Behind a six-foot-tall chain link fence, a young Capitol Hill real estate developer has completed the first phase in the H Street corridor of Northeast, scene of devasting riots a decade ago.
Half of the eight, one-bedroom apartments planned in two houses at 808 and 810 5th St. NE will be ready for occupancy in April, says R. J. Turner, and developer, who will have his office and a restaurant in the adjacent building at 420 H St. NE.
He hopes that his project will help spur revitalization of the riot corridor and extend the boundaries of Capitol Hill. He hopes to attract the young, affluent singles and couples who are moving to the Capitol Hill area.
But getting Washington lenders to finance this pioneering development - despite the fact that the city is seeking federal funds to step up its urban renewal efforts along H Street - has been difficult.
Turner's town houses are all on the north side of H Street, where he said it is hard for him to get the backing he needs to complete the work on his project.
"When I bought these places, I had $27,000 in cash - and I couldn't get anyone to put up the other two thirds," he said. "The reason they gave were that the buildings would be a problem, and that they didn't believe I could get the rent I believed I could. I've already rented a one-bedroom apartments for $270."
He eventually got a Veterans Administration-backed loan, but is looking for $20,000 to refinance the units. He has until April 22 to arrange the refinancing.
So far, he hasn't had any luck finding a private institution that will put up the money. He even invited a number of bankers to the tour of the complex a week ago, but none of them cme. Well over 100 other people - including neighborhood residents - did attend the preview, he said.
Turner said he made an effort to get a 3 percent loan from the Neighborhood Improvement Administration, which administers federal money to rehabilitate areas damaged in urban riots, but no action has been taken yet on that application yet.
"The banks still control my destiny," he said.
If all else fails, Turner says he will try to get another VA loan.
Bankers have been reluctant to make loans in the H Street corridor because the federal government has been slow to fund projects there, said Daniel Bankett, acting chief of Wards 4 and 5 for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.
Now, he said, momentum for development is growing along the corridor because of Turner's project and a few others in the neighborhood, Bankett said, adding that his office is currently talking with local lenders about increased investment there.
Turner says he will begin working on the offices, apartments and restaurant as soon as he can arrange the refinancing on the apartment at 808 5th St. that is being completed.
Turner, who lives on Capitol Hill, plans to live in one of the apartments in the complex. Architect John Savage, who is working with him on the projects, will use the other office.
Turner, who is in his early 30s and white, and is the author of a book called "How to Find a House to Renovate in Washington, D.C." He said that he has had very little trouble being accepted in largely black neighborhood on the north side of H Street. He has employed some neighborhood residents on the project, he said.
But the tall fences around the property serve a number of purposes, Turner said.
"The neighborhood is full of men who hang around all day," he said."Some of them used to sit on the steps here and drink. And they would use the property for a latrine. I wanted to stop that.
"They would even sit on the steps when we were throwing junk out of the windows when we were gutting the buildings. I was afraid someone was going to get hurt."
Turner said also he was trying to discourage people from stealing building supplies from the houses. He says he has lost a few things, including hand tools, about $50 in cash, a tape recorder, a watch and a pair of gloves, during construction.
Another thing he lost was the gate to the chain link fence that surrounds the front of the buildings. "Someone just ripped it out of the wall" that anchored it. "They apparently took a truck or something and pulled it out," he said.
He and the police found the gate and a man was arrested and charged with the theft. "I've been to court three times about that gate," but there has been no conviction yet, he added.
Turner bought the three buildings, which were vacant and boarded up, for $75,000 more than a year ago.
"At first, people thought I was crazy trying to work down here, but I like a challenge," he said.
Besides, he added, he likes the neighborhood and the architecture of the buildings.
"There is really no articultural difference between this side of H Street and the other side of H Street.
"Yet on one side of the street - the south side - finished houses will sell for $75,000 to $100,000, and on the other side, they will sell from the upper $40s to low $50s," he said.
Since he began working on the town houses, other people have bought and are restoring houses on the block, he said.
"An architect is doing 814 5th Street; a writer is renovating 818; and 816 is under renovation; 820 is partially restored - the owner is apparently waiting for more restoration on the block to be finished" Turner said.
"Other people who live in the neighborhood have asked us for doors and wallboard that we took out of these buildings so they could fix up their places," he said.
Among the hopeful signs he sees along H Street is the renovation of a building at 518 H financed with a loan from the Small Business Adminstration. Trash collection in the neighborhood is also improving, Turner said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Renovation is nearly completed in this one-bedroom apartment at 808 5th St. NE. Monthly rent is $270. By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Corner building and adjacent houses at 5th and H streets NE are among the first renovations on block. By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post