WHEN D.C. COUNCIL member H. R. Crawford looks out over the sprawling territory that is his Ward 7 east of the Anacostia River, there is too much he doesn't like -- and the other day he took a tour there to see it: ugly enclaves of broken-down public housing, where increasingly alientated people live with little to break up the monotony other than the drug traffic. Mr. Crawford also pointed out the contrast that makes this ward so fascinating and, he hopes, ripe for a bold housing idea; in another neighborhood, neatly kept public housing, where bright paint, little fences and flowerpots dot the mowed landscape.
Why the difference, and what would he like done?
"The government should simply acknowledge that the old ways of housing poor folks have been a disaster and stop wasting more money on projects occupied by people who have no incentive to take care of their places. The projects that work well have strong managers and 'selected' tenants -- picked to live there because they will keep things neat. I think the worse projects should be completely torn down, new units should be built and tenants should be carefully selected."
Quick to acknowledge that this is not something that can be accomplished in the single wave of a subsidized wand, Mr. Crawford emphasizes he is not advocating that any tenants should be suddenly put on the streets. In preliminary discussions with local and federal officials, he is suggesting that the government attract local private developers to design attractive, mixed housing on a reduced scale. Where 1,000 units are now falling apart on one site, he would build perhaps 400, relocating other tenants in scattered vacant housing that could be rehabilitated in his ward.
Before everybody in bureaucratic creation explains why none of this could possibly work, perhaps Mr. Crawford and others will be able to find out what can be done along the lines he proposes. Obviously any relocation of tenants is a sensitive business; but why shouldn't those who take care of their dwellings be rewarded, and others run the risk of losing out?After all, what is the public's responsibility toward those who consistently destroy these properties?
For now, at least, the residents of these projects who do care are getting special assistance in routing the drug traffic. Police are fanning out into the neighborhoods under carefully calculated maneuvers to arrest anyone involved in the market. But Mr. Crawford sees no serious improvement until the residents have some reason to believe that their housing conditions can or will change for the better. That they do not have today -- and anyone who is at all anxious about the ultimate consequences of letting this kind of despair continue should hope that Mr. Crawford gets the serious discussion and response that he is seeking to generate.