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Officials commit support to $200 million fund for helping neighborhoods

(Published August 12, 2002)

By THOMAS A. NEELEY

Staff Writer

Mayor Anthony A. Williams and nine members of the D.C. City Council have made a tentative commitment to a $200 million neighborhood revitalization plan that would create more affordable housing for low-income D.C. residents outside of the downtown area.

The plan was proposed to city officials July 29 by the Washington Interfaith Network, a group representing more than 50 congregations in the District. Approximately 800 people attended the meeting at which the plan was announced.

The proposal calls for the D.C. government to create a $200 million fund that would finance housing and revitalization projects in eight to 10 D.C. neighborhoods.

In addition to the mayor, council members Harold Brazil, David Catania, Kevin P. Chavous, Adrian M. Fenty, Jim Graham, Phil Mendelson, Vincent B. Orange Sr., Kathleen Patterson and Chairman Linda W. Cropp agreed to the WIN proposal before the standing-room-only crowd at Asbury United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington.

Speakers for WIN took on a deeply religious fervor at times, extolling the inequity of gentrification and downtown redevelopment, the evils of urban blight and liquor stores.

Joyce Breeland, the WIN co-chair, spoke of "the other Washington" – those areas which were outside the redeveloped downtown. She cited the nearly $1 billion invested in the downtown area as a sign of the disparity of city investments. She also questioned officials for investing money in neighborhoods in order to attract new residents to the District.

"What about the ones who never left?" she said of long-time D.C. residents. "We need this kind of investment in our neighborhoods."

She went on to discuss the gentrification of areas which were at one time affordable for low-income residents.

"We don’t want our city to become San Francisco or Boston," Breeland warned, adding that those cities are "only for the wealthy."

Ward 5 Councilman Orange admitted that although he agreed with the proposal, he did so "with a caveat." Orange told the murmuring audience that he believed the improvements of the kind that WIN proposed have been made in his ward.

Cropp cautioned the audience to be "not lost in the truth." The audience booed her after being told that because the District is operating with a $175 million budget deficit, the council cannot fully commit to the $200 million proposal. Cropp also defended the city’s focus on furthering downtown development.

Some members of WIN asked the mayor and city council to put a moratorium on downtown development until an equal amount of city funds are invested in blighted neighborhoods.

Mayor Williams addressed the audience, affirming his general support for the plan but asking for patience with its implementation.

"When I make commitments to WIN, I don’t take them lightly," the mayor said. "When I make this commitment to WIN to build a $200 million neighborhood revitalization fund, I do it with a couple of things in mind."

He said the details of the plan have yet to be worked out, including the criteria by which neighborhoods would be chosen for revitalization and, more importantly, from where in the budget the funds would come.

"Too many people just stand up making wide, gratuitous commitments without a real understanding of what those commitments involve," he said.

Williams emphasized that his commitment to implementing the plan was "subject to fund availability," referencing Cropp’s earlier comments on the $175 million deficit.

The mayor disagreed with WIN that a moratorium should be placed on downtown projects. Williams said increased revenue generated by downtown development allows the city to fund projects elsewhere in the District.

Attendees said they felt that the meeting made an impression with the mayor and members of the council, and they were cautiously optimistic that the city would adopt the WIN plan.

"How this energizes public officials remains to be seen," said the Rev. Patrick Smith of Saint Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church in Anacostia. "I have tremendous faith in God and the people, and for that reason I’m encouraged that what we propose here I know can happen."

Robin Joynes of Emory United Methodist Church was more confident that the WIN plan would be adopted.

"I know that they’ll get that $200 million. I feel assured of that," Joynes said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator