Monday, June 4, 2012

Say Goodbye to Potomac Gardens?

*This wasn't intended as a breaking story, but rather a discussion of the problems around redevelopment for public housing residents. The plans to redevelop Potomac Gardens/Hopkins may have been terminated due to lack of funds, but there were redevelopment plans. I'm waiting for a statement from DCHA.*
The DC government is planning to redevelop Potomac Gardens and Hopkins public housing into a mixed income rental/homeownership development:
A joint venture redevelopment between DCHA and a private developer to do a one-for-one replacement of 510 units of public housing located in the present Potomac Gardens and Hopkins Plaza developments. The proposed redevelopment will be a mixed income rental and homeownership containing 510 replacements units out of a total 1,230 units located on the two public housing sites and in the
adjoining neighborhood.
A firm has been brought in as "architects of community." Have you walked around and experienced the "community" at Capitol Quarter, where the same firm planned the community? Will this redevelopment help the public housing residents? Or will the residents be displaced as too poor or not appropriate for the neighborhood? At Ellen Wilson, of the 134 households living there, only "24 families were able to make the successful transition from public housing to homeownership" (DCHA 2008). From Capper-Carrollsburg, the majority of the 707 households were displaced and replaced with those who could pay for the many townhouses starting at $662,000 or more, workforce townhouses with subsidized mortgages for those making $82,800-119,025, and affordable apartments (I was told by the developer that these were for those making around $50,000-60,000). Where did the former public housing residents go? What happened to them?

Potomac Gardens has an important history in the neighborhood as a place that helped many people move from poor agricultural life in the South and start a new life here (while maintaining connections with family in the South):

And Potomac Gardens continues to provide housing to those in great need. As I discussed in a previous post, at a meeting I attended, one Potomac Gardens resident said that she was just like everyone else in the room; she went to work and put her sons through college; she just didn't have enough money to afford non-public housing. According to the DCHA, 40 vacancies are filled there each year. Is there a way to redevelop Potomac Gardens and Hopkins without displacing the residents and without destroying the community and social connections that they have built and depend on? 

P.S. In his "Gentrification and Community Fabric in Chicago" article, John Betancur has shown that the poor rely on social connections much more than those with higher incomes: "Limited in their mobility and exchange value resources, lower-income groups depend on such fabrics far more than do the higher income. In fact, they have fewer choices and are most vulnerable to place-based shifts...the real tragedy of gentrification was not market displacement per se, but community disintegration." Could the "architects of community" be destroying one community (a group in the most need of this community) in the name of building another community for others?

P.P.S. See the official statement by the DCHA: "We do not have plans to redevelop Potomac Gardens at this time."

P.P.P.S. See my more recent post on Potomac Gardens: "Wikipedia and Community History: Potomac Gardens" and "Why is it so difficult to see in Ward 6?"


  1. This initiative was brought up in 2006 and was terminated. Your data is old. Please check your facts before posting.

    1. I love the Gardenz. aka Magic City. even though i dont live there keep them up!!!!

    2. What the developers, latte'-sipping-soldiers-of gentrification and real estate moguls never ask is "What is lost?" when these communities are eviscerated. To the new homeowners in neighborhoods like H street demanding that long-term residents turn down their music and start "behaving" - no one asked you to move in and displace the decades old community you now claim to champion. No one asked you to diagnose or address the issues in these neighborhoods. You chose to move into these neighborhoods and in a perverse stroke of urban irony you now insist that the gritty environment you once found so hip and attractive, tone it down so you can lounge on your porch drinking your micro-brew.
      Two words for you:

  2. Thanks! This is great to know. Yes, I was basing it on the DCHA Project Descriptions ( AND the firm website that said that they were working on the project ( "The Master Planning for Potomac Gardens and Hopkins Apartments is currently underway." Data floating in the internet.

  3. Did something come out recently? I've been hearing this sort of thing for years, and pre-down turn when I was looking at budgets more closely (not microscope close but skimming) money would show up in the city budget for it. but, I haven't heard anything lately. I see the link in your comment is to a 2006 budget.

  4. My real point had been to talk about public housing residents. I've asked DCHA if they have an official statement.

  5. Your posting title made my day, then the article disclaimer crushed my spirit.

  6. The Wikipedia article on Potomac Gardens includes this and other talk of development over the years. Also includes various incidents and controversies.

  7. I REALLY wish that people would do their research before doing these gentrification scare articles. The Cappersburge redevelopment consists of apartments for those making $25-45k which is the new tax credit income restriction for 1 person. Rents for LIHTC properties average 950-1200 however there are people are receive govt assistance as is the case with Sheridan Station because many of the former Barry Farms residents are there. As is the case with many homes in NE and SE that were housing project redevelopments, many of the residents now have actual houses instead of 3-5 bedroom apartments. Yes there are 5bedroom apts (See Wingates in SW). There is a 1-1 placement rule. Each resident will be provided with a relocation per HUD rules.

  8. Well, someone wrote a comment that now may be deleted, but I talk about it here:


    Right now there is a status quo so to speak. Both parties are relatively unhappy. The "wealthy" Capitol Hill home owners are unhappy with the crime and the effects of the Potomac Gardens eyesore on their property values, and the Potomac Gardens residents are not happy that they have to perpetually rely on government assistance.

    Perhaps in this particular situation, a creative solution that offers a win win scenario for ALL involved would be best. This idea treads on a slippery slope in some regards, but it may be the only way to move through this minefield.

    I propose that the city (under partnership with a developer) offer residents of the Potomac Gardens complex a buyout offer for the units they currently live in, in return for their commitment to permanently move out of the complex. The offer would be put to a simple majority vote of the residents living at the complex. These former Potomac Garden residents would then be free to choose a better living situation that works for their individual circumstances (perhaps even home ownership).

    Since Potomac Gardens is comprised of 352 units, the total cost for buying out the Potomac Gardens residents would run in the millions.

    The city would buy the property from the current owner at a slight premium to market value. With the property now free for redevelopment and in the city's hands, the city would allow the developer to develop a large scale project as follows:

    1)Demolish the entire current complex of buildings and temporarily replace it with park space while redevelopment plans are formalized.
    2)Option to build one mixed use mega development project, OR sell off individual parcels of land
    3)Include park or other outdoor gathering spaces equal to 1/4th of the total ground floor square footage.
    4)Construct townhouses or retail that is consistent with capital hill architecture

    If there were any issues with redevelopment feasibility, the developer could be offered tax credits by the city.

    Everyone wins :)

  10. You know that everyone does not win in this scenario.
    1) those living in Potomac Gardens will end up living in dangerous locations where truly affordable housing is available.
    2) those living in Potomac Gardens will lose the social networks that low-income residents need much more than wealthy people do.
    3) your housing values will go up.
    4) the neighborhood will be worse without the social world of Potomac Gardens. The positives of this social world to Ward 6 may be invisible to you. Could Constance Green's observations long ago about DC's Secret City still be relevant today?: "virtually from the beginning, white citizens of the District of Columbia manifestly were acquainted with only the most obvious facts about how free Negroes lived and knew almost nothing about what they thought...colored Washington was psychologically a secret city all but unknown to the white world round about."

    This is a pure case of opportunity hoarding by the wealthy, taking away opportunities and resources from others because you can.

  11. Some discussion of social life in Potomac Gardens:

  12. And about the lives of those who moved into Potomac Gardens when it opened:

  13. I'm late to this discussion, but Johanna: I live adown the street from Hopkins, 1000 K, and if you really believe that it fosters a vibrant, "secret" social sphere then please, come sit outside with me on a Friday night and explain all the massive value being imparted to me by the adults screaming at each other, the competing music blasting between buildings, and the souped-up low-riders dragging down K St at ear-splitting decibels until 2am. I'm not even going to mention the illicit trades, because I can't figure out how to accurately classify them. Really, it's not a wonderland of rich ethnographic opportunities. It's just poor people living out loud - which ain't as romantic as educated people want to pretend.

    Those who own homes near these projects have learned that public policy, well-wishes, and policing have utterly failed to solve the noise, drugs, and crime, so the only thing left is removal of the epicenters of them: the projects themselves. Contrary to what nostalgic non-residents seem to think, this has only somewhat to do with a desire to raise property values and a lot to do with decent homeowners who would like to live decently.

    When the culture of a city - not a racial group, a city - changes as DC's has in the past 20 years, then fighting to preserve a clearly outdated way of life is reactionary and anti-progressive; Populism with rose-colored glasses firmly in place. Sorry, but that's a valid way of looking at it. The city is moving in another direction and as painful as that is to see, sometimes, it's not appropriate to try to hold back the tide through flimsy sociological assertions that fly in the face of visible, tangible evidence.

    Also, you know, maybe go talk to some of the homeowners in that part of Ward 6 before you write them off as insensitive and greedy know-nothings. Just because the group you're sensitive to is in the minority, that doesn't make it monolithically good and the other side monlithically bad.

    1. What Fanon said about colonized Algeria is also true about gentrified ward 6. Just substitute gentrifier for "colonist" and middle-, working-class, and poor ward 6 resident for "colonized." The comment above speaks what Fanon called the "colonial vocabulary" -- not based in reality but part of the political struggle of colonizer against colonized, rich against poor:

      "...the colonist turns the colonized into a kind of quintessence of evil"
      "This explosive population growth, those hysterical masses, those blank faces, those shapeless, obese bodies, this headless, tailless cohort, these children who seem not to belong to anyone, this indolence sprawling under the sun, this vegetating existence, all this is part of the colonial vocabulary."

      Fanon, Wretched of the Earth -- a text I recommend to anyone wishing to understand gentrification and to see how it connects to other forms of settler colonialism.

  14. Hello Anonymous,

    I'm working on a documentary about Potomac Gardens and the surrounding neighborhood. We're still in the pre-production phase. I think opinions like yours should be represented. Would you be willing to participate? -Liane


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