Where We Live | Barney Circle in Southeast Washington

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It’s difficult to discern where Barney Circle begins and ends. Large avenues cut through the tiny Southeast Washington neighborhood, breaking up clusters of rowhouses and providing homes with more outdoor space than in nearby areas. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)

Walking around Hill East, on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill, it’s difficult to discern where Barney Circle begins and ends. Large ­avenues like Massachusetts cut through the tiny Southeast Washington neighborhood, breaking up clusters of rowhouses and providing homes with more outdoor space than in nearby areas. The neighborhood also lies outside the historic district that encompasses much of the Hill — a plus for owners looking for freedom to make changes to their homes. All this creates a neighborhood feel that residents say is incomparable in the wider area.

“We moved here from somewhere where people mostly kept to themselves. Something that’s been so different is that people are so open. They want to get to know you and become friends,” said Betsy Teubl, who moved to Barney Circle from Arlington this year with her husband and toddler.

“The moment we moved in, all the neighbors were coming over and saying hi. . . . It was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. And it’s continued, especially during stay-at-home orders. We sit on our back porches and grill and pass food over to one another, and we really feel like we’ve been welcomed to a community.”

Residents like Teubl describe a community where residents look out for one another. People participate in nanny shares, bring in neighbors’ mail when they’re away, shovel driveways in winter.

In recent years, Barney Circle has become a coveted area for young families looking for housing that’s more affordable than in historic Capitol Hill. What’s more, homes are farther from the street, and many have yards and porches. And the sidewalks are wider than in other parts of the Hill.

Congressional Cemetery borders the neighborhood to the east and provides green space for both dogs and their owners to enjoy. It’s just one of a wealth of amenities.

Barney Circle is within walking distance of Eastern Market, Barracks Row and Navy Yard. Developments underway in Hill East will connect the neighborhood to the Anacostia waterfront with recreational trails and add new housing and retail, creating a vibrant commercial district.

Barney Circle’s name derives from the Pennsylvania Avenue traffic circle at the neighborhood’s southern tip, named after Commodore Joshua Barney, a commander in the War of 1812. In the mid-1900s, Barney Circle was populated by multi­ethnic working-class residents and employees of the Navy Yard. After the 1968 riots, the area, like others in the city, became majority Black. Today, of the Black families that remain, many have passed their homes down through generations.

The family of Ulysses Houston is one of them. Houston, 65, was born in the same home at 16th and G streets that he lives in today. He’s witnessed the area’s demographic changes firsthand. Houston says that he and other longtime residents welcome their newer neighbors with open arms, but that he notices a lack of minority families among them. That has caused occasional tension, such as when his neighbor called the police about his fireworks celebration on the Fourth of July. For Houston, it’s a reminder of a system he says favors a certain type of homeowner.

“It’s not all peaches and cream. Most of the Blacks here, they know what’s going on in Washington, D.C. — they know the drill,” Houston said, as he discussed gentrification. He recalled a time when he went to a bank for a loan and was denied, despite owning his home.

“I tell Black folks, you can’t be mad because these people bought the house. It’s not about resentment towards neighbors. They’re fortunate enough to be able to get the house, and it ain’t their fault the banks didn’t want to give you the loan. We have to blame the system, not the individual.”

According to a recent study from LendingTree, Black home buyers are denied mortgages 12.64 percent of the time, while the overall mortgage denial rate is 6.15 percent. In Barney Circle, where home prices average at over $700,000, Houston says the high costs also contribute to the gradually dwindling Black population.

Despite racial barriers to home­ownership, Houston says, his experience with neighbors of various colors and backgrounds has been much more positive than negative. “My White neighbors came by and asked if there’s anything I need during this pandemic, so of course there’s a lot of good that goes on, but we have to paint the full picture,” Houston said.

“There are always ups and downs in life. I can’t let a few bad experiences overshadow the good in this neighborhood, because there is a lot of good here.”

Living there: Barney Circle’s boundaries are a matter of some debate. The Capitol Hill Restoration Society defines them narrowly, between Potomac Avenue on the north and Kentucky Avenue to the west, but residents generally agree they fall along 14th Street on the west, D Street to the north, 17th Street and the Congressional Cemetery on the east, and K Street/SE Boulevard to the south.

According to Long & Foster agent John Coplen, 30 homes have sold in the past six months. These range from a $360,000 one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo to a newly renovated $1.9 million rowhouse with five bedrooms and four bathrooms. There are eight homes on the market, ranging from a two-bedroom, one-bathroom condo priced at $417,900 to an $819,000 three-bedroom, three-bathroom rowhouse.

Schools: Watkins, Payne, Tyler and Brent elementaries, Stuart-Hobson Middle and Eastern High.

Transportation: Barney Circle is served by the Potomac Avenue and Stadium-Armory Metro stations, both on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. Stadium-Armory is about a five-minute walk northeast, while the Potomac Avenue station is on the neighborhood’s west edge. Pennsylvania Avenue serves as a major thoroughfare linking the two sides of the Anacostia River. The nearby Anacostia River Trail allows residents to walk or cycle between Navy Yard and along the Anacostia River. Several bus routes serve the area.