Please pardon this column being a bit opinionated. Early in my so-far 27-year career on this newspaper, I was assigned to cover the redevelopment of Southwest Washington. It was something that this newspaper, and its then-publisher, the late Philip L. Graham, were very interested in, for very good reason.
What I found was, by any reasonable standard, appalling. I visited so-called "residential" courts in the centers of city blocks where one single spigot provided all the water for dozens of housing units. I visited housing units where the stench of sweat and urine still sticks, I'll swear, in my upper nostils.
This was an ugly, dreadful, immoral, terrible, unconscionable place.
It was a place of disease and vice and depredation beyond belief--which I, as a reporter, was not without experience from other cities.
Robert C. Weaver, one of my all-time favorite people, a Washington native who was the nation's first secretary of housing and urban development and the first black to serve in a presidential cabinet, once told me he had been forbidden by his parents to going into the Southwest because of the vice and danger. His folks were doubtless right.
Why this screed? An article in this newspaper's real estate section yesterday triggered it. It referred to a study by Irving Richter, a professor at the University of the District of Columbia, who in tracing the problems of providing moderate-income housing, blamed part of the problems on the new Southwest," . . . where large numbers of low-cost dwellings were replaced with government office buildings and more expensive housing."
This isn't to say that there weren't injustices done under the blunt instrument that the federal urban renewal law provided at that time. There were some decent homes and businesses in the area, of course, and some lovely antebellum homes on Virginia Avenue SE where the Forrestal Building now stands.
But, on balance, even considering how imperfect the federal slum-clearance law of that era may have been, is anybody--Prof. Richter included--prepared to tell me that those ghastly, stinking, inhumane dwellings of the old Southwest were the kind of "moderate income" housing the city ought to wish it still had in its inventory?