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Ward 8 loses home-ownership center

(Published July 17, 2000)

By KATE ALEXANDER

Staff Writer

A counseling center that contracts with the District to provide free home-ownership assistance to Southeast and Far Southwest residents recently moved out of Ward 8, prompting one local leader to question the mayor’s commitment to preserving the area’s neighborhoods.

Virginia L. Major, chairman of the Congress Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said that the decision to relocate the counseling office compromises the area’s redevelopment by pulling necessary services out of the ward, which has the lowest home-ownership rate in the city.

"There are some 2,000 houses supposedly being built in Ward 8. What better time to have somebody here to help (Ward 8 residents) buy them?" Major said.

University Legal Services, the nonprofit agency that provides the housing counseling, moved its office July 7 from the Washington Gas building at 3101 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE to a city-leased space in the Penn-Branch Shopping Center on Pennsylvania Avenue in Ward 7.

According to Jane Brown, executive director of University Legal Services, the agency was forced to leave Ward 8 because it was unable to find appropriate, affordable office space within the ward when its temporary office arrangement expired this month.

"There are problems and issues (with the move), but we tried to do the best we could by making sure that it was readily accessible and still in Southeast," Brown said.

She said she does not expect the move to present significant problems for the agency’s clients. She also noted that they contacted all of their clients by letter and received no complaints.

The agency provides assistance for low- and moderate-income households looking to purchase a first home by guiding persons through the application process for Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) loans. These loans provide financial assistance to cover down-payments and/or closing costs for the purchase of a single-family home, condominium or cooperative apartment within the District.

In fiscal 1999, the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development reported paying out more than $7.5 million in HPAP loans, of which $1.6 million went to Ward 7 and about $830,000 went to Ward 8.

Census figures from the D.C. Office of Planning show the rate of homeownership in Ward 7 sat at 40.1 percent while 15.7 percent of Ward 8’s residential units were owner-occupied in 1990. The average level of homeownership across the District was 38.9 percent.

The homeownership disparity can be partially explained by the difference in economic levels, Brown said.

Major, though, expressed her frustration that there appears to be more showmanship than action to eliminate this gap.

"Anytime they want to announce anything, they come to Ward 8. We get all the photo ops…but they don’t really attempt to do anything. If the mayor really wants to serve people, this is not the way to do it," Major said.

District officials were not available for comment, though DHCD spokeswoman Tia Matthews noted there is currently more housing rehabilitation and new construction in Ward 8 than in any other ward.

In 1998, DHCD produced a blueprint for economic resurgence in the District that identified homeownership as central to neighborhood stability and economic vitality.

The following spring, Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced "House Washington," a $1 billion, four-year cooperative effort with home mortgage firm Fannie Mae to increase homeownership in the District.

"Through this new initiative, we will build new monuments to family, community and opportunity across every sector of this city, through the creation of new homeowners and the revitalization of neighborhoods," Williams said in an April 1999 press statement, as he spoke from the steps of the historic Frederick Douglass Home in Anacostia.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator