Just over a year ago, Mayor Marion Barry stood in the midst of the falling plaster and decay of a long-boarded-up house on Bates Street NW to announce his first major housing program -- an ambitious effort to fix up more than 700 city-owned vacant housing properties by November 1980, and make them suitable for people to live in once again.
Today, work has yet to begin on 440 of the homes, and only 40 families have moved into their rehabilitated homes. Construction work is well under way at more than 200, and some are expected to be occupied within the next couple of months. Another dozen homes and apartments are in the early stages of reconstruction.
The city now says the program will cost $60 million -- rather than the original price tag of $35 million.
"I think we've done fairly well," said city housing director Robert L. Moore. He said he still hopes the city can meet its announced deadline for rehabilitating all the homes. In fact, he said, the final total of housing units may reach more than 800 because some of the homes are being divided.
During the city's heated mayoral campaign of 1978, Barry made housing a major issue, and he released his housing platform at a Bates Street news conference that year.
He returned to Bates Street on March 12, 1979, to announce his program to take the boards off city-owned housing through a joint government-private program. The city's portion is financed almost totally by the federal government.
City officials said that the majority of the homes would be rented to lower-income families who qualify for federal rent subsidies, or they would be sold to moderate-income families earning from $14,000 to $20,000 yearly. A special program was set up to help with down payments.
Several dozen properties were to be sold and rented to middle-income families at market prices. These include 47 homes and apartments around Bates Street, an area just a few blocks north of the Capitol that for years has been one of the city's worst slum areas. Also included were 11 huge Victorian homes in Shaw near downtown Washington.
The city-owned homes were scattered throughout the city, but were concentrated in the areas devastated by the 1968 riots. The showpiece of the project was to be Bates Street.
So far, only one Bates Street home has been finished and occupied. It was sold for $72,000 to Charles H. Lewis, a social science analyst for the federal Department of Health and Welfare. Lewis moved back into the city from Columbia.
City officials and Bates Street developers said, however, that more than 40 moderate-income families, some of them public housing tenants and some of them former displaced Bates Street residents, should be able to move in soon.
Housing director Moore said contractors have been chosen at some of the projects or that the department is bidding for contractors at other projects. Buyers have been selected for the first 100 homes in the Bates Street project, Moore said, and sales are expected to begin soon for 82 condominiums at First Street and New York Avenue NW.
When completed, the entire project is to include rental housing, condominiums, cooperatives, public housing and single-family homes.
The same problems confronting other prospective home buyers because of high interest rates also will make it difficult for purchasers of the city-owned houses to get loan funds, Moore said. He said he is meeting with local bankers to try to get funds committed for the program.
Jack White, one of the developers of the Bates Street project, said that about 60 percent of the homes being sold at market rate have been bought by whites. Some Hispanics also are buying homes, he said.
Forty-four of the Bates Street houses are to be sold to moderate-income families who will get public funds to subsidize their mortgage interest rates down to 4 percent, and those home buyers are black, White said.
Jennie Mays is one of the 19 public housing residents who have been chosen to get some of those houses. Mays has already chosen her new seven-bedroom home at 132 Q St. NW.
The home is supposed to be ready by the end of April. Mays has six sons and three daughters, lives in Southeast Washington and works as a counselor at the city's children's center at Forest Haven.
When Moore came to her neighborhood last year to talk with residents about their problems, Mays told him she wanted to buy a house. Moore told her she would be first on his list when he had homes available. Mays, however, was skeptical.
"I figured he was playing politics," Mays said. "I wasn't looking to hear from him no more. I figured he was going around making promises he couldn't fulfill."
But Moore did indeed have his employes contact Mays. She will have to pay about $281 a month for her home, she has been told.
That's quite a bit more than the $188 a month she pays to live in public housing, but she earns about $1,000 a month and several of her children also have jobs and contribute to the family income. Besides, she said, "When you get a bargain, you sacrifice for it."
Mays said she has made a $500 down payment on the house, and saved half the $850 she will need to pay at settlement.
About 180 public housing apartments and homes also were slated to be fixed up under the program. About 35 are finished and occupied, according to Sidney Glee, head of public housing for the city. Negotiations are under way with the federal housing department to get final approval for some of the units, while others have run into delays caused by structural and sewage problems, Glee said.
Other properties in the program include more than 100 apartments just off the 14th Street corridor, single-family homes in the Brookland area of near Northeast Washington that have been sold at low prices, and 19 properties in the Shaw area whose development is being sponsored by non-profit community groups for moderate-income families.