigs, Sok "Ann" Reed is trying to rebuild the business she has owned for 27 years. Since 2004, taxes have risen from $600 to $16,000.

"Before I get on my feet, the government sucks everything out," Reed said as construction crews hammered away. "It's not fair."

Last year, assessments on Capitol Hill and in the Navy Yard neighborhood rose an average of 11 percent, but annual increases of 30 to 40 percent have been common in the city for years. The low-slung buildings occupied by Positive Nature and Reed are becoming pass┬┐ as hotels, condominiums and office buildings rise nearby. The new businesses enter the tax rolls with a high valuation, but existing businesses see their taxes soar to catch up.

"The market is being driven by investors who want to be near the vicinity of the ballpark," said Phillip Appelbaum, the city's acting chief tax assessor. "That is driving up the value. All we are doing is reflecting what the market is telling us."

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