No one lives at Lincoln Heights.
It doesn’t appear that way at first glance. On a recent afternoon, there are plenty of people outside. A few children play in one of the courtyards formed by U-shaped triads of low-rise apartment buildings. Two women sit outside one of the apartments.
But when I approach them and introduce myself, one quickly says she’s not a resident. The other one? Nope, she isn’t either.
Across the courtyard, a young woman fumbles with her keys to lock an apartment door as she wheels out a baby stroller with the other hand. She pushes the stroller into the small courtyard and walks around in circles, trying to coax the baby to sleep. Does she live at Lincoln Heights? She shakes her head.
I exit the courtyard and hike up a small hill to another row of garden apartments, where a woman is sitting outside in purple T-shirt advertising the 2014 Lincoln Heights pre-July 4 celebration. I tell her that I’m hoping to speak with Lincoln Heights residents.
“They’re not gonna talk to you,” she interrupts. “Not a single one of them is going to talk to you. They don’t trust you.”
Residents of the Lincoln Heights public-housing complex have ample reason to distrust outsiders who come through the neighborhood peddling stories. By this year, the city was supposed to have demolished all 440 dilapidated apartments and relocated the residents to new units under the signature New Communities program to replace distressed public housing with mixed-income communities. Instead, all 440 apartments remain intact, if barely, and just 32 families have received new housing. The rest remain in their aging apartments, where they complain of a host of maintenance issues, in a neighborhood plagued by crime, poor planning, and neglect.
The stalled progress is not unique to Lincoln Heights. The other three New Communities projects have also reached a near-standstill, with missed deadlines piling up faster than bricks and mortar. At Northwest One, the initiative’s inaugural project located near NoMa, the city’s been unable to figure out how to build new housing, so a giant parking lot currently sits where low-income apartments once stood. Attempts to plot out with community members the redevelopment of Barry Farm, by the Anacostia Metro station, have nearly turned violent. At Park Morton, in Park View, the stagnation got so bad that last year the city canceled its contract with the project’s developers, the Linthicum, Md.-based Landex Corp. and District-based Warrenton Group, and effectively hit the reset button.
But Lincoln Heights has been arguably the hardest of them all. With the city having delivered on so few of its promises, residents who might have initially jumped at the prospect of upgraded housing have grown suspicious of interlopers coming to talk about New Communities. People like me.
As it turns out, the woman I find at the top of the hill is exactly the right person to discuss New Communities’ shortcomings. A 35-year resident of Lincoln Heights, Patricia Malloy serves as the advisory neighborhood commissioner for the area and as the chair of the resident council for the Lincoln Heights New Communities project. She’s been involved in the effort since it began in 2006. But the excitement she had at the start of the project has turned to cynicism.
“Talk to the damn Housing Authority,” she says, referring to the agency that runs D.C.’s public housing, including Lincoln Heights, and shares responsibility for the redevelopment with the mayor’s office. (Like her neighbors, Malloy is initially less than thrilled to discuss New Communities, although she grows more talkative with each successive opportunity to critique the New Communities process.) “They don’t want to redevelop this. They want us living like slaves.” Read more Withering Heights