Washington's inner city, plagued for years by block upon block of decaying an boarded up row houses and rundown apartment buildings, is undergoing a renaissance of major proportions.
From Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant on the west to Shaw and Capitol Hill on the east, from Massachusetts Avenue on the south to U Street and beyond on the north, vast changes are occurring as middle-class homebuyers move back into neighborhoods that were, until recently, some of the city's worst slums.
"We are no longer dying and in crisis," J. Kirkwood White, deputy director of the city's Municipal Planning Office, said recently as he discussed the city's growing popularity as a place to live and work.
Washington is one of only a handful of American cities in which old, innercity housing is at a premium and vacant land is being snapped up at a dizzying speed and at incredible prices.
Incstead of worrying about how to attract the middle class back politicians here are now worrying about how to limit the private rehabilitation and renewal that is driving a large number of poor families, certainly hundreds so far and possibly thousands in the future, out of the central city into farther-out neighborhoods and even into the suburbs.
Wilhelmina Rolard, who represents Anacostia on the City Council, recently expressed grave concern about the impact of inner-city restoration on her ward, which is also becoming the center of its own miniboom in new construction of town houses for middle-income black families.
"Anacostia now is about the only place poor people can go for decent housing," Rolark said."The real danger is that if real estate prices here start to rise the way they've done in the rest of the city, there will be no place else in Washington for the poor to live."
No one knows the precise magnitude of Washington's renaissance (or the number of families that have been displaced) because the city government does not keep up-to-date statistics on the number of houses, apartment buildings and commercial properties that have been renovated. Nor does the city have any idea fo the number of such properties that have been purchased for the purpose of rehabilitation.
The scope of Washington's renewal appears to be far more extensive - and the forces propelling it seem far stronger - than has previously been reported. Even the 14th Street NW and H Street NE areas where the city's worst riots occurred in 1968, are beginning to show signs of revitalization and economic growth.
"This is the city that really started reversed blockbusting,"says Arthur Cotton Moore, a Washington-based architect and planner whose specialty is recycling old industrial buildings and planning the revitalization of declining urban neighborhoods in cities across the country.
Other cities employ Moore to devise ways of attracting the middle class back within their borders. In Washington, the process started and continues without offical intervention or direct planning by the city.
For a city long plagued by chronic financial problems, the rejuvention of Washington's central core means higher property tax assessments and substantially increased revenues. More than half of the city's neighborhoods that were reassessed in 1975 received assessments this year 30 per cent higher than two years ago. The City Council is considering plans to lower the tax rate to partially cancel out the increased assessments, which are largely based on sale prices.
The ever-increasing assessments, coupled with a city rent control law that landlords say often makes their properties unprofitable, is cutting back the already scarce supply of housing within reach of the city's poor. Owners of inner-city rental properties are only too happy to sell out when a spectacular or middle-income family wants to buy.
Real estate brokers who specialize in central-city properties, city planners who watch the District's neighborhoods and new immigrants who are moving into areas of the city like Logan Circle, Shaw and Adams Morgan cite a variety of reasons for the quickening pace of Washington's revitalization.
The energy crisis, changes of life styles and taste as well as cheaper housing prices (per square foot) and lower property taxes in the District than in the surrounding surburbs are some of reasons given for the increasing attractiveness of Washington.
Add to this the amenities offered by the city - parks, the Kennedy Center, bars, boutiques, bistros and shops, within walking distance of houses and apartments - and you begin to understand the forces behind the District's resurgence.
A key factor, too, is that the process feeds on itself. A block becomes more attractive to other middle-class families and singles once one or two homes are renovated and a neighborhood becomes more attractive once one or two blocks are reclaimed. Real estate speculators have played a large role, and some of them have made fortunes, in hastening the "Georgetownization" of the city's slums.
Hundreds of town houses are now being built in outlying parts of the city, such as Ft. Lincoln in Northeast and along Wheeler Road in Far Southeast, as well as on what seems to be every available parcel of land within a two-to-three-mile radius of downtown Washington and the Capitol.
According to District Building permit records, 189 permits were issued in 1972 for new residential units in the city (excluding apartments). The number of permits increased to 494 units last year. In the first four months of 1977, 208 permits have already have been issued.
Developers say "the city is hot."
Apartment buildings in what are still considered the city's most depressed and problem-plagued areas are now valuable pieces of property.
For example, a dank, run-down apartment building at 1929 18th St. NW was recently sold for $300,000. Low income families have been moved out, apparently in preparation for the buildings renovation.
Other such apartment buildings are being restored and sold (or bought for future restoration) as condominiums for young, upwardly mobile singles and childless couples who prefer the hustle and bustle of the city to what they perceive as the "sterility" of the suburbs.
Darrel Rippeteau, 29, an architect, and his wife, Judy a teacher in the city school system, bought a small unrenovated house for $29,500 last year on the 1500 block of Caroline Street NW.
"The primary criterion (for selecting a house and neighborhood)," Rippeteau said, "was being near downtown and the things we cherish: Dupont Circle, F Street and the Kenedy Center."
Rippeteau's boss, Arthur Cotton Moore, calls this attitude "counter-romanticism." Traditionally, Americans have viewed cities as "hell holes" to be escaped from, Moore said. Now, young, well educated and well traveled Americans view cities as places to gravitate toward, he said.
Families with children are moving into neighborhoods east of Dupont Circle, and to Logan Circle, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant and Capitol Hill-the most remarkable sign that the deterrents to city living, crime and bad schools, have been overcome or at least are no longer absolute barriers to middle class families who want to live in Washington.
"Shells," houses that need total renovation, cost $25,000 - in Shaw. On the 1400 block of Corcoran Street NW, restored houses are being sold for as much as $90,000.
A common belief among city officials, community groups and the poor who are being displaced is that the city's new urban "pioneers" are largely young, affluent and white.
Interviews with real estate agents, developers and the new immigrants themselves reveal that the stereotype just doesn't hold up under scrutiny: there appear to be a number of blacks renovating inner-city properties, there appear to be a number of people over 35 participating in the back-to-the city movement and there seems to be little evidence that the newcomers are rich by metropolitan area standards - although they are clearly more affluent than those they are replacing.
Talley R. Holmes Jr., a black landlord whose properties are mostly in the Logan Circle and Shaw areas, said he recently sold 12 houses on the 1300 block of T Street NW. Only four of the hou ses were sold to whites, Holmes said.
J. Gerald Lustine, another realtor specializing in the central city east of 16th Street NW, said he toos, has found a substantial number of blacks buying homes in areas that are now turning from ghettos to middle class enclave.
Lawrence N. Brandt, developer of the large and luxurious Beekman Place townhouse-apartment project on 16th Street across from Meridian Hill Park, said 20 to 30 per cent of his buyers have been black. Brandt said that, except for race, his buyers are similar: young (mostly under 35), well educated (virtually all have college and graduate degrees) and about evenly split between singles and couples.
This market, the young professionals or the so-called "exposed brick set," appears to be almost limitless, according to any number of builder-developer renovators interviewed over the past several weeks.
Brandt has had no trouble selling the 129 units he has built or is building now at Beekman Place. Prices range from $56,500 for a one-bedroom unit to $86,500 for three bedrooms.
"I'm just amazed at what's going on in areas (of the inner city) that people would fear to tread in three years ago," Brandt said. "Everybody who has any knowledge whatsoever is making money. Even people who don't know anything are making money."
"It happened in Georgetown and now it's happening at 16th Street and Florida Avenue," said Brandt, who is now one of the Washington area's largest builder-developers of shopping centers, apartment buildings and new residential development like 4Beekman Place.
Some of the most striking changes are occurring at 14th and T Streets NW, cited by police only a year ago as the city's most notorious hangout for junkies, drug dealers and prostitutes.
The outrageous reputation of the 14th and T area - years ago a popular tree-lined residential area for middleclass blacks - has not dampened the interest of eager homebuyers.
In the las six months, 12 decaying row houses along T Street, between 13th and 14th, have been sold to new families who are expected to renovate and live in the houses, according to Talley R. Holmes Jr., who sold the 12 houses from his stock of 18 on the block.
Holmes, who was born and reared in the lovely Victorian row house where he lives at 1345 T Street NW, said he watched many residents of the neighborhood flee to the suburbs following the riots of the late 1960s, abandoning their homes as they went.
"I saw professional people practically giving away homes they worked years to pay for," said Holems, 54. "I could buy all the houses I wanted for less than $10,000. Nobody wanted to live in this neighborhood."
Attitudes toward his community now seem to be changing, said Holmes, who is now selling the property he bought a decade ago at a handsome profit. On the average, Holmes said he is selling his row houses for more than twice what he paid.
Last November, seven houses at 11th Street and Vermont Avenue, NW, which had ben rented to low-income families for nearly 25 years, were sold to a restoration firm that plans to renovate and sell the houses.
Michael Gatti, who sold the hosues, said it was becoming increasingly difficult to make a profit on the property. "Rental property in the District is a thing of the past. It doesn't pay," said Gatti, who has been in real estate in Washington for 43 years.
"I was making less than I per cent profit on my rentals. I can make more than that with a savings account at a savings and loan," said Gatti.
On the grassy, red clay slopes of Southeast Washington, east of the Anacostia River, nearly 500 units of new housing have been built or are planned for the region known for its high concentration of low-income families.
Highpoint-Barnaby, a complex of 106 town houses in the upper $40,000 range, is one of a half dozen new housing projects in progress in Anacostia. In Granada, an adjacent town house community, 40 units have been completed and more are now being added.
The coming of new housing in Anacostia, inevitably means the escalation of property values and real estate taxes, and the subseqeaueant rise in rents throughout the area. The reasons for Council member Rolark's concern.
"The next boundary is Prince George's County," Mrs. Rolark said. "But the residents of Anacostia don't want to move out of the District. They want the income level and the complexion (racial mix) of their community to remain the same. And I'm in full agreement with the citizens."
Whether or not "they are trying to displace the inner-city poor or whether "they" are simply doing it as part of the renewal process, it appears that large numbers of poor families are being moved out of neighborhoods like Logan Circle and Shaw without local or federal policies designed to cope with the problem.
Molton Kotler, executive director of the National Association of Neighborhoods, argues that private renewal without complementary public policies to cope with its negative effects "is the most dangerous kind of reinvestment we can think of. Diversity will be replaced by upper income homogeneity" in the nation's cities, Kotler argues, if the poor are pushed to suburban areas.