It’s been a rough ride for Ivy City, the neighborhood just north of Gallaudet University. It used to be known for open air drug markets, and the population decreased by a third in the 1990s, before investment started trickling in during the real estate boom. In the early 2000s, the Department of Housing and Economic Development started buying up land, and working with local nonprofit housing developers to turn blighted homes into attractive new residences.
Finally, the first phase has hit the market, with a total of 58 units to be completed over the next year and a half. The city and federal government—along with private donors—have piled the project high with subsidies. $70,000 zero-interest loans are available to all who qualify, bringing already reduced-price houses (starting at $95,000) within reach of the lowest income earners.
But that doesn’t mean serious buyers are banging down the doors. Unlike affordable rentals, houses represent a huge commitment for people who’ve been hard hit by the recession, and seen friends and relatives lose their homes to foreclosure. The city might have to do some convincing to convince them that Ivy City is a safe bet.
That dynamic was on display at an information session at Bethesda Baptist Church on Saturday. It drew a couple hundred people, all of whom listened very attentively as Manna Inc., Habitat for Humanity, and Mi Casa described their parts of the project, and the array of financing options available.
“Don’t count yourself out,” says Parisa Narouzi of Empower DC, which has been helping to get the word out. “This is a very concentrated, focused development that has gotten some extra assistance.”
When it came to the question and answer session, though, audience members wondered: What happens if I qualify for a loan and then lose my job? Do unemployment benefits count as an income stream? How much will my interest and condo fees and taxes increase after I buy?
Ramon Jacobson, a senior program officer with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, observes that while affordable housing opportunities do exist, those who would be eligible for them are perhaps the most anxious about laying out cash. “They read the business pages and it spills over into what they are doing,” he says.
Manna President George Rothman, though, thought turnout could have been a lot worse, considering financial instability and the neighborhood’s lingering reputation. “I’ve never seen this kind of interest before,” he said. “I think people feel better now.”
The presentation may have won over one person, at least. Tereguebode Goungou has been renting for 11 years, and thinks Ward 5 would be a great place to buy; her son goes to school in Brookland. It’s just going to take a little longer, on her salary working at a non-profit language access program for new immigrants.
“I would love to be here, but I’m not ready,” she said.