The killing last week of a grandmother who was shot while shielding neighborhood children from gunfire has galvanized the D.C. Housing Authority to intensify efforts to renovate apartments and improve safety at East Capitol Dwellings, the city's largest public housing development, according to the city's housing receiver.
The development will be the next target of the Housing Authority's demolition and rehabilitation initiative, said David I. Gilmore, the housing authority's court-appointed receiver. Nearly a third of the 577 units will be demolished and rebuilt under the authority's plans, and the remainder will be renovated. The end result will be a less crowded complex with fewer total units, said authority spokeswoman Ronda Harris Thompson.
Gilmore said the authority plans to apply to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a $25 million to $30 million grant next year that will be used in part to rebuild and repair much of the crime-plagued development, a triangular swath of land spanning the District's eastern tip.
Last weekend, 40 officers who usually patrol public housing throughout the District were sent to walk through East Capitol Dwellings daily, joining D.C. police officers and working overtime, said Madison Jenkins, the housing authority's new police chief. East Capitol Dwellings normally is patrolled by four public housing officers.
"Between the [police] and the DCHA, we're covering that place until 3 o'clock in the morning, when even the thugs go to bed," Gilmore said.
Last week's string of highly publicized shootings in the city, including the one that killed Helen Foster-El, 55, a resident of East Capitol Dwellings, has triggered the greatest wave of public attention to a single public housing site since the January 1997 shooting death of 12-year-old Darryl Dayan Hall, Gilmore said.
That death, the result of a feud within a gang, led to a community-brokered gang truce and a jobs program for young people at the Benning Terrace housing complex, where Darryl lived.
In the northern part of the East Capitol Dwellings, 180 units will be demolished and rebuilt under the plan; the rest of the 577 units will undergo major restoration, Thompson said. The grant would come under HUD's HOPE VI program, designed to salvage severely distressed public housing, she said.
The killing of Foster-El also has cast new attention on efforts to improve safety for the 24,000 residents in the housing authority's 60 developments.
East Capitol Dwellings, built in 1955, is among the most crime-plagued of the authority's homes. The number of homicides in all public housing neighborhoods dropped from 93 in 1996 to 40 in 1998, 6th District police records show. But the number hasn't fallen in East Capitol Dwellings, which had six homicides in 1996 and seven in the first 10 months of 1998, according to police records.
On the housing police force, 26 patrol officers and 91 special officers are stationed at fixed posts in the housing units, said Jenkins, who took office June 23.
The show of force at East Capitol Dwellings has posed challenges for the housing authority's 142-member police department, which was created in 1995 to supplement the D.C. police and to provide regular community policing and frequent contact with property managers and residents. Housing police officers also serve arrest warrants and barring notices, and they enforce evictions.
But residents at East Capitol Dwellings say the normal complement of four officers is too small to provide a constant presence.
"The bottom line with DCHA police is it's just not enough to do what they need to do," said Evelyn M. Brown, president of the resident council at East Capitol Dwellings.
The rehabilitation plans ultimately will make East Capitol Dwellings a safer place to live, Gilmore said.
"We have lots of plans and lots of actions going on, but the moral of the story is that they don't always prevent tragedies like what happened," Gilmore said. "We hope that they will, we pray that they will. Most of the time they do, but sometimes they don't. It's awful that this lady had to give up her life for the time that it takes for these things to happen."
CAPTION: Housing Police Officer George Bellinger stops to talk to Aleia Pearson, 6, in the East Capitol Dwellings public housing.
CAPTION: Lt. Jesse Millhouse of housing police, left, and D.C. police question a man about a drive-by shooting. Police later said he was not involved.