City residents know Ivy City mostly as the obscure destination of a Metrobus that lumbers through downtown.
Ivy City residents know their vestpocket-sized community in Northeast as one isolated by the industrial areas that surround it, laced with abandoned buildings, filled with low-income tenants -- many of whom as single mothers receive public assistance -- and forgotten by city officials.
"Ivy City needs to be declared a distressed community," said the Rev. Mildred Nero-Drinkard, the director of Mandala, a nonprofit community development organization working in Ivy City. "They need help. In Ivy City unemployment is great, drinking and drugs are high, and young people are constantly moving in and out. There are lots of empty buldings . . . . "
Most Ivy City residents, who were interviewed agreed with Drinkard. Few had good words to say about their neighborhood.
"I'm sorry I didn't get out of here 15 years ago," said John Hawkins, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for the community. "The only reason I stay here is because of the rent. One of the real estate men told me he couldn't screen people anymore because good people don't want to move here."
Flora Reeves, who moved to a brick row house on Capitol Avenue in Ivy City in 1960, said, "A lot of people are afraid to complain, but they should speak out. The City Council knows what we're going through. They're supposed to be encouraging, not leaving all the work and concern to us."
Elsie Goodloe, an Ivy City resident for 38 years, added, "The rats are walking around just like people. The people don't keep up the property," especially the apartments.
Huddled in the shadows of several warehouses, the municipal dog pound, Gallaudet College, a city car inspection station and an extinct city incinerator, Ivy City is a 16-block community that flanks Mount Olivet Road and is bounded by New York Avenue, West Virginia Avenue and the Gallaudet campus.
The nearest supermarket and drugstore for Ivy City's nearly 1,200 residents are approximately two miles away at Hechinger Mall, 17th Street and Benning Road NE.
"It takes an hour by bus to get to the Hechingers Mall," Reeves said. "And now the city's next project is to build a Zayres' at Fourth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE, and I doubt there's even a way to get there either," she said.
Census data further illustrate the community's bleakness. Almost 50 percent of the neighborhoods' families are headed by women. One out of five receives public assistance. The community's infant mortality rate is above 38.3 per thousand, more than twice the city average of 18.2 per thousand.
Only 12.4 percent of Ivy City residents own their homes, far below the city average of one-third. The community has some of the worst housing conditions in the city, according to officials.
The neighborhood is dominated by dreary blocks of two-story brick apartment houses with narrow front stoops. Three-block-long Capitol Street is the address of most of the homeowners. These are modest homes with grassy front yards.
But the neighborhood is punctuated by a handful of vacant and boarded-up frame houses, some surrounded by large yards. Sometimes a group of men congregates for hours on a corner of one of the block-long streets.
In the past four weeks, two Ivy City churches have had fires, apparently set by arsonists. The blaze at Bethesda Baptist, 1808 Capitol Ave. NE, occurred March 16. On March 24, Trinity Baptist, 1814 Central Place NE, burned.
A rug caught fire at Mount Vernon Methodist Church, 1910 West Virginia Ave., on Feb. 2, and that blaze was ruled accidental by police department investigators, officials said. But all three fires are under investigation, they said.
In the past few years the city government built 64 subsidized apartments on Mount Olivet Road. Twenty-four town houses, with two to four bedrooms, which will be rented to large families in public housing, are nearing completion along Capitol Avenue.
But Ivy City residents complain that the new housing does nothing to help them because they are not given a preference for the units and because it brings newcomers.
"The city hasn't developed programs that we need," said ANC commissioner George Boyd of Owen Place. "They prefer plans to be in commercial enterprises like stores and businesses to bring in money . . . . We've got a real large population on welfare in Ivy City. These people just don't have the training, skills and motivation."
Although some Ivy City residents complain of crime, Sgt. Tom Sweeney, of the 5th Police District, which includes Ivy City, said the crime calls have decreased since the community organized a Neighborhood Watch program.
"I'd say the crime rate has dropped 50 percent because the community got involved," Sweeney said. "Crime here hasn't disappeared, but we do have it under control."
Naomi King, owner of the Disco Grill on Fenwick Street, has spent two decades behind the Fenwick Street Grill. "I've been in this area every day for 20 years now, and I really think it's better now," she said. "Most of the drug addicts have been put in jail."
Ivy City was developed in 1872 and became a brick manufacturing center. By the turn of the century it was home to both the National Fair grounds, a horse racing track, and the Ivy City Jockey Club. In the 1930s, Ivy City was still rural enough that residents could raise goats, chickens and horses on their property. During World War II Ivy City became an urban backwater as industrial buildings, warehouses, vehicle storage areas and eventually junkyards were built.
When asked to describe his community, James Swanson responded with a hard stare up and down his dilapidated block. "Yuk. That about sums it up."