For years, real estate agents, developers and city officials have been promising that historic Anacostia in Southeast Washington is on the cusp of change. These days, it’s more than just wishful thinking.
“I think people understand it’s just a matter of time,” says Charles Wilson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative for the community.
Indeed, the friendly community lined with rowhouses and turn-of-the-century Victorians has a number of changes on the horizon. New developments are slated for the area’s commercial corridors, interesting retail options are coming in, and a one-of-a-kind bridge park spanning the Anacostia River is on the drawing board.
But how those changes play out will make all the difference. “There’s that anticipation, but also a nervousness — because people want positive change, but they want to be included in that change,” said Wilson. And they’re hoping that, through it all, their neighborhood retains its unique flavor.
Gradual transformation: Anacostia was originally home to the Nacotchtank Indians, who gave the neighborhood its name. It eventually became Uniontown, a suburb of Washington that housed workers at nearby military and manufacturing sites. By the 1960s, the neighborhood had become poor, overcrowded and lacking in services. The Anacostia Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, but the area’s decline continued into the 1980s and ’90s as drugs plagued the neighborhood.
“A lot of upstanding residents left,” said Akili West, a self-employed consultant who has lived in the neighborhood for most of his 40 years. “There were a lot of homes on the market, and others were dilapidated and abandoned. It was very hard to watch.”
On the positive side, low housing prices meant that many longtime residents were able to buy homes, but the area remained largely a low-income community of renters. And even into the 2000s, as neighborhoods on the other side of the Anacostia River were gradually redeveloped with condo buildings and shopping and dining options, Anacostia retained its vacant houses and lacked even a single sit-down restaurant.
That’s not the case anymore. Uniontown Bar & Grill, which offers table service, opened in 2011, and there are several new storefronts along the neighborhood’s commercial arteries: a locally owned clothing store, a new juice bar, and an arts center that includes boutiques and a cafe.
Trying to maintain charm: But that’s only the beginning. In the next few years, Anacostia could look quite different. Four Points, a developer that has been working in the area for years, has designed an ambitious six-block project that will begin with a couple of apartment buildings, including a large one with ground-floor retail.
Meanwhile, a new Busboys and Poets restaurant is scheduled to open next year. And if the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park becomes reality, the pillars of the old bridge over the Anacostia River will be used to connect Anacostia to Capitol Hill with an innovative pedestrian area that has been compared to Manhattan’s extremely popular High Line.
Unsurprisingly, housing prices in the neighborhood have been rising. Last year, Anacostia’s Zip code experienced one of the greatest increases in median home prices throughout the Washington region; Darrin Davis, who owns Anacostia River Realty, reports seeing multiple offers in recent real estate transactions, and investors looking to renovate homes have begun targeting the area.
For Anacostia’s residents, who spent decades feeling neglected by the rest of the District, the joy of finally having nice things nearby is tempered by a fear that the area’s best qualities might get lost.
“I am concerned about maintaining that charm and character that makes the neighborhood great,” said Wilson. He worries that its architectural flavor will become watered down and that the chatty small-town vibe will eventually disappear.
But some newcomers say that’s exactly what drew them to the neighborhood. “We really like the historic homes, the bright colors. . . . On the street where we live, there are a lot of kids playing, a lot of laughter,” said Morgann Reeves, an analyst at the World Bank; she and her husband moved to Anacostia a few weeks ago. “It’s been very welcoming.”
Living there: For years, many Washingtonians thought “Anacostia” referred to every neighborhood east of the Anacostia River. But Anacostia, Zip code 20020, is a specific neighborhood bordered by the Anacostia Freeway (Interstate 295) to the northwest, Good Hope Road to the northeast, Fort Stanton Park to the southeast and Morris Road to the southwest. The historic district covers roughly the same area.
According to Davis, five properties are on the market in Anacostia, ranging from a two-bedroom, one-bathroom rowhouse priced at $169,000 to a three-bedroom, two-bath rowhouse selling for $400,000. Seven homes are under contract, from a four-bedroom, two-bathroom semi-detached home that sold for $100,000 to a semi-detached house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms that sold for $385,000.
And 16 properties sold over the past 12 months, from a three-bedroom, one-bathroom rowhouse that went for $140,000 to a three-bedroom, two-bath detached home that sold for $399,000.
Schools: Savoy Elementary, Kramer Middle and Anacostia High.
Transit: The neighborhood is a 10-to-15-minute walk from the Anacostia station on Metro’s Green Line, and several buses travel between the station and downtown Washington.
Crime: According to D.C. police statistics, three homicides, eight robberies, 14 assaults, 13 burglaries and 70 incidents of theft were reported in the approximate area over the past 12 months.
Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer.