A development meeting at Barry Farm last year drew protests.
A development meeting at Barry Farm last year drew protests.

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The slow pace of the development of the former Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg public housing complex in what’s now the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has been the source of much frustration for some former residents. The 707 public housing units torn down in the mid-2000s were supposed to have been replaced by now with an equal number of affordable units in new mixed-income buildings, but even with the recent announcements of two new projects there, the neighborhood will still be more than 100 units short of the target.

Still, the Capper/Carrollsburg redevelopment looks like a model of efficiency next to Lincoln Heights.

As Robert Samuels chronicles in an in-depth story in the Washington Post, the effort to redevelop the public housing complex in Deanwood, launched in 2005 at the urging of then-Councilmember Vince Gray, has stalled out. Of the 440 low-income families there who were supposed to have been placed in new housing by now, only 32 are actually living in replacement housing. The Lincoln Heights overhaul isn’t coming through the same program as the Capper/Carrollsburg project—-the latter received funding from a federal Hope VI grant, while the former is being carried out through the local New Communities Initiative—-but the overall goal is the same: to turn rundown public housing into a mixed-income community without displacing the low-income residents.

Why hasn’t Lincoln Heights gone the way city leaders and residents had hoped? Basically, because developers aren’t interested. Unfair though it may be, the ability of low-income residents of projects like Lincoln Heights to return to modernized housing depends on the ability of developers to attract higher earners to the neighborhood. New Communities projects have to include market-rate housing, and Lincoln Heights isn’t exactly in an area that developers (or their financiers) see as a top destination for better-heeled Washingtonians. It’s not Metro-accessible; it’s far from the development hotspots of H Street and NoMa and Capitol Riverfront and the Northwest quadrant; there aren’t any sit-down restaurants or supermarkets nearby; and the neighborhood is mostly poor. So it’s languished.

Two of the three other New Communities projects, Temple Courts and Park Morton, likewise haven’t quite taken off, but at least they hold out more promise in this regard. Temple Courts is sandwiched between downtown and NoMa, where high-end development is taking place at a furious pace. Park Morton is just a few blocks from the Petworth Metro station, around which residential and retail development has also been booming.

So how about the fourth New Communities project, Barry Farm? The D.C. Housing Authority selected a team in July to redevelop the public housing complex just southwest of Anacostia. Unlike Temple Courts and Park Morton, Barry Farm isn’t surrounded by new development. Historic Anacostia is starting to receive some attention from developers and middle-income residents, but closer to the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE and Good Hope Road, a good mile from Barry Farm. Likewise, the city is taking steps to redevelop the St. Elizabeths campus, but development is likely to begin in the section near the Congress Heights Metro station, more than a mile away. For now, Barry Farm remains one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.

Still, it’s very close to the Anacostia Metro station, so developers could see potential there. The question is whether they’ll be able to finance and build market-rate housing that’ll attract middle-income residents to a poor neighborhood. We should learn more this year about how much traction the project has. If it can’t get moving, we may have another Lincoln Heights on our hands.

Photo by Aaron Wiener