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My column this week is on the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood around the Navy Yard Metro. It’s a lively neighborhood these days, with three new parks and a rapidly growing restaurant scene. Many residents—-newcomers themselves—-think of it as a brand-new neighborhood, built from scratch. But there’s a sad history behind the place: The Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg public housing complex had to be torn down to make way for the development, and 707 households were displaced, if just temporarily in some cases.
I spoke with D.C. Housing Authority Executive Director Adrianne Todman about the successes and shortcomings (but mostly successes) of the redevelopment. Unfortunately, our conversation was too close to press time to make it into the column, but here are a few of her thoughts.
In short, Todman is thrilled with what the neighborhood’s become. “Who would have thought 20 years ago that this neighborhood would be where it is right now?” she muses. She credits former Mayor Anthony Williams for his “commitment to planning” that made the neighborhood what it is today.
The city and then-DCHA chief Michael Kelly took a lot of heat for the displacement of the Capper/Carrollsburg residents, although they were promised a one-to-one replacement of the affordable housing units, but Todman chalks it up to fear rather than justified concern. She dismisses the charge levied back then that the new units, though technically considered affordable, would have higher income thresholds relative to area median income that’d price some former residents out. In fact, with the exception of one building that’s 0 to 60 percent of AMI, all of the new affordable units are for the lowest income bracket, 0 to 30 percent of AMI.
“Part of any new venture is education and dealing with the thought of ‘what if,'” she says. “What if I’m not able to come back? What if this is the case? A lot of people were talking about the ‘what if’ of Capper, and that included thoughts that maybe the families would not be able to come back because of higher AMI. And that was coming from a place of fear, not a place of information.”
As for the potentially uncomfortable yuppification of the neighborhood that can sometimes accompany federally funded Hope VI projects to revitalize public housing, she says it’s simply a part of the process, and it should be. “What’s considered old D.C. is beginning to deal with new D.C.,” she says. “My perspective is that you have to really take a proactive approach to community building. You have to actually engage the folks who live there and help build the community. Hope VI is a housing program, but it’s also a social engineering program. You bring together different income groups that might not have chosen to live together.”
Photo by Aaron Wiener