Dear PoP – Public Housing Question

“Dear PoP,

I have a question that I’d like to pose to people that I am really unsure of the answer on: Is it possible, and if so, how are public housing projects moved? I was having a discussion with some friends about the development of the O Street Market and someone brought up the large amount of public housing around the development. One of my friends was sure that all that stuff would just be moved once development picked up, but I am pretty sure that it is not that easy. I am not trying to get into the debate of whether or not it SHOULD be moved (definitely a controversial topic), but rather I’m curious as to whether there is a precedent for moving public housing. It’s not secret that public housing was strategically located in less desirable parts of the city, but in the last decade or two many of those areas have dramatically changed. To my knowledge, none of the housing has been moved. Do you have any background knowledge on this or a resource you could point me to?”

I think we once talked about the amazing transformation at Ellen Wilson Pl, SE:

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I think it used to be a very rough area that received a federal grant and got these awesome mixed income homes. That’s the only example I’ve heard of.

41 Comment

  • Dear PoP,

    Can you please make the ghetto move away? It’s kind of scary.

    • As the following people responded, I think the point is to create more diverse communities inclusive of different races,income levels, etc.. Don’t move them out, create space for those in lower income brackets in the nicer buildings. Make it more difficult for gangs and criminals in general to take over a whole public housing complex and hold the otherwise good people hostage.

      But you obviously are too obtuse and/or ignorant to understand that and you’d rather make it about race. Good for you.

      • Too much is left implied or stated in code in discussing these issues in DC. There is crossing the line into racism and there is simple human honesty.

        I think people in DC need to be honest with themselves and others about everything they want from their neighborhoods.

        Asking whether or how public housing could be moved is motivated at least in part by not wanting to live near problems caused by those who live in public housing.

  • The federal program, HOPE IV, is designed to improve distressed public housing and deconcentrate poverty by encouraging mixed-income development. Most public housing that has been moved or redeveloped is b/c of this program. You can learn more on the U.S. Housing and Urban Development website:

  • Most of near-Southeast around the Nationals ballpark was public housing as recently as five years ago. My understanding is that the city tore it down and moved most of the residents to other public housing complexes or gave them Section 8 vouchers to relocate. There are a couple of new public housing buildings in the neighborhood to replace the demoed buildings, and the new EYA townhouses are supposed to be mixed-income housing.

    Same with Kentucky Courts, which was near the Potomac Ave. metro station.

    • I think most of the public housing on East Capitol on the other side of the river was also torn down. However, those and most definitely KY Courts (which I live near) were virtually uninhabitable (asbestos, lethal critter feces in the attic, lead paint) and that doesn’t count the people that making the place unlivable.

      Definitely not an expert, but there seemed to be little, if any moving of the people living in them. I know at about that time there was the idea of making a certain number of the units in the larger, newer buildings available for them but I don’t have the sense that it covered all of the displaced. And then there was the fact that a lot of Section 8 housing went away when people decided to get out and outright sell the property to developers or whomever.

  • Definitely a controversial topic no matter how you want to approach it.

    My sense is that these days, the ‘enlightened’ approach would be to transition residents into mixed use/mixed income neighborhoods designed to better integrate folks into the overall society (as opposed to how they tend to be now: packaged up and isolated in quartered-off complexes).

    I put ‘enlightened’ in quotes because I’m sure 40-50 years ago, sectioning low income people off in hi-rise developments must have seemed like a reasonable, equitable solution to some.

    I’m sure no neighborhood today would want to see an entire housing project plopped as-is in their backyard, lock, stock and barrel.

  • I was wondering the same thing about the housing near the O St Market and convention center. I don’t know what is public housing and what is not, but I am interested to see how that area develops in the next couple of years. Having that area be a bustling corridor seems to be a priority to the city (which makes sense because of how much $$ DC could rake in having conferences there), but to make the vision that most people seem to have a reality, some of what I understand to be public housing, would need to be moved.

  • Dear PoP,
    Thank you for posting something juicy just as my daily 3:00 coma was about to set in.

  • I used to do this kind of work and I can tell you that most public housing isn’t going anywhere. There is a waiting list of 40,000 people for subsidized housing in DC. HOPE VI(fed money) is generally to replace existing public housing (on site one for one is preferred) and then include a mix of uses, income etc. that is very limited in funding since Bush. The city came up with their own version of this “New COmmunities” which leverages private investment, market rates and your local tax dollars. this is very limited as well which is why is takes so long to see any movement (Park Morton is a “new COmmunity”). In theory, all existing public housing gets replaced on the site. The EYA townhomes at the ballpark have a few scattered public housing buildings already reconstructed. At full buildout, about 800 units of public housing will exist there again. Not sure if the folks who paid 700,000 for their townhomes are aware of the future multi family buildings already approved and soon to break ground on the next block. And politically, there is no council person willing to argue for completely removing public housing. Most would argue its better to leave it in the areas that are getting so redeveloped (like Columbia Heights and Shaw). Short answer…you can’t move it. Long answer…you may be able to replace it and then add additional market rate and “workforce” priced housing (“workforce” include section 8 vouchers too)

  • I believe that most of the housing that you are probably thinking of is not actually public housing (Owned and managed by HUD), but instead is privately owned and financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) or project-based Section 8 funding. If that is the case, then those units must remain affordable for a certain period of time (usually 30 yrs) after which they can get more funding by renewing the commitment or they can make the units market rate. If the developments indeed are not public housing then they would not be eligible to be redeveloped as HOPE VI. Unless the LIHTC or Section 8 control is set to expire soon, the projects won’t be “moved,” thankfully.

    • Yes. Thank you. It is privately owned and subject to requirements to maintain its use as section 8 housing for the agreed upon term.

      So to all those who (legitimately) get all hot and bothered when entitled-sounding neighbors of a business say they want it to be something else (kite store, etc), as if it were up to them, please apply that logic here. It’s not up to you.

  • Mix development sounds good until you find out your neighbor smokes crack. No, that’s a gernalization but i like the idea of mixed developments. But when you think about re sale value “screw the poor”. But I like the diversity in the city and hope they slow down the “white man’s convergenance” If I wanted to live in yuppieville I would have moved to Arlington. Yuck.

    • actually, arlington has been more diverse than dc for decades. and Montgomery county is even more diverse. maybe you have another sense of what diverse means though

    • Friends in Arlington have a daughter going to public school with children of 14 different nationalities/ethnic heritage in her class.

      • people like to think dc is diverse. but it isn’t.
        if latinos were strawberry, we’d be Neapolitan. the suburbs are 31 flavors.
        gentrification is actually making dc more diverse.

      • Yuppiehell is using “diverse” as a code word for “is not devoid of African Americans.” And by that definition, Arlington is not diverse (if you will follow the double-negative). Anon and victoria are pretending not to understand this code and arguing that Arlington is diverse, in that it includes people of various races who are trying to escape “diversity” — i.e., who do not want to share a city, and especially public schools, with African Americans.

  • Most, if not all, of the low-income housing around the O Street Market and the convention center was built and is operated by various churches. One such complex, Kelsey Gardens, was sold to private developers (once their 30-year comitment ran out) because the church that built it needed the money. A couple of other complexes have recently been remodled, and presumably will remain low-income for the next 30 years.

  • I really do wish that some of the section 8 housing in Shaw would be moved. It seems to be concentrated in several areas which I think causes a lot of the crime problems that persist in the area. I don’t know what will happen as this area continues to develop. Does anyone know whether there’s any section 8 left over in neighborhoods where demographics have significantly changed since the housing was put in place (maybe in parts of Dupont or Adams Morgan)?

  • How does public housing work? Do tenants pay the portion of the market rate rent or is it 100% free?

    • Tenants pay 30% of their modified gross income. Deductions occur for children (~$400) and disabilities.

      This may have just been posted, but I’m really impressed with people’s knowledge of housing and the lack of trolls so far.

    • Public housing that is managed by the DC Housing Authority and owned by HUD. Residents pay up to 30% of their income. They generally earn less than 30% of the area median income (so in DC, less than 30k/annually, approx). The housing authority receives an operating subsidy from HUD that is supposed to theoretically make up the difference b/w what the resident pays and the cost of operation.

      Housing agencies also manage vouchers, which allow tenants to live in privately owned “projects” or individual units. The landlord receives a check covering the difference b/w market rent and 30% of the tenant’s income.

    • Moreover, what are the criteria for qualifying for public housing? Is preference given to elderly, disabled, and peoples with children, and how do they calculate that?

      • there are income limits as stated by the local housing authority:

        in practice, these units tend to go to those below 30% (extremely low income) and are supposed to serve those most in need. local housing authorities can establish preferences. For example, DC has preferences for those who are employed and heads of households and the elderly. In addition, the housing authority has preferences for those involuntarily displaced (such as by redevelopment as discussed elsewhere on this thread), living in substandard housing or paying unaffordable rents, ext.

        Also, there are extremely long waiting lists that take 5 or more years depending on the jurisdiction.

        Depending on federal financing, some properties have age and disability related restrictions.

  • Park Morton (Morton / Georgia Ave) is getting redeveloped into mixed income housing instead of just public housing.

  • You ever wonder why so many public housing units use that ugly brown brick on the exterior? Maybe it was a 1960s thing – All public housing must use brown brick. Or maybe – – it is a specific color of brick like “fire red,” “pink salmon,” and “public housing brown.” I would slap a nice coat of paint on those buildings.

  • The Plan. . .

  • Depends on how you define “moved.” My understanding is that in most of the projects where existing public housing is being redeveloped on site, the residents are “moved” to some other location (other public housing, Section 8, etc.) for the duration of the redevelopment and then given the opportunity to move back (or apply to move back) to the redeveloped space. I believe that is the plan with Park Morton. Some critics (and fans) say this this approach results in many of the people who are moved out never coming back.

  • Does anyone know where to find information about public housing in DC? I know there is information online concerning DC public housing projects, but information about section 8 and low-income housing is harder to find.

    As awful as it sounds, the realities of the situation are that low-income housing and crime come hand-in-hand. I simply do not want to buy a house only to find out that the old apartment building around the corner is actually low-income housing.

    Unfortunately, Realtors aren’t allow to talk about these things. So, new home buyers are left to figure it out themselves.

  • I’ve been wondering why no one has snapped up the sweet piece of property bordered by Sherman, Florida, 11th and Euclid. Green space on a hill and a public housing unit so fugly most people block it out of their awareness.

    Interesting to read about what keeps things as they are.

  • Shawn
    Park Morton is being redeveloped mixed income but it will still have a component of straight up public housing. I don’t know the exact number but whatever the unit count in the current low rise buildings of the original Park Morton are going to be replaced. The additional parcels, like the one on GA avenue (and Hobart maybe) are part of the new overall rebuild. And there will be a mix but I believe the first building thats about to break ground is all some form of affordable/senior housing. It may also be used as temp swing space once built for the current residents. Until the new buildings on the original site are replaced at a higher density to allow for mixed income.

  • Anyone remember Clifton Terrace? It used to be one of the most dangerous projects in the city, and now it is all “gentrified.”

  • Clifton Terrace is on the corner of 13th and Clifton. Some of the apartments have amazing views.

    I thought it had been renovated and was now renting at market rates (or had gone condo) — I can’t remember.

  • So I get to come home to another welcome party of badges and flashing lights. Looks like there has been another shooting at one of the Lincoln Westmoreland projects tonight.

    They’re actually trying to build an addition onto LWI.

    Yeah, yeah, affordable housing is necessary, blah blah blah. But, Can we please not make any more gigantic insulated projects and cram it into Shaw?

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