D.C. City Council member H.R. Crawford has asked the federal government for $40 to $60 million to rehabilitate more than 1,200 decaying public housing units located in his ward east of the Anacostia River as part of his controversial plan to demolish some housing units, upgrade others and ultimately turn some of them over to private ownership.
In a confidential letter sent last month to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel Pierce, Crawford asked the government to turn over the apartments to the city. The renovated units would then be sold to tenants who had shown a willingness to keep their property neat and clean, according to the proposal. Federal officials are actively reviewing the proposal.
The proposal puts Crawford directly at odds with Mayor Marion Barry, who has announced his own plans to to spend $21.4 million in federal funds to renovate three of the four housing projects in Crawford's proposal -- Lincoln Heights, Richards and East Capitol Dwellings -- and continue to rent them. The fourth project, Deanwood, is vacant.
The city's deputy housing director, James Clay, said yesterday officials there are just beginning to review Crawford's proposal, which was received Thursday. In the past, housing officials have appeared cool to the plan.
Crawford, who operates a housing management firm and has served as an assistant HUD secretary for housing, is the first city leader to propose breaking away from the traditional manner of operating the District's 12,000 public housing units many of which are eyesores and spawning grounds for crime. Nearly 10 percent of Washington's residents live in public housing.
"It home ownership will give people a chance to have some standing in their community and a piece of their community," he said.
Crawford wrote Pierce that the federal government should sell the units to the city for about $2 million. But in an interview yesterday Crawford said he had asked "the federal government to give us the buildings."
The proposal is vague about the number of units that would be demolished, but in the interview Crawford said about 60 would be torn down because they are beyond repair. Crawford's proposal also asks for federal financing to build 200 new apartments.
Crawford sent his proposal to HUD without the support of his fellow council members. After Crawford wrote Pierce, he asked the council for its backing, but no vote has been taken. An Oct. 12 public hearing is scheduled on the matter.
Crawford said he wants to stop the city from spending the $21.4 million in rehabilitation funds and instead apply the money to his own program. "We can't continue to fix them up," Crawford said without changing the social fabric of the public housing society by motivating the tenants to keep their homes clean and "discipline" themselves and their children.
Crawford said that under his plan, "nobody will be put out on the street." But tenants would be screened and those not meeting standards set by a community-based corporation created to run the projects would not be allowed to move into the refurbished units. These tenants would be moved to other public housing projects, Crawford said.
To remain in one of the projects, existing tenants would be required to complete classes in "basic maintenance and behaviorial skills" and would receive $1,000 when they finished the course, Crawford said.
At the James Creek apartments in Southwest, which are undergoing a complete renovation, the city government has required that all tenants attend similar classes before they will be allowed to move into a restored apartment.