The District government is moving to sell 264 run-down, mostly boarded-up houses for as little as $250 each, finally abandoning a three-decade-old program that officials acknowledge failed to revitalize corridors of the city that remain scarred from the 1968 riots.
The properties--concentrated along the 14th and U street corridors in Northwest and H Street in Northeast, where the rioting was most intense after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.--have in many cases been vacant for more than a decade, with the exception of occasional visits by drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless.
Now, the D.C. government is giving first-time home buyers a shot at fixing up the houses on their own.
"To me, this is like taking oxygen away from a fire," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who is scheduled to formally announce the housing sale at a news conference this morning. "When you have conditions like this, this is fuel for the fire of crime, whether it is robbery, theft, assault or, God forbid, murder. Turning these properties over to productive use is one of the most important things you can do."
Most of the properties are row houses that were abandoned after the riots, purchased and renovated with federal funds and then turned over to the city Housing Authority. But the houses quickly fell into disrepair and gradually were left blighted again, with only about 120 of them occupied today.
Sixty-eight of the vacant houses will be sold directly to the public, through a lottery that will begin accepting applications today. In exchange for the low price, buyers of the houses will be required to renovate them, bring them up to code and then live in them for at least five years.
Seventy-eight other houses are being renovated starting today by nonprofit groups that then will sell them. Twenty-four more houses, all of which are occupied, will be sold to the tenants. In the next year, the D.C. government intends to put the remaining 94 houses on the market.
Residents who live along streets that for years have been marred by the run-down, city-owned houses expressed disbelief yesterday that the properties could be renovated and occupied before long.
"That is great news," said John Kazemi, 55, who has an herb and flower garden in his front yard on Irving Street NW, across the street from eight boarded-up houses in Columbia Heights. "I wish they had done this years ago."
Other area residents who rent apartments said they were excited about the chance to enter the contest to buy one of the houses, the majority of which are in the Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Adams-Morgan and Shaw neighborhoods in Northwest.
"How do you apply?" asked William Pete, 22, who lives with his wife and daughter in an apartment near several of the available houses. "It sounds like a perfect idea to me."
Applications for the 68 houses the city is now selling must be sent to the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development and postmarked by July 23. Applicants must be "credit-worthy" first-time home buyers, at least 18 years old and able to afford any loans that would be necessary to renovate and maintain the properties.
Most of the 68 units are three- or four-bedroom row houses, like the one at 39 U St. NW, which is being offered for $250.
The boarded-up, brick row house with front and rear yards has 2,997 square feet of potential living space; the city estimates it will need up to $125,000 in repairs.
In several cases, small apartment buildings also are being sold, such as the one at 1302 Irving St. NW, which has four units, each with a fireplace, spiral staircase, bedroom and bathroom. The asking price for the Irving Street apartment building is $50,000, with an estimated $40,000 in repairs needed.
Applications for the houses can be picked up at community organizations at 2430 Ontario Rd. NW; 3939 Benning Rd. NE; 300 I St. NE, Suite 202; and 3101 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, second floor.
Nine nonprofit groups are renovating 78 of the houses and will sell roughly a third of them to low-income residents, another third to public housing tenants and the rest to market-rate buyers.
Rozanne Look, director of project development at Manna Inc., one of the nonprofit groups, said: "If we can come in and fix these properties up and then sell them to homeowners who will become stakeholders in the community, that helps everyone in the neighborhood."
No Place Like Home
The District's Department of Housing and Community Development is offering first-time home buyers the chance to buy abandoned houses and former public housing buildings for as little as $250 if the buyers agree to renovate the properties.
The first of 264 houses go up for sale today.
Total number of houses the city expects to sell and their ward location:
Ward 1 127 (48.1%)
Ward 2 25 ( 9.5%)
Ward 4 16 ( 6.1%)
Ward 5 26 ( 9.8%)
Ward 6 49 (18.6%)
Ward 7 13 ( 4.9%)
Ward 8 8 ( 3.0%)
SOURCE: Department of Housing and Community Development