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Ivy City is emerging at last

Where We Live | Ivy City in Northeast Washington

Washington, DC - August 4: A view of the Ivy City neighborhood in North East Washington, D.C. August 4th, 2015. The neighborhood is experiencing a transformation with the development of real estate for housing, retail and restaurants. It was primarily an industrial area with the Ivy City Yard, a railroad coach yard and maintenance for Amtrak and warehouses. (Evy Mages/For The Washington Post)

The Northeast Washington neighborhood of Ivy City is in the midst of a massive facelift. And some residents say it’s about time.

“I think it’s great,” said Eboney Jackson, a lifelong Ivy City resident who was relaxing in the neighborhood park recently. “We don’t have that many buildings around here. We need some new things.”

Diane Carter and Diane Pimble were sitting in front of Carter’s house and agreed. “It’s definitely building up here. I love it,” said Carter. “There used to be a lot of empty lots here; now you can’t even find one,” Pimble said.

They’re right: Ivy City is undeniably changing. The small, wedge-shaped community is rapidly becoming one of the District’s hottest neighborhoods, with distilleries, coffee roasteries and restaurants being announced faster than the city’s foodies can keep up with them.

But Ivy City is really two neighborhoods. The community’s eastern and western ends are industrial zones, and that’s where the development is happening. But in the middle lies a residential community where, according to census data, roughly half the residents lived in poverty as recently as 2012. To the naked eye, that area appears untouched by Ivy City’s changes. But housing prices are unmistakably rising.

Rough years: Located outside Pierre L'Enfant's original D.C. plan, Ivy City was established in 1871 as a suburb for railroad employees, many of whom worked in the repair yard adjacent to the neighborhood. Over the years, the community's fortunes mirrored those of the railroad and began to sink in the 1950s, as more Americans relied on cars.

By all accounts, the 1990s were rough. “It was a rathole, absolutely,” said Greg Casten, whose wholesale seafood business, ProFish, has been in Ivy City since 1988. “There was probably gunfire two or three nights a week, probably a killing a week.”

Ivy City is vastly safer than it used to be. “When I first moved here, it was quite dangerous — and it still is, a bit,” said Peta-Gay Lewis, the community’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative. “But the crime ratios are going down.”

Residents also complain about the amount of acreage used as parking lots for city-owned vehicles. Alexander Crummell School, located in the center of the neighborhood and closed since the 1970s, was recently scheduled to become a bus parking lot, a decision loudly protested by community activists.

New investment:
But everything in the neighborhood is shifting now. One of the city's biggest developers, Douglas Jemal, is gambling big on Ivy City; his company owns numerous properties there, including an Art Deco building that was formerly a Hecht Co. warehouse. That building's 350 apartments are slated for completion this fall.

Meanwhile, a Nike store, Mom’s Organic Market and Planet Fitness are open nearby.

Many other businesses — a yoga studio, a CrossFit gym and a bicycle shop — are scheduled to arrive in the next few years, as are a handful of restaurants. Many of the business owners say what attracts them is Ivy City’s industrial, gritty vibe.

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How the changes will affect the neighborhood’s residential section is unclear. That part of the neighborhood still has the feeling of a village: “Everyone knows everyone” there, said Lewis, and family histories go back decades.

But property values are starting to climb, and fast: One home sold in the past year for $410,000, more than double the area’s 2013 average. That could be a boon for Ivy City homeowners, but renters may struggle.

In late July, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced some good news for residents. Crummell School will not become a bus parking lot; instead, neighbors will be able to make suggestions for the site’s redevelopment in an inclusive planning process that’s already begun.

Lewis isn’t sure residents have benefitted from the new amenities, but she’s generally optimistic about the area. “Property values are still affordable, in terms of D.C.,” she said. “And now we have the market, the gym and restaurants coming, so it’s a great place to live — especially if you can get in now, as opposed to a few months from now.”

Living there:
Ivy City, in the 20002 Zip code, is bordered by New York Avenue to the northwest and north, West Virginia Avenue to the southeast and Mount Olivet Road to the southwest.

According to Simon Sarver, an agent with the Keri Shull Team of Optime Realty, one property is currently for sale in Ivy City: a three-bedroom, 11/2-bathroom semi-detached house listed at $250,000. One property is under contract: a three-bedroom, two-bath condo that was listed at $109,000. And only one home has sold over the past 12 months: a three-bedroom, four-bath renovated rowhouse that went for $410,000.

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Wheatley Education Campus (elementary and middle) and Dunbar High.

The NoMa-Gallaudet U station on Metrorail's Red Line is a half-hour walk from Ivy City. The neighborhood is well served by bus lines, and New York Avenue (U.S. 50) makes it particularly convenient by car.

According to D.C. police, Ivy City had one homicide, seven assaults, seven robberies, 10 burglaries and 51 instances of theft in the past 12 months.

Amanda Abrams is a freelance writer.