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Dreams Can Come True

By Patrice Gaines
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 23, 1993

The Parkside community looks like a mirage when one spots it from Interstate 295. The tin roofs twinkle from the reflection of the sun, the tall corner row houses with steeples pointing toward the sky look like a modern castle.

One resident calls them “gingerbread houses.” And when one listens to the homeowners in this Northeast Washington community, which still is under construction, one comes away believing again that hard-earned dreams really do come true.

Barbara Brooks remains awed by the space in her three-bedroom town house, which her son, Victor, an electrical engineer, purchased for the two of them. They moved in six months ago, after Brooks had raised five children in her two-bedroom apartment in Mayfair Gardens, just a few blocks away.

“I just love it. It’s beautiful, knowing it’s something at last that you can say belongs to you,” said Brooks, 58. “I had a rough time trying to raise the children in that apartment.

“Now, I don’t mind being home. I can breathe and walk around and feel free.”

Sheron McLaughlin, 40, put her name on a list 20 years ago, when the city said it was building affordable homes on the site where Parkside now stands. She moved in last November and was one of the first residents. By that time McLaughlin had raised a daughter, who is now 24 and lives in her own apartment, and she had looked around for a house for two years.

“This is perfect,” said McLaughlin, a management analyst for the Agriculture Department, who said she has “lived in the Zip code 20019 all my life. “This is low maintenance. The back yard is large, but the front yard is small and it was landscaped. I’m not a gardener. All I have to do is pull weeds and water.”

The banner outside the sales trailer proclaims, “Dawn of a New Area,” and a lot of people are betting on that. Parkside is the District’s most ambitious renewal project, offering a number of financial packages for buyers. The project is a joint effort of the Department of Housing and Community Development, working with a nonprofit housing developer.

The town houses and condos sit on what once was 26 acres of weeds. They range in price from $99,000 to $140,000. The neighborhood will eventually include a one-acre park, a community center and day-care center in the middle of the development and a commercial strip.

The project has moved slowly. Some homeowners said their houses were completed nearly a year late. Officials have said the development has been slowed by bureaucratic and contracting delays, but problems have been smoothed out and the project is back on schedule.

There are 26 completed units and another 11 units are expected to be completed by mid-November. Twenty families live in Parkside now, and 29 units have been sold.

“Our buyers run the gamut from tradition to nontraditional empty-nesters and young couples with plans for kids, retirees, young singles, pretty much people representative of the whole city,” said Lisa D. Schwartz, an official for Telesis Corp., which is marketing the property.

The income requirement for buyers is at least $26,000 to $28,000 annually for two-bedroom homes; $33,000 to $35,000 for three-bedroom units; and $39,000 to $41,000 for four-bedroom homes.

Distinguishing features on some of the houses and condos include steeples, turrets and gables, tin roofs, nine-foot-high ceilings, lots of windows and skylights. Brick walkways, fenced-in yards and small, unobtrusive parking lots help give the neighborhood a quaint, cheerful look.

Fern Moore, a D.C. police detective, and her two children moved from their two-bedroom house into their three-level, four-bedroom town house in August. She started working a part-time job two years ago to save up money for a home. Now she’s eyeing new furniture and curtains for her 27 windows.

“You think you have a lot of stuff when you live in an apartment, and you spread it out in a house and it doesn’t seem like much,” said Moore, 35, sitting in her expansive living room.

Her two children, Joy, 4, and Phillip, 14, have bedrooms and their own bath on the top level. The second level features Moore’s bedroom, master bathroom, guest bathroom and family room.

Moore had searched in Maryland and Virginia as well as in the District before choosing a home in Parkside.

“They had financial packages that made this affordable for me, a single parent,” she said. “It’s a nice, quiet place. I have the satisfaction of owning, and it’s a delight to come home.”

Other residents are enjoying watching a community form, as more and more people move in.

“It’s beginning to feel like a community already,” said Wanda Taylor, who, like Barbara Brooks, moved “from Mayfair, just across the way.” She and her two sons moved into their four-bedroom town house in July. She wanted to stay close to her 88-year-old grandmother, who still lives in Mayfair Gardens.

“People around here speak to each other,” said Taylor, a programmer for the federal government. “In the summer, you could see people in the condos sitting out. People were cooking out and washing their cars.”

Terry E. Nelson, 42, is one of the Parkside pioneers, having moved in last January. He also moved from an apartment just a few blocks away in Paradise Manor, where he had lived since 1967.

“When they started talking about building here in the mid-’80s, I went to all the meetings,” said Nelson, a program manager for the Small Business Administration.

“I don’t drive, so I needed to be near a Metro,” said Nelson, who said that excluded a lot of suburban neighborhoods from his choices.

One of the major questions that prospective buyers who come to look at the community have is whether it is fairly safe from crime. They remember when Mayfair Mansions and Paradise Manor, two nearby housing complexes, were home to a couple of the city’s largest drug markets. But residents hired the Nation of Islam to patrol their streets and police patrols were increased, which resulted in a significant reduction in drug dealing. Since then, the complex has been renovated and a spirit of community pride has returned.

The “old-timers” of Parkside, those who have lived in the community for nearly a year, say their neighborhood is quiet and they’ve had no problems with crime, and new residents said they investigated the area carefully.

Being a police officer, Fern Moore paid attention to security. “It’s well lit here with good street lights, and it’s quiet,” she said.

Keith Ferguson, 34, and Stephanie Johnson, 30, dropped by the sales office Sunday to take another look at the three-level town house they are considering. Cost—not crime—was their major concern.

Both Ferguson and Johnson said it was difficult to find new housing in Washington, particularly houses in the price range they could afford.

“Usually, if you find something, it’s $200,000-plus, or it needs a lot of renovation,” said Johnson, a secretary for a trade association. “They need more projects like this, affordable with quality. Then so many people wouldn’t move to Maryland.”

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