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A Blueprint for Revitalizing the Nation's Capital

Washington hopes plans for blighted areas will bring housing and middle-income families. City aims to enlist aid of 'anchor institutions.'

April 18, 2003|Elizabeth Levin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Officials here detailed sweeping plans Thursday to revitalize blighted areas of the nation's capital in an effort to generate affordable housing and attract more middle-class families.

The blueprint identifies a dozen areas outside the capital's central business district, including neighborhoods near Union Station and major universities, that would become hubs for redeveloped communities.

"We need to focus on those areas where visible and significant outcomes can be achieved in three to five years," Mayor Anthony Williams said Thursday at a round-table discussion.

By directing resources to these targeted areas, Williams and other officials hope to increase the District of Columbia's population of 573,000 by 100,000 in the next 10 years.

The proposal would bring new homes and retail developments to unused land across the city.

Redevelopment would also modernize existing schools, convert abandoned buildings into homes and enhance the city's public transportation system.

About 2,900 properties across the city have been declared vacant or abandoned. Under one proposal, dubbed the Home Again Initiative, abandoned single-family homes would be converted into affordable housing in groups of five to 20 at a time and sold to for-profit and nonprofit developers.

Plans call for funding the revitalization with public redevelopment money from the city's budget and with private investment. District officials said an increased middle-class population would attract businesses and retailers, raising tax revenue for the city that could then be used for further redevelopment.

"We need more people living in the District, especially middle-income people and their kids," said Alice Rivlin, director of the Brookings Institution's Greater Washington Research Program. "Neighborhoods don't thrive without people and customers; schools don't thrive without plenty of children."

Safe neighborhoods and modernized schools are essential for attracting middle-class families, said Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and the White House budget office during the Clinton administration.

"It will be difficult to attract middle-income families with children to the District until the schools are visibly improving," she said.

Although redevelopment should create more quality housing for the middle class, Williams also stressed the importance of preventing displacement and preserving affordable housing for low-income families.

The Home Again Initiative would set aside 30% of the refurbished homes for low-income families.

A key to the plan's success, officials said, is setting up strong partnerships with "anchor institutions" in the targeted communities. Those institutions include some of the city's major universities and hospitals, federal agencies, private employers and faith-based organizations, officials said.

Officials hope to work with such anchor organizations as St. Elizabeths Hospital; the Securities and Exchange Commission; the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; and the Anacostia Museum & Center for African American History and Culture, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

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