A community presentation by developers of their plans for Barry Farm had to be called off before it began, amid furious protests from neighbors and outsiders opposed to redevelopment of the low-income housing community.
Seven development teams responded to the city’s solicitation in the fall for plans to convert the neighborhood near the Anacostia Metro Station into a mixed-use development, and those seven teams were invited by the community’s resident council to present their plans tonight at the Excel Academy Public Charter School. But as soon as the first developer got up to present—-potential mayoral candidate Robert Bobb, representing the Barry Farm Community Redevelopment Team—-the large contingent of people brought to the meeting by the protest group Empower D.C. stood up and began chanting, “We shall not, we shall not be moved!”
Not all of the protesters were Barry Farm residents, nor were all of the Barry Farm residents protesting. As the Empower group chanted, a woman in the crowd shouted at them, “Do you all live in Barry Farm? Some people want this!” Protesters and residents who wanted the meeting to proceed then got in each other’s faces, prompting several police officers to step in, before D.C. Housing Authority officials asked them to stand back.
The meeting was raucous from the start, as meeting organizers from the Housing Authority and the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative couldn’t prevent repeated outbursts from the crowd that made it nearly impossible to proceed.
“It’s never the wrong time to do what’s right!” shouted one man after being asked to hold his commentary until after the presentations. “If you say something and I disagree, I’m not going to sit back and bite my tongue!”
The chief concern of residents was that they’d be displaced by the redevelopment, either during the construction phase or permanently. Some expressed doubts that the city would follow through on its pledge to replace existing low-income housing units with new ones on a one-for-one basis.
“They want us out of here!” shouted Empower organizer Schyla Pondexter-Moore, who was the chief rallier of the protesters tonight but does not herself live at Barry Farm.
A 54-year resident of Barry Farm attempted to quiet the crowd but was drowned out by chants of “Stand up! Fight back!” from the Empower group.
Eventually, a Housing Authority official took the developers outside the room and explained to them that the meeting would have to be rescheduled, potentially at the Housing Authority instead of in the neighborhood. The developers insisted they were not discouraged by the protest, though some had traveled a long distance to be there.
“We’ve done 30 Hope VI developments,” Tony Salazar of McCormack Baron Salazar, who’d come from Los Angeles, told me after the meeting was canceled. “We’re used to having sentiment that’s very strong. We’re very committed.”
I asked Pondexter-Moore if her aim was to scare developers away. “Yes,” she said, “and the ultimate goal is to show [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] that there’s opposition.”
Housing Authority spokesman Rick White was disappointed that the meeting was unable to proceed. “It’s just really unfortunate that people came from all over the country to present to the residents of Barry Farm,” he said, “and people who want to disrupt the process got in the way.” He also said he was confident that the developers wouldn’t be dissuaded from continuing with their plans, “because the development teams are familiar with the community process.”
But resident Michelle Hamilton insisted that full-scale redevelopment simply isn’t needed. “All we need is remodel and fix-up,” she told me. “The city needs to do their job and fix it up, and maybe it’ll be a better place for us.”
The full redevelopment process is expected to take upward of 10 years, so this likely isn’t the last time we’ll see passionate clashes over Barry Farm.
UPDATE 6/12: Here’s a letter from the Housing Authority to Barry Farm residents explaining what happened: