HOPE VI runs into consumer resistance.
On Sept. 25, roughly 200 people—housing activists and residents of Southeast’s Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg Dwellings—gathered in a school auditorium to see the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) make its pitch for the redevelopment of the decrepit public-housing complex under the federal HOPE VI program (“‘Hood Winked,” 9/27). A city official spoke of floor plans and handicapped accessibility, perking up the audience only when the impressive before-and-after slides—showing a suburban-style paradise replacing ugly brick slabs—came on screen.
Unmentioned for nearly an hour was the gantlet of re-entry restrictions that may keep many of the 410 families that now live in Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg from living there after it gets rebuilt. DCHA Executive Director Michael Kelly told the group he would discuss displacement on another night, prompting resident Debra Frazier, who followed Kelly to the podium, to finally raise the issue.
With that, housing activists and residents pushed to the front of the hall, shouting, “Four hundred out! Four hundred in!” Other residents yelled at them to keep quiet, and a half-dozen housing police stepped up to make sure no one got hurt. A housing official barked into the microphone that Frazier was out of order, at which resident Stephen Davis raised his cane and yelled, “There is no ‘out of order’ at a community meeting!”
Then the fluorescent lamps overhead flicked off as the protesters, most other residents, and the meeting’s energy flowed outside.
Still inside were a skeleton crew of officials and dazed senior citizens, most of whom will be assured a place in the new development. These lucky few watched a seven-minute video about what life is like in the projects, put together by teens from Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg and East Capitol Dwellings, another complex getting the HOPE VI treatment. The young producers expressed bitterness that their audience had vanished.
Meanwhile, outside, the opponents proclaimed victory. Having failed to get the issue of relocation on the agenda, they had at least broken up what they called a sham public meeting.
“There was no need for that,” said Leo Alexander, the DCHA’s director of communications, of the protest. “That was just for show. All the people outside need to be inside.”
“Why? So they can be manipulated?” responded Will Ward, an organizer with the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
Back inside, the video presentation ended with children skipping rope in front of new, neatly groomed town homes and a child’s voice-over intoning: “I have the love of my family and the support of my friends and hopefully a new home to go to when the HOPE VI project is done.” What was left of an audience applauded politely. CP