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$30 million grant to replace Douglass, Stanton dwellings

(Published September 20, 1999)

By REBECCA CHARRY

Staff Writer

A $30 million federal grant to tear down and rebuild two large public housing projects in Congress Heights was hailed by city and federal officials Sept. 10 as an important way to help integrate and welcome poor people into the larger community. But some public housing residents have yet to be convinced.

Paula Brown, president of the residents’ council at the Stanton Dwellings complex, said she is concerned that residents who currently live there won’t be able to afford to move back to the new, higher-priced units that are planned for the site.

"I have mixed feelings," she said. "We’ll have to wait and see."

The "Hope IV" grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be used to tear down and rebuild about 600 units at Stanton Dwellings and the long-vacant Frederick Douglass Dwellings, both on Alabama Avenue SE. Residents were moved out of Douglass more than a year ago. Most received vouchers, known as Section 8 certificates, used to subsidize rent in private housing.

Although former tenants of Frederick Douglass and Stanton Dwellings will have priority in applying for the new units, many of them are happy in the private housing they now occupy and may not seek to return, said Arthur Jones, spokesman for the D.C. Housing Authority.

The plan is to replace traditional public housing, in which rent is subsidized based on tenants’ income, with mixed-income development. The new complex will include some traditional public housing along with single-family homes for sale at market rates, and other units priced below market rates for purchase by low and middle-income families using low-income tax credits.

The theory is to scatter, and effectively dilute, the concentration of low-income residents that has marked public housing in many inner cities for the past 30 years, said HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo, who traveled to the Douglass site for the grant announcement. Those older projects — which "warehoused" poor people, often in high-rise developments — were a failure, Cuomo said.

The application for the grant was submitted by the newly formed Stanton Dwellings Community Development Corp., a nonprofit entity that will manage the new development. Members of the corporation include residents, representatives of the housing authority and private management firms Mid-City Urban Corp. of Silver Spring and Integral Group of Atlanta.

The $30 million will be used as "seed money" to attract an additional $50 million in private investment to finance the project, said Jones, the housing authority’s spokesman.

A similar initiative is underway to rebuild the old Valley Green public housing project in Ward 8 into Wheeler Creek Estates. The Ellen Wilson public housing complex on Capitol Hill was recently redeveloped as a mixed income development using a Hope IV grant as well.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator