The Rev. Jack Woodard of St. Stephen & The Incarnation Church stood proudly with his parishioners and city officials last Sunday in front of a small Columbia Heights row house that the church remodeled and will rent to two low-income families.
The house was one of 19 vacant, city-owned houses that the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development earmarked for renovation by six nonprofit organizations in 1979 to increase the housing supply. The groups were to renovate the houses and sell or rent them to families displaced by the city's urban renewal program or to those in need of federally subsidized housing.
Four years later, only seven houses have been redone--two by St. Stephen and five by the United Planning Organization, the city's antipoverty agency.
The other 12 are still boarded up eyesores that blight blocks of S, Riggs and 13th streets NW.
The houses "are still in the city's inventory," said Madeline Petty, deputy director of the housing department. "The department is formulating plans for how we might dispose of those properties," she said, but she declined to elaborate.
The District government acquired the properties more than 10 years ago as part of its urban renewal program.
A house at 1321 Riggs St. NW, one of four row houses that were to be remodeled by a local Islamic temple, became notorious in 1979 as a popular heroin shooting gallery, where as many as 50 heroin users a day injected themselves.
That year, after newspaper publicity about the shooting gallery, the city sealed up the house with cinder blocks and cement because the addicts had gained entry by regularly removing the boards that city workmen first used to bar trespassers.
At that time city officials predicted the house would be renovated and sold within a year.
Representatives of the four agencies that city officials designated to remodel the 12 still-untouched houses give a variety of explanations for their lack of progress.
Some blamed high interest rates and construction costs; others said they did not know where the houses were or what they were supposed to do with them.
An American Islamic temple and community agency called Masjid Mohammed Number Four, which was to redo the four Riggs Street houses, including the former shooting gallery, has undergone "changes in administration," according to Sister Khaleedah Harris, a member of the community.
"We have a new resident imam spiritual leader ," Harris said.
"We're trying to look into the matter ourselves to see what we were supposed to do with those houses."
Leroy Hubbard, citizens' participation director for the Washington Churches for Social Action, said his group is still trying to raise $10,000 in seed money for architectural designs for the house at 2720 13th St. NW.
The group already has spent $1,000 of its own funds for a plan that was "not feasible," Hubbard said.
Yvonne Tibbs, executive director of Hospitality House, blamed "skyrocketing interest rates" and construction costs for her agency's inability to renovate its two houses at 939 S St. NW and 2619 University Place NW.
Asked if Hospitality House still planned to renovate the house, Tibbs said, "We are still interested in them, but as to whether or not it is feasible given the present economy, that would require forecasting and that would require a great deal of work on our part."
The Shaw Housing Development Coalition, which was designated to remodel at least four houses in the 1300 block of S Street NW, disbanded in 1980, according to Ibrahim Mumin, director of the Shaw Project Area Committee, which once belonged to the coalition.
Mumin said he was not involved in Shaw PAC when the coalition was operating and was unsure why the remodeling was not done.
St. Stephen and UPO representatives say they succeeded because they were able to get financing from both religious and public sources.
UPO went to the government and strung together several federal and local housing grants to pay for the renovations of five houses scattered throughout the upper 14th Street NW corridor and to subsidize the new homeowners' down payments and monthly rents.
Wayne Thompson, the UPO housing specialist who supervised the renovation and sale of his agency's five properties, said the project required time-consuming coordination of federal, District and private funding sources and extensive public hearings.
UPO sold four of the houses to low- and moderate-income families while the largest house, at 3472 14th St. NW, was sold on the open market for $80,000.
The buyers had to agree to rent their ground-floor apartment to a family eligible for federal subsidies.
St. Stephen worked with For Love of Children, a nonprofit group dedicated to keeping needy families together.
The groups used no public dollars but obtained financing from the Episcopal church and delegated much of the actual work to Mennonite Church volunteers and the tenants themselves to keep costs down to a total $80,000 for both houses, said Jim Dickerson of FLOC, who directed the remodeling.
Each house contains two apartments, which the families will rent for $175 to $300 a month, he said, adding that his group chose previously divided families as its tenants.
"Our main objective is to reunite families," Dickerson said.
"We chose families who have children in foster homes, who have been evicted, people who are waiting for the marshals to come put their things on the street."