Washington Post Local Opinions
By Arrington Dixon
Arrington Dixon, a Ward 8 resident, is a former chairman of the D.C. Council and former chairman of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, a nonprofit dedicated to the promotion and development of the Anacostia section of Ward 8.
Vacant and mostly vacant apartment buildings at 13th Street SE and Alabama Avenue SE above the Congress Heights Metro Station. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
In her proposed 2020 budget, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) addresses what she says is the city’s No. 1 issue: affordable housing. I agree. Lawmakers should be working overtime to create and preserve affordable housing so that our seniors, working families and longtime residents are not displaced — something that can and should be done while creating jobs and economic opportunities for our neighbors.
Now it is time to get behind a project that will greatly benefit Ward 8. The redevelopment of the Congress Heights Metro site could bring affordable apartments, market-rate apartments, maybe a day-care facility, retail shops, restaurants and offices — all on top of the Metro station. This project would increase the number of existing affordable units and dramatically increase safety in the neighborhood. The developer has zoning approvals already in hand and could break ground in a matter of weeks. This development would be a win for Congress Heights, for Ward 8, for affordable housing, for transit-oriented development and for all of the District.
But will it be a win for the 10 tenants who make up the tenant association at the now-abandoned buildings above the Congress Heights Metro, and who will determine the fate of this development?
The tenants suffered for years in miserable living conditions. They were victimized by the former property owner, a landlord that warehoused low-income residents in grossly substandard housing. Fortunately, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine ran the landlord out of town, and it won’t do business here again.
Also fortunate is the fact that the new owner of the Congress Heights Metro buildings, CityPartners, is a respected local developer with a solid track record in our community. One example is Hyatt Place Washington DC/National Mall, a hotel complex in Southwest that CityPartners and its partners built and opened in 2015. Along with the typical amenities one might find in a hotel, CityPartners built a new headquarters for Kid Power, a nonprofit organization providing innovative programs for children in the District’s underserved communities. Kid Power didn’t pay a dime to build the space, and its rent is just $50 a year. Building the Kid Power facility was not something CityPartners was required to do but something it chose to do.
Also, by choice, CityPartners started CityPartners Pathways, the first and only hospitality apprenticeship program for young D.C. adults. In less than four years, the management staff at Hyatt Place has trained 45 D.C. youths, mostly from Wards 7 and 8, and hired 36 for permanent jobs.
Unfortunately and understandably, the tenants are angry and can’t seem to separate CityPartners from the previous landlord. About 10 months ago, CityPartners gave the tenants an offer to purchase the Congress Heights apartment buildings, which triggered TOPA, the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Since then, the tenants have refused to meet with CityPartners to negotiate a sale price or buyout terms. Not one meeting; a total stalemate.
As a native Washingtonian from Ward 8 and a former chairman of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, I have been frustrated to watch this important project languish. The offer that CityPartners put on the table is as generous as I have ever seen, with each tenant association member getting $100,000 and the option to move into new apartments at current rental rates. Additionally, CityPartners is offering to pay the taxes on the $100,000, provide the tenants with an independent financial consultant free of charge and give tenants the option to invest in the new property with a preferred interest rate.
This project is at a critical juncture. CityPartners could renovate the existing 60-year-old buildings and move the tenants back in, but doing so would eliminate any possibility of other development and remove all benefits to the larger community. Or CityPartners could reach an agreement with the tenants and advance everyone’s interests.
A cash settlement to tenants who lived through the horrible years with the previous landlord won’t take away the pain and humiliation of living in those neglected buildings. But it’s a start. I’m hopeful that the tenants will accept this deal and allow a project to move forward that will provide jobs and affordable housing and a renewed sense of community and optimism to Congress Heights. I’m equally hopeful that city leaders will be able to bring the tenants and the developer together to make this happen in Congress Heights.
Five workers are clearing the trash from the woods in Ward 8. So far, they've picked up 55 tons of it
Five formerly unemployed or underemployed Ward 8 residents are giving back to their community.
Author: Ines de La Cuetara
Published: 6:29 PM EDT May 23, 2019
Updated: 6:34 PM EDT May 23, 2019
Five residents of Ward 8 who were previously unemployed or underemployed have picked up more than 110,000 pounds of trash in their community through a new initiative to keep the area clean.
The Ward 8 Woods initiative launched last July and employs the five workers to keep the 500 acres of eastern hardwood forest free from litter.
"We think it's a real environmental justice issue, when you have parks like Rock Creek that are really beautifully maintained, you don't see a lot of trash, you have miles and miles of trails... And then you come over the Ward 8, we have this park land, but it's full of trash," said founder and manager Nathan Harrington, adding Ward 8 is one of the city's most polluted.
The Ward 8 Woods crew battles ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and the sheer heat of D.C. summers over the course of nine to 12 hour weeks to try and undo decades of illegal littering and help rid the woods of invasive species.
It's tough work, but you won't hear this team complaining.
"I like doing this cause I like working outside, I'm an outside person, I like keeping the environment clean," Christopher Williams said.
"I can give back to the community I've been living in for the last 30 years," said Robert Carpenter.
The program is funded by the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment and a number of private foundations and also aims to provide unemployed or underemployed Ward 8 residents with paid work.
"Unemployment in Ward 8 is the highest of anywhere in D.C. by a long shot. And a lot of people have barriers to employment," Harrington explained. "People were not able to finish high school, didn't go to college, some employers will not hire people when they have criminal records."
Harrington added the Ward 8 Woods do not care about any of that.
"As long as you show up and do the job," he quipped.
It was the second chance Robert Carpenter, a 32 year old father of four, was looking for.
"I have a background," he said. "And that got me turned away from a lot of jobs. And there was no discrimination with Ward 8 Woods."
The team expects it could have a lot more trash removal ahead of them.
"We've done about 55 tons -- there's probably a couple thousand tons out here," said Harrington.
The initiative is now looking for more funding so that it can pay its employees more and potentially begin building trails in Ward 8's woods.
FROM Ward 8 Woods
For immediate release
Thursday, May 23 , 2019
Contact: Nathan Harrington, 301-758-5892, firstname.lastname@example.org Art Slater, 202-765-8245, email@example.com
Washington, DC- Ward 8 Woods, a new environmental justice initiative sponsored by the nonprofit Anacostia Coordinating Council, has removed more than of 55 tons of trash from wooded parkland since it began in July 2018. Five Ward 8 residents who were unemployed or underemployed and faced barriers- such as criminal records, disability, or lack of education or work history- were hired as Park Stewards to take on the epic task of undoing decades of illegal dumping and littering, and growth of invasives species.
During a typical three hours shift, the crew removes an average of 1,000 pounds of trash. Robert Carpenter, 32, a father of four who lives in Garfield Heights, serves as the crew’s foreman. “I like that I can clean-up and protect the environment where I live. I’m not in Maryland or Virginia cleaning up their neighborhoods. I’ve been living in Ward 8 my entire life. As I kid I played in these woods.”
Ward 8 may be Washington, DC’s least affluent , but it’s also one of the greenest: interspersed with its residential neighborhoods are more than 500 acres of forested parkland. These include Ft. Stanton Park, Suitland Parkway, and Oxon Run Parkway, all under the jurisdiction of National Capital Parks-East, and Suitland Parkway, controlled by the DC Department of Transportation. Within these “Ward 8 Woods” are streams large and small, massive old trees, a rare magnolia bog, commanding views across the city, and the remains of Civil War fortifications and World War II era military training facilities. Urban forests filter pollution from the air and water, lower summer temperatures, and act as a buffer between neighborhoods and highways.
Sadly, the same systemic racism, disinvestment, and neglect that have made poverty and crime widespread in Ward 8 have also taken their toll on the land. In recent decades millions of pounds of trash - including tires, car parts, furniture, appliances and construction materials- have been dumped in the woods. As if this were not enough, invasive vines from other parts of the world have run roughshod over the forest ecosystem, outcompeting native plants and strangling trees. The parks also lack hiking trails, signage, other features common to parklands in more affluent parts of the District.
“Given the racial and class disparities in DC, it's no coincidence that the parklands in Ward 8 have been abused and neglected. It’s wrong. We can and must do better,” said Art Slater, Director of Operations for the Anacostia Coordinating Council and business manager for Ward 8 Woods.
For Ward 8 Woods project manager Nathan Harrington, the effort is an expansion of the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway, which he created in 2011 at the urging of longtime Ward 8 civic leader Philip Pannell. A former Prince George’s County Public Schools teacher and Congress Heights resident since 2009, Harrington had led close to 100 volunteers clean-ups events in park but was troubled by the lack of involvement by residents. “Volunteers were coming from all over the DMV, but residents were always asking if we were hiring, and the answer was always no.”
In 2018, Harrington joined with the Anacostia Coordinating Council and obtained grants from the DC Office of Planning and DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) to finally begin paying residents to clean-up their own communities. Ward 8 Woods recently obtained additional funding from DOEE, the Environment Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative and the Tomberg Family Philanthropies of California.
Harrington and five board members are working to establish the Ward 8 Woods Conservancy as an independent nonprofit organization with a mission to use the restoration of the land as a vehicle for the healing and empowerment residents. Although there are many existing environmental groups in the District, there’s a void when it comes to the forests in Ward 8. Future plans include design and the construction of a network of hiking trails to rival those of Rock Creek Park and education and recreation programs for all ages.
Christopher Williams, young father from Garfield Heights, emphasized the scale of the work ahead. “This is really great work we’re doing. People need to see it. There’s enough work for us to stay busy for years.”