Relocated Historic Homes on W Street SE Await Rehabilitation

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Residents of W Street SE in Historic Anacostia observe heavy machinery operating on the 1300 block, down the street from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Photo: John Muller

After more than a year of inactivity, heavy machinery has recently maneuvered back and forth behind a chainlink fence on the 1300 block of W Street in Historic Anacostia, drawing the attention of residents. On the lot formerly occupied by a Unity Health Care clinic sit two historic homes salvaged from the former Big K lot. They were relocated to the W Street lot in 2017 from the active Maple View Flats construction site on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) owns both land parcels.

“We can only see that DHCD is moving around dirt,” said Greta Fuller, commissioner of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 8A, who has advocated for preservation of the homes since the Fenty administration acquired the Big K lot. “We were told over two years ago that they had permits and the homes would go up for sale in 2017.”

Charles Wilson, a former member of the Historic Preservation Review Board, counseled a reevaluation of the entire project. “I think DHCD needs to take a step back and reassess the vision for the site,” said Wilson. “Moving forward, they need to actively involve Office of Planning, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the community in a conversation to see if we can achieve a more creative vision that benefits everyone in the neighborhood.”

Although neighborhood activists feel the delayed timeline has not been fully communicated, Mayor Muriel Bowser and officials at DHCD remain committed to the site’s development, as completion of Maple View Flats nears with an expected opening later this year. “Mayor Bowser is committed to transforming these historic homes into safe and affordable housing for Ward 8 residents, and multiple DC Government agencies are currently working together to make that happen as quickly and efficiently as possible,” said Polly Donaldson, director of DHCD. “This means hitting the reset button, not only by restoring the homes within a revised, hard timeline, but ensuring that residents stay informed during key parts of the restoration process.”

Spring winds caused DHCD to re-wrap the homes and reestablish their structural integrity. Photo: John Muller

Neighbors’ Concerns
During a canvas of W Street, I spoke with several neighbors concerned with the condition of DHCD’s portfolio of vacant properties and lots within the Anacostia Historic District but also with the enforcement of laws against illegal renovation work.

While Diane de Bernardo expressed frustration with the “dirt movers” across the street she also shared her frustrations with ongoing unpermitted construction of the two attached homes next-door at the corner of 14th and W streets SE. “In my neighborhood, Historic Anacostia, these have all been problematic in the construction and housing industries for a long time,” de Bernardo wrote in an email to members of the DC Council, various city agencies and advisory neighborhood commissioners. “It’s time for this to change.”

“I have written to DCRA,” de Bernardo’s email says, “called, emailed and submitted online forms about this house many, many times over the last several months, starting sometime late in 2017. Frustrated with the lack of results, I consulted with my community. I learned that during the last two years, our ANC commissioner, representatives of our historic society and of our homeowner’s association, the president of our historic society and numerous other community members have also submitted complaints and requests for enforcement for these houses.”

Historic Homes Restoration
According to a DHCD webpage dedicated to Maple View Flats, “the historic homes will be moved to a new site in Ward 8 and restored, beginning in early 2017 and ending by fall 2017. In addition, three new construction homes will be built on the site, designed and developed based on the approved Neighborhood Pattern Book for the Congress Heights, Anacostia and St. Elizabeths (CHASE) communities.”

The relocation process of the historic homes revealed unforeseen challenges – not uncommon for construction projects – that compromised the structural integrity of the already delicate homes and required a revision of the project’s timeline, according to DHCD officials. DHCD plans to update the executive committee of ANC 8A in August with a revised timeline for the site’s development.

For more information on the restoration effort and Maple View Flats follow DHCD on twitter @DCDHCD or visit https://dhcd.dc.gov/page/maple-view-flats-big-k-site-development-0.