Community

Residents Rail Against Public Housing Redevelopment Plan

The DC Housing Authority’s (DCHA) rollout of a long-term, citywide redevelopment plan sent shock waves throughout public housing communities this summer, especially at more than a dozen properties scheduled to be gutted or demolished.

At Stoddert Terrace in Southeast, more than 100 residents stormed a meeting that DCHA coordinated at their community center in search of answers.

Months later, some of the people living in those 158 units perched along the hills of East Capitol Street have continued their quest for clarity. As has been the case for nine of the other 13 properties up for redevelopment, a solid timeline hasn’t been established for Stoddert Terrace.

Community leaders describe the situation as part of the housing authority’s latest exercise in psychological torture.

“We’re forced to live in environments where humans shouldn’t be,” said Pamela Johnson, a Stoddert Terrace resident of 27 years as she recounted her and other residents’ yearslong struggle to secure window repairs, mold elimination and other significant repairs. “DCHAq says residents neglect the places, but they torment us by constantly coming to our houses to inspect it for torn-up things.”

For more than two decades, Johnson has served on the Stoddert Terrace Residents Council, where she speaks on behalf of tenants perturbed by unit inspections and what they deem other intrusive public housing practices, including a housing recertification process demanding the new address of occupants who moved elsewhere.

Throughout the ordeal, Johnson contends DCHA hasn’t been holding up its end of the bargain, often neglecting to fix crumbling infrastructure and leaving residents under the watch of verbally abusive staff members and security guards who uphold a growing list of restrictions, including a smoking ban.

For residents, change appeared to be on the horizon — even if only briefly.

Days after DCHA’s July 10 announcement about the impending redevelopment, Johnson said housing authority officials brought roofing repairs and window replacements to the property. The timing of such overtures raised questions of whether DCHA would follow through with the redevelopment, and if the redevelopment would ultimately benefit the residents.

Johnson said the suspense drove her into depression for the rest of the summer and into the fall months.

“They make promises year after year that they’ll come back and fix the property, but it deteriorates and we’re forced to live there,” she told The Informer. “Then they call people to tell them they’re going to lose their unit, and tell us it’s a process. They say it might happen in three years. They said it might happen in 10. It always feels like something is getting ready to happen.”

In October, a budget allocation of $24.5 million financed the redevelopment of four public housing properties — including the Kelly Miller Residences and Judiciary House in Northwest. Stoddert Terrace residents, however, have waited with bated breath for further information about the fate of their community.

During a meeting last month, DCHA officials revealed that they had not yet transferred ownership of the property. Members of the Stoddert Terrace Residents Council said they have since been left in the dark about when housing authority officials anticipate completing that part of the process.

In total, the DCHA’s redevelopment of 14 properties, part of a 20-year plan, is expected to cost more than $2 billion. The new dwellings would no longer be under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s purview. Instead, the housing authority would enter partnerships with private developers in which DCHA holds a majority stake in the properties.

Such arrangements will result in the construction of affordable housing units, though members of the Stoddert Terrace Residents Council have expressed skepticism about whether all residents would be allowed to return to their redeveloped units.

Since the turn of the century, rising rents and property values have forced more than 135,000 Washingtonians, most of them nonwhite, into the District suburbs, a study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found. These days, Black people no longer represent the majority of D.C.’s population, and those battling housing insecurity see Wards 7 and 8 as the last frontier of gentrification.

Stoddert Terrace resident Alison Forrest said previous experiences have taught her that the least among D.C.’s Black population will have the most to lose in the next decade. Forest, going into her 19th year as a member of the Stoddert Terrace community, relocated there after refusing to return to another redeveloped public housing complex out of frustration with housing authority staff.

Since then, she argues that her fortune hasn’t changed much. If housing authority patrol officers weren’t doling out $250 parking tickets, longtime residents were clashing with neighbors who moved into the newly erected houses across the street.

“I started being concerned when they started building up [other things] instead of redoing the properties,” Forrest told The Informer. “I get you want to build up a neighborhood, but don’t say you’re building it when people won’t have a place to live. Our new neighbors [across the street] complain about people parking in front of our community center. They use our trash cans as dumping sites for furniture. The housing authority does nothing.”

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