Anacostia Spruces Up Historic Homes With Grant Program (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Anacostia Spruces Up Historic Homes With Grant Program

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So clearly many transformations are afoot in Anacostia, but the bridge, the retail, the restaurants, they aren't the only things changing the face of the neighborhood.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:14
Something else that's bringing new life to Anacostia…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:17
Can you show us around the house a little bit?

MS. EUNICE ROY

00:00:18
Yes.

SHEIR

00:00:19
Just giving us a little tour?

SHEIR

00:00:21
…are the houses…

ROY

00:00:22
This is the dining room. This is my kitchen.

SHEIR

00:00:25
Big kitchen.

ROY

00:00:26
Very big.

SHEIR

00:00:28
Specifically, houses that are being brought in from the cold, so to speak, like this one owned by 81-year-old Eunice Roy.

ROY

00:00:34
I love my windows. That was the window they put in for me. I love it.

SHEIR

00:00:39
What did the windows look like before?

ROY

00:00:41
Oh, my gracious. It was old. Air was just coming in. And it was all cold in here, but now it's nice and I just love it. Yes, indeed.

SHEIR

00:00:54
Roy is a recipient in the Historic Homeowner Grant Program. I visited her home and several others in Anacostia with Brendan Meyer, a historic preservation specialist with the office that gives out the grants, the D.C. Office of Planning.

MR. BRENDAN MEYER

00:01:06
The maximum grant is only $35,000. So you're not turning any house into a palace. We're not doing any work on the interior. It's really the outsides of the house, what makes the house weather-tight, because that's the most public part of the house. The outside of every house, all of those together, make up the character of the historic district. And that's really what my office is charged with doing, protecting the historic character of the neighborhoods.

SHEIR

00:01:29
Grants are available to low and moderate-income households in 12 of these historic neighborhoods, Anacostia, of course, Capitol Hill…

MEYER

00:01:36
LeDroit Park, Shaw…

SHEIR

00:01:38
Blagden Alley…

MEYER

00:01:39
Mount Vernon Square, Mount Vernon Triangle…

SHEIR

00:01:41
Mount Pleasant…

MEYER

00:01:42
Striver's Section…

SHEIR

00:01:43
Takoma…

MEYER

00:01:44
14th Street and U Street.

SHEIR

00:01:46
And since 2008, when Mayor Adrian Fenty launched the program in Anacostia…

MEYER

00:01:50
Because that's where the need was greatest.

SHEIR

00:01:51
…nearly 100 households have received grants.

MEYER

00:01:53
We did most of those before 2010 when the city really had some budget difficulties and went through a crunch. So our program was one of the programs that was forced to slow down, in terms of our funding.

SHEIR

00:02:05
But now the program is back and going strong, especially here in Anacostia, which has been an official historic district since 1978. It has about 300 homes. And if you walk around the district, as Meyer and I did, you'll see the homes are in various conditions. On one block, we saw this dark grey one that was barely standing.

MEYER

00:02:25
The property owner is not around anymore, didn't have the resources to maintain this. Right now the city has come in and stabilized it. And even our grant program can't help this.

SHEIR

00:02:32
But then right next door, there's this bright white house that the program could help, and did. Ahmed Jibali-Nash was the restoration's project manager.

MR. AHMED JIBALI-NASH

00:02:40
The house had aluminum siding all over it and we ripped off all the aluminum siding to restore it down to the original wood siding, as you see. We painted it and we restored the front of it, took up the old flooring and put down new tongue-and-groove flooring and restored the house back to its historical piece.

SHEIR

00:02:58
Nash co-owns Housing Evaluations Plus, a contracting company that's worked on several grant-recipients' homes in Anacostia. And an interesting thing about contractors like HEP, Brendan Meyer says, is the Office of Planning has nothing to do with finding them.

MEYER

00:03:12
The homeowners apply for the grant and they state what parts of the houses they want to fix up. And along with that, they include three bids from three different contractors. And part of our review, not only are we looking for what would be the most interesting parts of the house to restore and fix up, the most important parts, but we're also looking to make sure that they're working with legitimate contractors who are licensed, who are giving them a fair price.

SHEIR

00:03:32
Now, as Meyer mentioned before, the Historic Homeowner Grant Program can't help every house. Some, like that dilapidated grey one, need way more TLC than the program can give. And others, like this purplish one a few blocks away, can only go so far.

MEYER

00:03:47
This house was in the family for three generations and three generations were still living in the house. It was in the worst shape of any house that we had in the grant program.

SHEIR

00:03:57
At some point, someone had slapped on this fake-brick siding and that was falling apart, the porch was crumbling and the rear wall was caving in.

MEYER

00:04:05
The maximum grant took care of what we could. We reconstructed the back of the house. We put up the new front porch. We took off the Insul-Brick siding. We restored the original wood siding that was still underneath there.

SHEIR

00:04:15
Things were definitely looking up, but this was back in 2008, okay, just after the housing bubble.

MEYER

00:04:20
So this is one of those homeowners that despite our help, despite their best efforts, they eventually got foreclosed on. And in the short time that they've been out of the house, somebody's stolen the gutters.

SHEIR

00:04:31
So that lovely purplish paint on the original wood siding is now being washed away. It's heartbreaking, Meyer says, but there is a silver lining to the story. See, the house next to the purplish one had been in a pretty sorry state, too.

MEYER

00:04:44
But a developer bought this house and did the same restoration work that we did on the first house. So once we fixed this up, that house became a lot more attractive as an investment, as a place to live. So, you know, we can't help everybody, but we sure helped this street.

SHEIR

00:05:02
So much so, in fact, that the day Meyer and I visited, we saw something pretty exciting at the purplish house.

MEYER

00:05:08
There's actually permits in the window. So I know that although the bank had to foreclose, the bank has now sold it to a developer. And the developer is going to start where we left off and hopefully get another family in here.

SHEIR

00:05:20
And in the meantime, the house next door sort of took a cue off of this one.

MEYER

00:05:23
Yep, yep, so almost two for one. Our one grant has fixed both houses, really.

SHEIR

00:05:29
Brendan Meyer says the Office of Planning hopes to continue the Historic Homeowner Grant Program for as long as funding is available. Because even though, as he mentioned earlier, $35,000 won't turn a house into a palace, it can certainly go a long way toward making a person feel like his or her home is a castle.

SHEIR

00:05:52
For more on the Historic Homeowner Grant Program and to see before and after photos of some of those historic houses in Anacostia, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:20
Time for our break, but when we get back, downhill skiing, minus the snow.

MR. DREW SHERWOOD

00:06:24
It shocks a lot of people because their first thought is, I'm not going to ride on that. You know, I'll ride anywhere in the world, but I won't ride on that because I don't want to lose my skin.

SHEIR

00:06:32
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.
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