Housing Complex

Housing Authority Defends Selection of Barry Farm Developers

Police intervened in a recent contentious meeting over the fate of Barry Farm.

Police intervened in a recent contentious meeting over the fate of Barry Farm.

When I reported earlier this week on the D.C. Housing Authority's selection of a development team for the overhaul of the Barry Farm public housing complex near Anacostia, several readers wrote in to question the choice of one member of the team, Baltimore-based A&R Development. One reader pointed me to a Washington City Paper story from a decade ago, about shoddy drainage work at an A&R redevelopment of a different public housing complex. Another noted that A&R's vice president for development previously worked for the D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

So how was A&R chosen? According to Housing Authority spokesman Rick White, there was a selection committee consisting of six people: two from the Housing Authority, two from DMPED, and two residents of Barry Farm. The committee analyzed the proposals from all seven would-be developers, and according to White, the A&R team's proposal was preferred "head and shoulders above the others." All six committee members, White says, rated the A&R team higher than all the competitors.

"A full third of the selection committee consisted of people who live in the neighborhood," says White. "They’re folks who spent a lot of time reading over and analyzing proposals. I don’t think that it’s fair for someone on the outside who has an axe to grind to question the legitimacy of the selection process."

While DMPED—with its ties to the developer—also had a third of the say, White says there's no reason to presume a conflict of interest. "DMPED had two representatives on the selection committee, but so what?" he says. "This is a big town, and if anyone’s suggesting there’s anything wrong, they ought to come out and say it’s wrong."

  • Chris hauser

    If they release all the proposals, then others can read them too.

  • http://citypaper sly

    Rick White sounds like a arrogant little servant!

  • max

    Oh! Well this changes EVERYTHING.

    Aaron Wiener documented and then parroted the assertion by Rick White, the spokesperson for DCHA, that the DCHA process was good, thorough and fair. As an added bonus, Wiener carried Rick White's water bucket in assuring us that there is no reason- absolutely none! ever!- to presume a conflict of interest in the dealings between a developer and the District.

    If only Rick White's spokesperson had 'reported' (using the term loosely here) on all of these other situations in the District where there was no reason to presume a conflict of interest between officials and developers, the city council probably would not have wasted so much time last session proposing tighter ethics laws.

    Because the city spokesperson said there was absolutely no reason to presume conflict of interest involving city officials. And he should know, because he is paid to be their spokesperson.

    I realize some "readers" will use the "comments" section to leave actual comments, such as:

    "Hey Mr. Journalist, since the city supports their own proposal, it is only the actual residents and housing activists who are criticizing the plan, do you think for one of your stories you could ask residents and housing activists how they feel about the fairness of the process?"

    Well those people should shut the hell up. The war in Iraq didn't happen because journalists questioned the government, it happened because they repeated everything the government said. And when anti-war activists raised legitimate points, those journalist did not interview them, they gave air time and ink to the government so they could explain why the government was/is/will always be right.

    In the same way, Barry Farm will not be demolished and the public housing stock will not be further depleted by reporters "asking questions" and "demanding answers," that will only happen when the alternative weekly truly becomes the official City Paper.

  • max

    In response to the last story, NO reader questioned the choice of A&R Development. Not a single one.

    There were tons of questions about where Barry Farm residents will go and what happens to the depleted housing stock in SE (one reader thinks there is plenty of room in PG County). And those are the substantive questions it seems the City Paper is not interested in addressing, at least not from the perspective of the low income Black residents of DC in general and Barry Farm in particular.

    There were questions about why the City Paper in general, and this reporter in particular, seems to be cheerleading this city led effort to destroy public housing without real input from the residents.

    In that vein, the exact question asked was: "Will you be following up with a story about the lucky winner, A&R Development?"

    A story on a politically connected developer awarded a contract worth over $100 million tax dollars is legitimate journalism. That story, even if it is critical, can easily be distinguished from questioning the choice itself. In fact, such a story should be done even if you fully agree with, support and buy from that choice. Because it is good journalism on the disposition of tax money.

    There were zero requests for the reporter to repeat the official version of the selection process. However, if that is the route chosen, it seems journalistic ethics would demand inclusion of those questioning the process, not just those paid to praise it.

    As an example, here is a recent story from the Washington Afro.
    http://afro.com/sections/news/washington/story.htm?storyid=78934

    It may surprise City Paper readers because it includes quotes from both Mr. White and from actual living residents, presenting two sides of a story: the official city side and the side of those critical of the city.

    While many question it, frankly, the selection process is not very high on our list of complaints. Higher ranking concerns include: can the city afford to lose more public housing? will the city include resident concerns in the plan? will the city guarantee return to EVERYONE who wants it? will the city repair the slum conditions in Barry Farm? Why doesn't the city repair the Farms instead of tearing it down?

    Because it appears that the intent of the question was lost in the dripping sarcasm in which it was stated, let me make clear: it was not about the selection process or even the selection, per se. It was a critique of why the City Paper- not DCHA- is cheerleading this project.

    The question is: Can the City Paper act like the press- I won't burden you with living up to the expectations of the alternative press- and question this project rigorously? Will you report on this project in the context of the housing crisis, rather than the context of Rick White's position on how he is doing his job? Can you please hand this story over to another reporter?

  • max

    Well, I guess if anyone criticizes City Paper reporting, they get banned from the comments section.

    I wonder how the City Paper would respond if the Post did the same thing...

  • Mike Madden

    @ max:

    Some of our comments are automatically held for moderation by WordPress, and I'm not sure exactly why. We aren't able to clear the moderation queue as quickly as we might like, but your comments are all posted now.

  • PHB

    What process was used to qualify the two residents to assure a fair and knowledge based decision was made? Did they receive specialized training in the choosing process or was there an adviser they could counsel with regarding developer language, terms and/or previous record?

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