City Paper is not for tourists
Yet again, the top-to-bottom redevelopment of Southeast’s Barry Farm neighborhood has been delayed.
Part of the District’s New Communities Initiative, which seeks to revitalize subsidized housing in four economically disadvantaged areas, the Barry Farm project has long stirred anxieties about displacement and gentrification. With more than 425 units—just over half of which were legally occupied at the end of last year—the site currently houses families who pay 30 percent of their income for rent. City planning officials have promised to include both affordable and market-rate housing in the eventual redevelopment, sandwiched between the Anacostia and Congress Heights Metro stations. Residents who remain worry that they won’t be able to keep calling Barry Farm home owing to legal and financial troubles, and despite assurances to the contrary.
Such concerns were on full display at a meeting of the D.C. Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners Thursday. The 11-member group was set to vote on a resolution approving up to $13 million in “pre-development financing” for the Barry Farm project, which would come from city coffers and cover an array of costs such as design work, permitting, and relocation plans for residents. But with several commissioners missing and testimony from local activists, the board unanimously decided to table the vote until next month, a decision met with clapping from some in attendance.
“I am here to urge you not to pass [this] resolution,” Schyla Pondexter-Moore, a housing organizer for advocacy group Empower DC, had told the board. “It’s unethical, it’s wrong, and you should be ashamed of yourselves if you do.”
The vote on the pre-development financing had been tabled in June and July as well. The board said it would aim to improve communication and education in the Ward 8 community to resolve conflicts. Over the past years, DCHA has conducted surveys to determine whether residents are considering relocation, hosted regular meetings to discuss the initiative with them, and done other outreach. But without the appropriated funds, design work for the redevelopment hasn’t been completed and federal approval for demolition hasn’t been granted.
If approved by the board, the pre-development financing would come into DCHA’s possession in chunks, according to a spokeswoman for the agency.
“DCHA will continue to listen to the residents of Barry Farm and will work respectfully and compassionately with each family,” Board Chair Terri Thompson said in a statement. “It is not the intent of the housing authority to displace any resident. It is our intention to relocate them during the redevelopment. People who want to return will have that opportunity.”
Still, some tenants have argued that their current living conditions—from ceilings to plumbing—should be fixed before any redevelopment moves forward.
“There are some people who consider this their home,” Barry Farm resident Paulette Matthews said at Thursday’s meeting. “We’re not plants, we’re not trees. To think you can just uplift somebody and put them wherever you want to…. Don’t rush this process through because it’s a lot of lives you’re affecting physically, mentally.”
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is provisionally scheduled for Sept. 14, when it will again consider the Barry Farm resolution. Other projects under the New Communities Initiative are taking shape in Wards 1, 6, and 7.