A June 15 Metro column incorrectly said that D.C. Council member Marion Barry owns a condominium at the Overlook Condominiums at Washington View in Southeast. Barry rents an apartment at Washington View and owns a home with Cora Masters Barry on Raleigh Place SE. (Published 06/17/05).
As part of a tour of new housing developments in Southeast Washington yesterday, Mayor Anthony A. Williams took me to a spot where he'd love to have a home of his own. It is an abandoned stretch of the vast St. Elizabeths Hospital grounds, high above the Anacostia River, with a panoramic view of the nation's capital.
"There's the warden's house," Williams said, pointing to a vestige of the days when the mental hospital was run like a prison. "Someone wanted to make the warden's house into the mayor's house, which I thought would be fantastic. But I'm sort of weird. My wife was not keen on the idea of us living out here by ourselves with John Hinckley."
Asked why, after two terms as mayor, he continues to rent, instead of buying a house in the District, Williams stared blankly ahead and finally said, almost inaudibly, "I don't know."
Ironically, examples of how his administration has helped create homes for thousands of other residents popped up at nearly every turn of his chauffeured SUV. Nearly $2 billion has been invested in developing Ward 8 during Williams's years in office, and 88 percent of the housing is regarded as affordable for low- and moderate-income residents.
Projects include Oxon Creek Townhomes, a 210-unit complex that residents purchased for about $100,000 each a few years ago. The units are now worth as much as $235,000. About $14 million in home equity has been created.
Williams spoke passionately about the city's transformation -- especially when defending himself against complaints that his urban renewal program is just poor black folk removal in disguise.
"We were criticized for displacing the poor when we first started creating mixed-income communities, but we have learned from our mistakes," Williams said. "Through our new communities initiative, new housing complexes maintain the same level of low-income units as the old housing complexes. If people don't come back, it won't be because of income. It'll be because of behavior."
Under the city's public housing guidelines, tenants who are convicted felons or have a history of bad credit are not likely to be allowed back into redeveloped complexes.
In the end, Williams believes, the District will emerge from these extreme makeovers more beautiful and diverse than ever, while remaining predominately black and maintaining its strong African American culture and heritage.
"When I go to bed at night, I believe 10, 15 years from now, the people who despise me now will appreciate me," he said.
So why doesn't he buy a house? Why does the question cause that dumb look to come over him?
"To be honest, personally, I would like to get something connected in someway or another to the Anacostia River," he said. "When I was CFO [chief financial officer], I had an opportunity to buy houses at a great value, which I regret now because I'm not in a position financially to buy a house in the right place for the right price. That's one of the reasons I'm thinking about not running [for reelection in 2006], so I can get into a position to buy a house."
The mayor's salary is about $145,000 a year.
The tour included a stop at the Overlook Condominiums at Washington View, renovated through a partnership of the Williams administration, developers and banks. Many of the residents have a panoramic view of the city that rivals the view from the ridge at St. Elizabeths, including the most famous condo owner in the complex: former mayor Marion Barry, who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council.
Williams gave Barry credit for starting some of the development projects during his time as mayor. But investors, developers and Congress credit Williams with turning the city around.
Still, it is Barry who seems to have what Williams really wants -- a home with a view of the Anacostia River -- to say nothing of that elusive appreciation from the grass roots.
Enjoying the view from his favorite overlook, which is not far from Barry's, Williams said, "Whenever dignitaries come to the city, I always bring them out here."
Judging from the longing in his voice, he'd be even happier if he could invite them into his home.