Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dear DHCD: It's time to give your blighted houses to the L'Enfant Trust

Photo courtesy of Martin/WAMU
If you read/listened to Martin Austermule's WAMU story you know he did an amazing job capturing the irony and frustration of government owned blight in the Anacostia neighborhood. For as long as I have lived and advocated for Ward 8 issues this one is at the top of the list. The blighted commercial and residential properties in DHCD's portfolio have been the thing of community advocate's nightmares. To be honest, a cold shiver goes down my spine when I hear talk of DHCD purchasing land near high value areas such as next to metro stops or commercial districts.

The government is supposed to be the standard and the steward of community revitalization but with these vacant and blighted properties they have also been the biggest "bad actors" if not outright slum lords (or failed artistic curators). To add insult to injury, government agencies are able to do so without being subject to the very fines that private property would suffer in the same circumstance. That creates a very challenging, "do as I say, but not as I do" mentality.

And that is so very bogus.

I understand that DHCD is under new leadership (and she's amazing!) and while I applaud their recent efforts and their promises, enough already! The Advoc8te would love to see ALL of these vacant and blighted properties donated to the L'Enfant Trust ASAP. The nonprofit has proven that they can get the renovations done properly, responsibily and most importantly, timely. I would also like to see a law passed that fines agencies that do not move vacant/blighted properties into production within a year and allows those funds to be used for neighborhood improvements in the very communities where the blight is having an effect -- specifically to those property owners forced to live next door to this blight.

Twenty years is long enough. We can't wait another season -- heck another day --  for more demolition by neglect.

Enough already. Let's change that old mentality to "please do what I can't do right now" and let's give current (and future!) Anacostia residents the amazing housing stock they deserve!

WAMU | Anacostia Residents Fed Up With Negligent Property-Owner: The D.C. Government

Go HERE to read the full piece by Martin Austermuhle.
Go HERE to listen to the segment.


Courtney Davis has lived in a tidy rowhouse along U Street SE in Anacostia's historic district for 13 years. The house next to hers dates back to the 1890s. But instead of enjoying living next to a piece of the city's history, she has more a more practical concern.

“When it rains very hard, when there’s a lot of wind outside, I swear, I am fearful it will tip over on to my house," she says.

That's because for as long as she's lived in Anacostia, the house next door has been vacant. Her neighbors, some who have lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years, say it's been at least 20 years since anyone even occupied it. The years of neglect are evident: doorways and windows are boarded up, paint it peeling, the porch roof is slumping, and holes provide animals easy access to the attic and basement.

To Davis, it's an eyesore — or even worse, a monstrosity. “It’s just looked like this, and gotten worse, for years," she says.

The D.C. government has a simple tool to deal with vacant and blighted properties like this one: It can levy higher property taxes on the owner, increasing annual payments by a factor of five for homes classified as vacant and by a factor of 10 for those considered blighted. But in this case, that's not an option: For the past 14 years, the owner has been the D.C. government itself.

"How is that we're spending our money and we're expected to keep our property up to a certain level and yet we live next door to this vacant property that's owned by the government? How does it work out like that?" she asks.

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