IN THE HEART of Southeast Washington, some ghostly grim acreage has long moaned for a rescue. A huge, abandoned public housing project -- the Frederick Douglass Dwellings, built as temporary housing for World War II workers -- rots away while awaiting demolition. Another complex, crammed Stanton Dwellings, ages ungracefully. Yet dramatically good news for this entire distressed area is only a HUD grant away, according to an unusually broad team of local leaders poised to turn the site into a sparkling community of proud homeowners, new jobholders and local business people.
The key federal financing being sought is called a "Hope VI" grant. If awarded by HUD, the money could generate the necessary additional public and private funding to set off a chain reaction of already planned facilities and programs. The new community envisioned would leverage $29 million in Hope VI funds to produce an additional $51 million, including $8 million from the District government and up to $41 million in tax-exempt bonds, private equity and support from corporations and foundations.
The list of organizations at the ready includes not only financiers and developers but also architects, contractors, property managers and experts in support services. Private business interests are participating through the Federal City Council, which financed the start of a family self-sufficiency program; member firms have pledged to hire graduates of this program, and already 61 residents have found full-time jobs.
The envisioned neighborhood would include rental and home-owning opportunities for residents ranging from those in public housing to those with incomes up to $78,000. In addition -- and here is the total-renewal idea behind this venture -- the planners intend to synchronize the physical restructuring with provisions for a wide range of other improvements aimed at solidifying the new character of the area: a computer learning center; new substance abuse programs; more and better recreational facilities.
The hope of the Hope VI-grant applicants extends beyond the site itself. They envision the proposal as a generator of change throughout the surrounding neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. The administration's approval of the grant would recognize the extraordinary public-private initiative behind this proposal and would spring all the prepped and positive participants into immediate action.