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Several months ago, I wrote about discomfort at Ward 8’s Highland Dwellings public housing complex over a phased relocation and renovation accelerated by the federal government’s stimulus timetable. Time for some follow up. By now, the first phase and half of the second couple of phases have been relocated, and construction is scheduled to start this week—but some residents still worry about having to move, and are stepping up their resistance.
Last week, ANC Commissioner Kay Armstead convened a group of Highland Dwellers to meet with public interest lawyers at a nearby church. Marc Borbely of Neighborhood Legal Services said they might have grounds to sue if the D.C. Housing Authority breached HUD regulations by failing to consult the tenants before moving forward with relocation, but told the group that they’d have a better chance with a name and a spokesperson. In short order, they elected Schyla Pondexter-Moore as president, and decided on “Highland Together We Stand” as a name.
Meanwhile, a powerful person was already listening. Armstead had invited Vince Gray’s constituent services director Stephen Glaude, who sat quietly until she invited him up to speak. He promised to take their case to the chairman, but warned that he’d probably have a tough time making headway with DCHA.
“We’re dealing with a tricky entity,” Glaude said. “If what you’re saying is true, what they’re doing is not right.”
Meanwhile, Armstead is also working to organize neighboring Highland Additions, which the Housing Authority plans to completely rebuild as equal parts public housing, workforce housing, and market rate housing if a second bid for a federal HOPE VI grant is successful. On Saturday, she and the leaders of the Additions resident council held an educational seminar, warning tenants that once DHCA started a HOPE VI project, they wouldn’t be able to come back.
“Housing is gonna tell you all the half truths,” Armstead said. “But dig deeper. Because you’re gonna be displaced.”
Selections of the speeches below. (When Charlene Marshall refers to the “peace bug,” she’s talking about this.)