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Old D.C. Housing Projects Give Way To New

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A view of the new development from the southwest corner of 4th and I streets SE.
Jacqueline Dupree/JDLand.com
A view of the new development from the southwest corner of 4th and I streets SE.

Between National Park and Navy Yard, sits a major redevelopment project that will bring new housing, shopping, and office space to the area. Before the construction, the Arthur Capper Carrolsburg housing project was a series of low-rise apartment buildings and townhomes, which once contained more than 700 subsidized apartments. Today that development has been replaced by rowhouses called Capitol Quarters, which contains a mix of market-rate and subsidized homes and apartments for sale and for rent.

Resident Shakita Campbell, 32, says most people would never know her apartment's rent is based on income.

"If you don't tell a person, they will not know," says Campbell. "It's wonderful to not be looked at in a different light when you ride through here or you feel a little funny because everyone knows you're getting some type of assistance."

Changes in the Neighborhood

The entire area, now branded Capitol Riverfront, has new offices, parks, hotels and lofts. Debra Frazier lives in one of those loft developments. She was once a resident of Arthur Capper Carrollsburg, known as Cappers to many residents.

"A lot of people had lived in their townhouse and lived in their apartment and been to that corner store," explains Frazier. "And so it was home for people, and indeed had that feeling. People planted flowers; people mowed their lawns and were house-proud."

But Cappers also had its concerns: "Virginia tags would come into our community beginning at 6 a.m. in the morning until about 8--that was the heroine crew," says Frazier. "And in the afternoon there was the crack cocaine crew... in the evening that kind of thing."

Today the development has become the most ambitious public housing redevelopment in the District, according to the D.C. Housing Authority.

The Hope VI Project

The Cappers project is part of Hope VI, which stands for Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere, a national initiative that began in the mid-90s to address severely distressed public housing, particularly in urban areas. The goal was to transform public housing, says Adrianne Todman, executive director of DCHA. That meant 1.5 billion in investment in the city's housing stock.

"Housing authorities began to work with the private sector in a way that had never occurred before," says Todman. "The idea of mixed finance was taking HUD's funds and blending them with private funds--equity, debt, tax credits--and finding a way to create a package of financing to create housing for very low-income families all the way to market rate."

In D.C. there are seven Hope VI sites, mostly east of the Anacostia River. The new communities include different rental and buying options. According to Todman, the initiative has led to "vibrant, mixed income communities throughout the country."

"They are healthier; they are very creative," she says. "And in many ways I peg the urban renaissance of the just over a past decade to the fact that a lot of these communities now exist."

Uncertainty For Residents

But Debra Frazier says, these ambitious goals have meant uncertainty for residents.

"When we were notified of Hope VI, we were told it would take 3 to 4 years," she says. "That was 1999, and here we are in 2012 and they're just on Phase 2..."

Frazier was given a voucher to help pay for temporary housing. Shakita Campbell was scared of where she might be placed during the changes; she ended up living with relatives for 3 years until her new apartment was ready.

"I don't think some believed that they would really have had the opportunity to come back, or they may have thought they couldn't afford to come back," explains Campbell who followed up on the paperwork to ensure her return.

But many others did not, so Frazier has spent years advocating for the Housing Authority to keep track of residents displaced by the redevelopment and help them return if they want to do so.

"Once you start a Hope VI and make arrangements for those people to return, they will not because people develop a sense of community and place where they are... there is a terrible sense of loss for what the community was: we raised our children there," says Frazier. "You ate; you drank; you broke up with boyfriends. And now it is totally gone--there are no remnants of who we were and what we were as a community."

Campbell says she's embracing the changes going on around her, even if the new community is different from the old one.

"I'm happy about the fact that I'm connected to houses that are $600,000," she says. "It just feels good that you're able to raise your child up in a very good neighborhood."

Debra Frazier likes the new place too. Today she lives just a few blocks away. "It's a very lovely community. It matches any of the upscale places in Georgetown and American University. And looks better than the previous Hope VIs," she says.

Now the project just needs to be completed. Capitol Quarters' market-rate townhomes are sold out, but the subsidized apartments are still under construction with no precise end date. Frazier is hoping that once they're done, former Arthur Capper Carrollsburg residents will come back to their old neighborhood - and call this place their home once again.


[Music: "Where She Lives Everyday" by Bexar Bexar from Haralambos]

Photos: D.C. Housing Projects

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