NOT TOO FAR from the intersection of Martin Luther King Avenue and Good Hope Road is a dilapidated, three-story brick apartment building that, from all appearances, is abandoned. According to District government records, the building is uninhabitable; code violations are numerous, and the gas and electricity have been officially turned off. But there are people living there. The building is just about filled with families who desperately need a place to live.
As alarming as that situation is, it is not common in Anacostia, the section of the District with the largest number of large, lower-income households, the greatest amount of abandoned housing - and the fewest social services. Anacostia's problems are immense. But life in that part of town has become even more harsh as the amount of lower-income housing elsewhere in the city continue to shrink. Hundreds of people are moving to Anacostia these days in hopes of finding inexpensive lodging. Their search is often fruitless; even the smallest, most run-down apartment costs dearly. Worse, a few resident managers charge tenants the going rate for an apartment and then pocket the rent - without leasing the apartment. Once discovered, the tenants are evicted and must start their housing search anew.
Such problems have baffled local housing officials, they admit there's not much they can do for lower-income families. The city has too little public housing, and there's a long waiting list for what there is. Almost 1,300 households - mostly lower-income - have been evicted from units in the city during the past year; apartments have been found for fewer than 200. Ironically, officials sometimes wind up suggesting that those people move to Anacostia - the very area where they know there is a housing blight.
Stop-gap efforts are not enough, though some are needed. For instance, stiff criminal sanctions should be brought against building owners and managers who prey on the desperation of lower-income households. But a comprehensive program is needed. The new city administration has its work cut out for it.