Saturday, May 02, 2009

Financing Trouble Adds Woes to Troubled Southeast Neighborhood



Residents of the beleaguered Washington Highlands neighborhood in Southeast will have to wait at least a little longer for the DC Housing Authority’s (DCHA) planned reinvigoration of the Highland Dwellings public housing complex. In 2007, DCHA selected New Market Investors and Southeast developers Crawford Edgewood Managers Inc. (CEMI) to construct the Highlands Addition – a project that would utilize a vacant 300,000 square lot as the site of a new “physically and socially vibrant neighborhood” with 138 units of mixed-income housing. With the project’s planned summer 2008 start date having come and gone, HR Crawford, President of CEMI and a forty year veteran of District redevelopment initiatives, tells DCmud that project is now locked in a holding pattern.

“It’s all over the place. We need to decide what's getting built and how we’re going to get there,” said Crawford. “Everyone is suffering right now…We have to re-ignite things a bit.”

Crawford, who previously succeeded in luring middle class residents back to Far Southeast with the gated Walter E. Washington Estates project in 1998, chalks the delays up to a lack of readily available financing and the need for infrastructural improvements in the surrounding neighborhood before work can begin. Nonetheless, he says that though the project may be in stasis, his development team – which also includes architects Torti Gallas and Partners and Hamel Builders – is ready to commence construction once those pieces fall into place.

“We had to go through the ritual of getting [US Department of Housing and Urban Development] approval and all the public hearings and those kinds of things…It’s fully approved. We’re ready to go. You might say we’re shovel ready,” said Crawford.

However, Crawford went onto describe the project’s timeline as “questionable” – an unwelcome piece of news for Washington Highlands residents and DC policymakers alike. In the intervening years since the Highlands Addition was first announced, the surrounding community has had to battle some of the District’s highest rates of both unemployment and violence; in 2007, the neighborhood accounted for one-third of all homicides in the District. Media scrutiny of the area only intensified when, that same year, 14-year-old DeOnte Rawlings was shot to death by police inside the very same Highland Dwellings that DCHA has targeted for redevelopment. Despite its' troubled past, Crawford is confident that the area will be in for an image makeover (if and) when the Highlands Addition begins to draw in new neighbors.

“[We’ll be offering] both rental and for sale units. We’ll be a relatively innovative property, in that you won’t be able to tell who the renters are versus the owners,” said Crawford. “We’re going to integrate everyone socio-economically.”

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