The area's building boom has reached far Southeast Washington, that section east of the Anacostia River long shunned by most developers as too isolated and too laden with problems stemming from poverty and neglect.
More than 1,000 new town houses are pending or completed in that area, and for the most part they are priced well under the $100,000 average for most neighborhoods west of the river.
City planning records for the past year list 14 subdivision developments under way in the area bounded by Southern Avenue, South Capitol Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, with average prices in many of those developes at $65,000 or under.
During June, the city issued building permits in the District for the construction of 42 residential buildings and houses, 29 of them in Southeast. In the early 1970s, the city was issuing virtually no building permits in the Southeast.
In addition, the District's department of housing and community development recently announced that it is holding discussions with the federal government and developers to plan for the 16.8-acre site at 2310 Ainger Pl. SE of the Old Knox Hill public housing project.
Why the interest in Southeast's wooded slopes?
"There's been a housing boom in the city, and land values are much lower in Southeast than in other parts of the city," said Terry Brooks, acting chief of area planning for the city's office of planning and development. "New couples are moving to the city, looking for new houses at a lower cost . . . They are couples (in Southeast) and those from outside who can only afford $55,000 to $65,000 for a home."
Builders agree. "Southeast was the only area where we were able to find vacant land," said Louis Bojan, president of Bojan Construction Corp. His firm has just completed the first 35 of 99 town houses it is building at Southern and Mississippi avenues and 7th Street SE.
George Giavasis, executive vice president of Curtis Properties Inc., said his firm was so pleasantly surprised with the demand for the homes they built at Naylor Road and Fairlawn Street that they now have building permits to construct more town houses on Curtis Court SE.
Curtis Properties also renovated the Anacostia Professional Building on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue during the past three years, Giavasis said.
He said that because of lender reluctance to invest in Southeast several years ago, his company had to use its established lines of credit with several banks to get financing to renovate the professional building. "If we had asked for a loan to do the project, we could not have gotten one," Giavasis said.
Now, however, with the success of some projects in Anacostia, he feels that lender attitudes are changing. The Savings Associations Financial Enterprises Inc. (SAFE), the organization formed by local S&Ls to promote the development of moderately-priced housing, has been a big help, he noted.
I don't think we could have gotten off the ground without them," Giavasis said. "Just recently have lenders begun to look at the area a little bit harder."
Giavasis said he expects that more and more people will be attracted to Southeast in the future. "I'm sitting in my office (on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE) right now, and I can see the Capitol and the Washington Monument and the Navy Yard," he said in a telephone interview. "I can be in your office (in downtown Washington) in 12 minutes."
Developer Joseph P. Certa signed a contract last May to purchase the Wilburn Tract, a 6 1/2-acre site fronting on Martin Luther King Jr Avenue between Savannah, 2nd and 4th streets SE, for $675,000 from the William Cafritz Development Corp. Certa said he hopes to begin constructing the first of 130 three- and four-bedroom town houses there by November.
The houses probably will sell at prices of $57,000 and up, Certa said.
"I've always had a lot of faith in that area," Certa added, explaining his interest in the tract. Certa and partners recently constructed Carrollburg Mews, 61 new town houses and apartments at South Capitol and O streets SW.
The residential housing activity in her ward "should add to the whole area," said D.C. City Councilwoman Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward Eight), who represents far Southeast.
Rolark said she is particularly pleased that some developers have promised that current Southeast residents will be able to afford some of the houses.
Several city-funded and private organizations have offices in Southeast and are helping current residents get funds to fix up their homes and stave off displacement. The area east of the river is full of old frame homes and deteriorating garden apartment buildings. It is an area fraught with problems.
A city planning report describes Ward Eight as suffering from high levels of unemployment and poverty and a lack of services. In 1970, only 10 percent of its housing units were owner-occupied, a figure much lower than the citywide homeownership rate of 28.2 percent.
The ward also has the highest percentage of public land in the city -- nearly half the land there belongs to the federal government.
Nevertheless, the families who have snapped up the recently built town houses say they like what Anacostia and the other communities there have to offer.
Nan Green, an intake specialist for the city's Department of Human Resources, said she considers her home in the Washington Overlook development on Newcomb Street SE "an oasis out of the jungle. You come through the ghetto to all this peace and quiet. This is sort of like our own little community."
Green bought her three-bedroom brick-and-aluminum siding town house nearly a year ago for $47,000.
Before she moved there, she and her daughters rented an apartment in Bladensburg while she was undergoing a divorce. But she soon discovered that she didn't want to rent for long.
"I got tired of paying rent and getting nothing back," Green said. Then came house-hunting for two years, attempting the nearly impossible: finding a home for under $50,000 in the District.
"I'm a native of D.C.," Green said. "I had made up my mind to move back. It was like a must to me. This is where my roots are." She feels persistence paid off when she found Washington Overlook, nestled in a woodsy setting with panoramic views. And, perhaps best of all, she said, "The price fit my pocketbook."
Florence DeFabio, project sales manager for Washington Overlook, said 34 town houses have been built in the cul-de-sac, which overlooks Bolling Air Force Base. Fifteen more houses are being built. Prices started at $47,000 for the first group, but in the new project they probably will range from $60,650 up to a little over $67,000, she said.
"A few of us pioneered out here," DeFabio said. "There was a need for new modern housing. This was an excellent location. I think it's a coming area."
Washington Overlook replaced a run-down 77-unit apartment building. The builder felt that demolishing the buildings "would be better for the neighborhood than rehabilitating the apartments," DeFabio said.
The Overlook houses have been sold to teachers, police officers, attorneys, certified public accountants, social workers, a doctor, and "higher-level" government workers, she said.
Several Southeast residents interviewed pointed with pride to the efforts by D.C. Mayor Marion Barry to find a house to buy east of the river -- thus far unsuccessfully.
Brooks, of the city planning department, sees the new development as evidence of changing trends in Southeast.
"In the early '50s and '60s, it was a garden apartment area for lower- and moderate-income families," Brooks said. "Now, there's a shift toward also accommodating upwardly mobile and existing residents who can afford prices in the moderate- to mid-level range."