IN THIS ISSUE:
Grantee Spotlight: A Plan to Foster Community Development and Benefit Residents in Southeast D.C.
The Challenge Grant target area runs along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE within Ward 8 and includes St. Elizabeths east campus and the neighborhoods of Fairlawn and Historic Anacostia. Image Source: D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
Neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River in the District of Columbia have long suffered from disinvestment, but they are about to be transformed by a wave of public and private investment. To help foster and coordinate this transformation, the District of Columbia’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is using a $3 million Community Challenge Planning Grant awarded by HUD in 2010. DHCD is using the grant to expand and sustain affordable housing options, foster entrepreneurship, and support small businesses while including the community in the revitalization process.
Challenges and Opportunities in the CHASE Area
The target area for the Community Challenge Planning Grant is known as CHASE (Congress Heights – Anacostia – St. Elizabeths). The CHASE area follows the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue commercial corridor, encompassing the communities of Anacostia and Fairlawn, the District-owned portion of the St. Elizabeths campus (a former mental health facility), and portions of the Hillsdale, Barry Farm, and Congress Heights communities.
The CHASE area is located within Ward 8, one of the city’s poorest wards. According to 2011 estimates from the American Community Survey, the median household income in the area was $30,705, under half of that for all of the District of Columbia ($61,835). Almost 37 percent of people in the area were below the poverty level, compared to 18 percent of people in D.C. The unemployment rate in the area was almost double that in D.C., at 12.4 percent and 6.7 percent respectively. Ward 8 had a lower estimated homeownership rate (about 23 percent) than in all of D.C. (around 43 percent). Approximately 59 percent of renter households in the area were estimated to pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, while about 49 percent of renter households in D.C. were housing-cost burdened.
Although it faces considerable adversity, the area has a number of assets, including the numerous cultural attractions found in the historic community and access to transportation. Interstate 295 runs through the northwestern portion of the CHASE area, and 24 bus routes converge on the Anacostia Metro station, offering efficient and affordable transportation to nearby Capitol Hill and employment opportunities throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
A number of recent and upcoming investments will improve the area’s prospects. Recent public investments include Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2) funding, which was awarded in 2010 for the revitalization of Anacostia and Fairlawn, among other neighborhoods. Because of overlapping goals and target areas, Community Challenge Planning Grant funds will supplement NSP2 funding and Community Development Block Grant program funds earmarked for the area. Additional major public investments include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s consolidated headquarters, which is planned for the federally owned portion of the St. Elizabeths campus west of the CHASE area, and the District of Columbia Office of Planning’s effort to transform the old 11th Street Bridge in the northern part of the target area into a park. The city’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) is also planning a streetcar line from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (west of the target area) to the Anacostia Metro station and is considering extending the line from the Anacostia Metro to the Historic Anacostia neighborhood.
Private investment and public-private partnerships are also fueling the CHASE area’s revitalization. Notable public-private partnerships include the LUMEN8 Festival (an annual event featuring arts and cultural activities to draw visitors to Historic Anacostia’s commercial corridor) and the mixed-income, mixed-use redevelopment of the Barry Farm community. Other investments include the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC), which houses 11 nonprofit organization, and a 365-seat community auditorium; the H Street Playhouse, which will soon relocate to Anacostia as the Anacostia Playhouse; and the HIVE, a business incubator that recently opened a second location in Anacostia. Additionally, small-scale private investment has rehabilitated numerous homes and storefronts throughout the target area. The Community Challenge Planning Grant provides DHCD the opportunity to coordinate and build upon these investments.
Community Challenge Planning Grant Goals and Progress
To achieve the grant’s three primary goals — create and sustain affordable housing options, support small businesses, and engage the community — DHCD is guided by the overarching goal of “harness[ing] the power of these [public and private] investments for the benefit of local residents and businesses through education, planning, and empowerment,” according to Chris Dickersin-Prokopp, strategic program specialist for DHCD.
A primary goal of the grant is to expand affordable housing options for senior and lower-income households. One way DHCD plans to do this is by acquiring blighted properties and creating a strategy to redevelop them as affordable housing. In March 2012, DHCD acquired 2352–2360 High Street SE, a 36-unit apartment complex the city has identified as the largest blighted property in Anacostia. DHCD is currently creating a disposition and redevelopment plan for the site. To prevent displacement in the target area, DHCD has awarded a subgrant to Housing Counseling Services, a HUD-approved nonprofit counseling agency, to connect residents to DHCD’s existing programs for downpayment assistance and home rehabilitation, among others. In addition, DHCD plans to create a Live Near Your Work program, which will offer home purchase assistance to encourage low- and moderate-income federal employees working at the St. Elizabeths campus to live within the target area.
To further the goal of economic development, DHCD will create an implementation plan to encourage small business expansion, enhance residents’ job skills, and promote economic development that takes advantage of area assets. The city’s Office of Planning will also create a plan that consolidates current land use and transportation plans and identifies opportunities for development. To support local businesses and foster entrepreneurship, DHCD has funded small business technical assistance provided by the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation and the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation. Finally, DHCD has funded the East of the River outreach program offered by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association to improve residents’ mobility and access to economic opportunity in the CHASE area and to promote an affordable, healthy mode of transportation.
DHCD is also involving the community in revitalizing the CHASE area, meeting the Challenge Grant’s goal of community engagement. DHCD began by holding the Ward 8 Community Summit in 2011. At the summit, CHASE stakeholders set their priorities and established their vision for the area. In this meeting and in a followup summit in 2012, an overwhelming majority of stakeholders identified the presence of vacant and blighted properties as their main concern. Many stakeholders also desired strategies to support local businesses and affordable housing preservation strategies to retain current residents.
According to Michael Kelly, director of DHCD, the timing of the Community Challenge Planning Grant is critical. DHCD has the opportunity to create programs that foster long-term tenancy, through measures such as antidisplacement counseling and small business assistance, before the CHASE area experiences significant economic improvement. Dickersin-Prokopp says that by focusing a number of programs on a specific area, the grant has had the added benefit of fostering cooperation and coordination within DHCD and among city departments.