A photograph on the front page of today's District Weekly, which was printed in advance, incorrectly identifies the Anacostia Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) leaders pictured. They are, from left, W. Cardell Shelton, ANC Chairman Ernest Darling, Frieda Murray and Elizabeth Travers.
Andree Gandy has a vision for the blighted neighborhoods surrounding Howard University. As executive director of The Peoples Involvement Corp. (PIC), a nonprofit community development agency, Gandy sees gutted houses being rebuilt, full-service stores on desolate blocks and a new sense of community pride in an area that has been called one of the worst in the city.
Gandy hopes to use PIC to accomplish those goals. By all accounts, PIC has grown substantially from its beginnings in the late 1960s as a social services provider funded by the federal Office of Economic Opportunity. Now PIC is working with public agencies and private developers to rehabilitate houses and launch business ventures that some developers might find risky.
PIC started a specialized job training program four years ago that instructs about 25 people a year as medical transcriptionists. The group also runs a for-profit typing business and a low-interest loan program.
But the group's most ambitious planned undertakings -- development projects slated for the run-down LeDroit Park neighborhood -- are for the most part still just artists' renderings on the walls of PIC's Georgia Avenue headquarters.
"I used to assume that someone else would come in and make all this happen," Gandy said. Now she feels that "it's right that we should do it."
Ten years ago PIC owned no real estate, a situation that Gandy believed "exposed" the group. Federal government grants accounted for 99 percent of PIC's budget.
PIC now holds the deeds to more than $1.6 million worth of properties in the LeDroit Park-Howard University area.
The group's budget has doubled in just the past three years, and only 20 percent of PIC's $600,000 annual operating budget now comes through the federal government.
David Parker, chairman of the advisory neighborhood commission that includes LeDroit Park, calls PIC "the best community development corporation in the area."
Although the group was not visible when Parker first moved into LeDroit Park in December 1979, it has "really started to do some creative things . . . . People really appreciate it when they're living next to a gutted house that is rebuilt," he said.
Last week Howard University employes had an opportunity to closely inspect PIC's handiwork when three of five boarded-up houses the group purchased a year ago were opened to prospective buyers.
PIC's newly formed for-profit housing subsidiary, East Side Development Corp., is selling the renovated homes for less than $100,000 each. Development costs for the project totaled $385,000.
Before PIC sent a half-dozen laborers from its Right-to-Work project to the housing sites, "You could stand on the first floor and look up at the sky. They were homes for pigeons," said Gandy.
Now, the two-story brick homes -- at 2008 and 1916 Fifth St. NW and 1946 Third St. NW -- have been rebuilt, with new plumbing, wiring, heating and cooling systems, wall-to-wall carpeting and a fresh paint job.
Last September, PIC acquired a nearby apartment building at 512-514 U St. NW that it is renovating into about nine rental units. The development costs are estimated at $750,000.
On the commercial front, PIC formed a for-profit subsidiary last year, People's Economic Development Corp., to spearhead its plans for revitilizing the intersection of Georgia and Florida avenues as a commercial district.
Those plans include a full-service drugstore at the southwest corner of Georgia Avenue, conversion of the Dunbar Theatre at Seventh and T streets to a food market, and an office and retail complex at property currently owned by the Gospel Spreading Church at 2000 Georgia Ave.
James Stokes, business manager of the Gospel Spreading Church, said that he finds PIC "more attuned" to the church's goals for rebuilding the area.
"Other developers asked how much could they get out of it," he said. "PIC asked 'What can we do?' "
A spokesman from the city's of- fice of Business and Economic Development called PIC "one of the most effective community development groups in the city."
He spoke highly of PIC's recent involvement, as construction supervisor of an office facility, during renovations of the Capital City Market, a seven-square-block area at Florida Avenue and Fourth Street.
Not all of PIC's projects are moving swiftly, however. For example, the group acquired the Dunbar Theatre in 1975. But the parcel is still noted as a gathering spot for drug sellers and addicts, and it is no closer to becoming the food market that PIC wants to establish at the site.
Karen Kollias, PIC's business manager, calls the Dunbar project an "important lesson in commercial real estate."
PIC officials realized that the site could not be developed in isolation, she said, but would have to be phased in as part of an overall revitalization plan.
She said PIC expects to have a development strategy for the theater in the fall.
Part of taking risks, Gandy said, is accepting that there will be fail- ures. She spoke of one undertaking, a grocery store at First and K streets, that never became operational. PIC also operated a printing plant in the late 1960s that never turned a profit.
"Everything we touch does not turn to gold," Gandy said of PIC's trials and errors.
But when Gandy walks the streets around LeDroit Park, she said, she does not see the blight. She pointed to the development plans on the office walls and said: "I see what's in those pictures."