CAPTION: Picture 1, Student worker Lamont Robinson cuts board for house on 15th Street SE. By James Thesher -- The Washington Post; Picture 2; Student Stephanie Miles fixes wall for James and Elizabeth Poindexter in Anacostia home, while Greg Janrhett observes. By James Thresher -- The Washington Post
Margie C. Burress has lived in her Frankfort Street SE home for 30 years. But it wasn't until recently that the house got the repairs it has needed for years -- a new faucet to replace the leaking one, new locks on doors and windows to help thwart the house-breakers who are plaguing her neighborhood, and new electrical wiring that will keep her from spending $20 every two weeks for new fuses.
Burress's reaction to her home improvements is simple but ebullient. "I'm overjoyed," she says.
Burress' house was one of about 15 fixed up through the Old Anacostia Home Maintenance and Repair Service, a program begun last year and administered by the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association. Funded by the city housing department, it provides grants to the elderly and handicapped to fix up run-down homes.
Buyer interest in Anacostia has intensified recently as house prices across the city have skyrocketed, and community workers are trying to help long-time residents of the area stay in their homes.
Using the motto "Don't Vacate -- Renovate," the maintenance and repair service works in conjunction with other community rehabilitation organizations east of the Anacostia River.
"We don't trip over one another out here," James Harvey, executive director of the planning and housing association, said of the different organizations. "There's some kind of program here that fits everybody. We are primarily set up for people who can't afford to pay back a home improvement loan."
The home maintenance program also enables high school students to be trained in rehabilitation skills. Several Southeast high school students were selected last year to participate and, working after school and on Saturdays, the earn about $3 an hour.
The students have built porches, insulated homes, installed electrical wiring and constructed cabinets, with the help of craftsman William Stevens.
"It's given me a chance to use my skills," said Lamont Robinson, a recent graduate of Ballou High School. "This is what I want to do."
Another student trainee, Stephanie Miles, 17, said she wants to be a nurse when she graduates, but said the program has helped teach her how to work with the elderly as well as how to do work on any future home she may have. Before last year, she noted, she didn't know anything about home maintenance and repair.
Harvey and project coordinator James Watson said they hope to set up an independent subcontracting company so that students who participate in the program and want to continue to rehabilitate homes can do so after they graduate.
The program relies on referrals to clients from other community groups, churches and satisfied customers.
"We heard that one man we had helped testified in church about the program," Watson said. "Our phones started ringing off the hook."
The maintenance and repair service's office is in the basement of 1308 V St. SE, the headquarters of Neighborhood Housing Services Inc., a successful program that works with Anacostians who want to buy and fix up their homes.
NHS currently is offering a course on how to cut utility bills by taking such steps as insulating attics, applying weatherstripping and installing solar collectors. The three-session seminar, which begains at 10 this morning at the Anacostia Energy Alliance, 2027 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, is limited to 25 persons, and all those who participate and are D.C. homeowners can apply for free domestic solar hot water systems when the workshops are completed.
The Old Anacostia Home Maintenance and Repair Service was given a little more than $100,000 in funds from the city housing department to start last year and probably will be funded at about $100,000 each year, according to Harvey. It is geared toward the low-income elderly and handicapped living in Anacostia.
In some instances, even tenants can be aided. Families chosen for the program can get up to $800 in materials and all labor required to fix up their home at no cost.
The program concentrates on the old Anacostia area, where shifting and settling of houses often has resulted in cracked ceilings, rotten back porches and warped doors, said Watson.
Elizabeth Prue, of 1319 W St. SE, said that if she hadn't been able to get help through the program to fix the small, semi-detached rowhouse that she has lived in for seven years, "I'd been sitting out in the streets by now, my house was in such bad shape."
What the program is attempting to do, noted Harvey, is to show Anacostians that their community and its homes have their own character, a charm that should be preserved, not destroyed and rebuilt. "We want to keep it looking like Anacostia, not make it look like Georgetown," he said.