D.C. reveals program to attract middle class

City hopes to redevelop areas for shops and homes

April 18, 2003|By Elizabeth Levin | Elizabeth Levin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Officials here detailed sweeping plans yesterday to revitalize blighted areas of the U.S. capital in an effort to generate affordable housing and attract more middle-class families.

The blueprint identifies a dozen areas outside of 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 A. Williams said yesterday at a roundtable discussion.

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

The proposal would bring new homes and retail developments to unused land across the city. Redevelopment also would 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," single-family abandoned 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 that an increased middle-class population would attract businesses and retailers, raising tax revenue that could 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.

Williams also stressed the importance of preventing displacement and preserving affordable housing for low-income families. The Home Again Initiative, for example, would set aside 30 percent of the refurbished homes for low-income families.

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

Elizabeth Levin writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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