The six rowhouses on tiny Farragut Place stood empty for a decade, trash piling up in the yards and plywood boards nailed where windows used to be. Neighbors called police when the rats got too bad and when vagrants snuck inside.
Now each modest brick structure has been gutted, rehabilitated and sold to a buyer grateful to find an affordable home in the city. A young Ethiopian woman working two jobs was the first to move in, followed a few months later by a Navy hospital corpsman and three others.
Yesterday, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) helped the buyer of the sixth house, Milagros Hernandez-Parada, cut a cluster of ribbons on her freshly painted front porch. Developers said the sale, for $250,000, will be finalized by the end of the month.
"Truly, in today's housing market, this is nothing short of a miracle," said Hernandez, a 29-year-old community planner who is working for the federal government as a presidential management fellow. She thanked her parents, who, she said, "have taught me that with hard work and perseverance anything is possible."
City officials sounded a similar theme when describing the rebirth of the block, a peaceful, one-way street just off North Capitol Street above Rock Creek Cemetery in the Petworth neighborhood.
They said the transformation is due in part to the District's Home Again program, which takes control of vacant, deteriorated properties and gives them to developers to renovate and sell. But officials also credited other renewal efforts: Orange Hat citizen patrols that combat drug dealers and the city's decision to repave the street and haul away piles of trash.
"It was a horribly blighted block," said Merrit P. Drucker, the District's Clean City coordinator, who recalled walking the area with a neighborhood patrol group many times. "We abated rats. We improved the infrastructure. We towed abandoned cars."
Home Again was started in 2002 to attack the District's estimated inventory of 4,000 empty and poorly maintained residential properties. The goal, Williams said, was to create houses that would draw residents, improve neighborhoods and add to the tax rolls.
Progress has been glacial at times, as city officials struggled to wrest control of properties from absentee owners, weigh proposals from developers and negotiate to ensure that the properties would be repaired and sold quickly. The program requires that at least one-third of the renovated houses be sold to low- and moderate-income households.
The first Home Again property was not finished until early 2004. Eighteen months later, 21 homes have been renovated and purchased; 23 others have been transferred to developers and are in the process of being repaired.
Sixty more buildings will be rehabilitated after the city completes negotiations with developers on what repairs are needed and how the houses should be priced, aides to Williams said. Hundreds more will be offered for development, city officials said.
And owners of 322 vacant properties agreed to renovate the structures after District officials threatened to force them to sell.
"It's not a very easy thing to do," said Sarah Constant of MissionFirst, the affordable housing developer that worked on Hernandez's rowhouse.
But D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who also attended the ribbon-cutting, said the program was better than the lottery system the District once used to dispose of forfeited properties. People would get the houses, Fenty said, "and they would just sit in our neighborhoods for years and years."
The rowhouses on Farragut Place were bought by the Metro system in 1994 and left empty, officials said, so that tunnels could be dug underneath to serve the planned Georgia Avenue/Petworth rail station.
Neighbors told construction crews that the house Hernandez is buying may have been used as a drug stash house. When work crews went into the house this spring, they found dog waste throughout the first floor.
"We took out 22 trash cans" of waste, said Jeffrey S. Dawson, project manager for Coakley Williams Construction. Floors had to be sanded, disinfected and sealed before carpet could be laid. "Between that and the rodents, it was horrible."
But the house smelled fresh and welcoming yesterday, as Hernandez gave the mayor and other onlookers a tour. It has three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and a half-bath on the first floor.
When the house was owned by Metro, it was not taxed by the city. Now, the six restored rowhouses -- one sold for $190,000, the rest for about $250,000 -- together contribute an estimated $9,000 in property taxes each year. Sale prices of other houses on the block have started to rise above $300,000, property tax records show.
"We're bringing stable home ownership into our neighborhoods," Williams said at the ribbon-cutting. "Six new homeowners now live where only a few years ago vacant homes languished beyond repair."