Housing Authority and former Barry Farm tenants receive second chance to resolve historic preservation debate
A Historic Preservation Review Board hearing on Oct. 31 was one more in a series of meetings to work out how to proceed with the development of Barry Farm Dwellings, a property in Southeast D.C. with a storied history and a future that is of interest to many parties.
The HPRB has been working to consider a historic landmark designation for part of the Barry Farm neighborhood that was filed in April. At the Oct. 31 hearing, representatives from both D.C. Housing Authority and the Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association gave accounts of meetings they had with each other since the last hearing in September.
DCHA representative Cynthia A. Giordano said “There have been email exchanges up until maybe last night around 8 p.m., so I think the housing authority and [its development partner] Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc. have been very responsive and very active in trying to work things out.”
According to DCHA representative Jose Souza, two of three scheduled meetings were held to highlight an updated plan to increase the number of Barry Farm housing structures that would be preserved from four to 14 units. “We believe the [way to honor the] history of the site is to bring back affordable housing and bring back former residents to the site to reactivate it and create a meaningful place for the District,” Souza said.
Detrice Belt, the chair of the tenants and allies association, said meetings the group had with DCHA and one of its development partners, Preservation for Affordable Housing, Inc., felt rushed.
“They’re saying they were going to give us one house and commemorate the history of Barry Farm,” Belt said. “To me it didn’t look good.”
Former Barry Farm resident Paulette Matthews said she was ashamed to be learning the rich history of her long-time neighborhood during the landmark application process. She also said moving out to make way for redevelopment had left residents uncertain about the future. “Stability, security, who wouldn’t want it?” she asked the HPRB rhetorically.
Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower D.C., the nonprofit advocacy group that organized the tenants and allies association, said the current plan that POAH and DCHA presented to the HPRB has not been shared with residents of Barry Farm in a formal meeting, nor has the plan been approved by the zoning commission. “There have been no meetings presenting this plan,” she stated. “The last meetings were held about a year ago to get input into supposedly making some changes to the plan, but this updated plan was never revealed.”
Responding to the tenants and allies association and Norouzi, Anthony Waddell, POAH Vice President for Real Estate Development for the mid-Atlantic region, said there will be 380 units of replacement public housing for tenants to come back and live in as well as extended storage time for residents who need it. “Certainly, the development will take longer than a year, nobody ever said it will take a year,” Waddell said.
Waddell stated that POAH respects the people, history, and architecture of Barry Farm. “What we’re trying to do is to reflect that architecture in the new development, so that’s one of the very first things we did is we studied the site,” he said. “This is taking a step back from the more modern public housing era and looking at the history [that speaks] to Paulette back when there were freed slaves living on the site.”
Waddell described a plan POAH offers to its tenants in federally assisted housing that it markets as a pathway to homeownership. Recipients of federal housing assistance pay 30% of their income as rent. POAH’s initiative, called the Family Self-Sufficiency program, allows participants to save a portion of their rent if their income increases, in order to achieve financial goals, according to the organization’s quarterly report for this fall. “That amount, say if its $100, could be put into an escrow account and can be saved for a down payment on a house, Waddell said. “It could be saved for a college education, it could be saved to start a business.”
POAH took Paulette Matthews and other tenants from the BFTAA to Chicago to visit Woodlawn Park, a site where POAH partnered with the City of Chicago to redevelop in 2008. POAH organized the trip to Chicago to build trust with former Barry Farm residents and ease fears that they will not be able to return to the neighborhood when redevelopment is complete. Residents in the historic public housing community have feared moving to make way for construction and not being allowed back to benefit from the planned mixed-income neighborhood since at least 2012. “We took Paulette and some others out to Chicago with us so they can see and speak to the residents who we worked with throughout that process and hear from the city councilperson — or alderman — in Chicago about how we worked,” Waddell said.
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White attended the hearing and voiced concerns on what will come next for Barry Farm and the residents that have been displaced. “We haven’t heard from the developer about where’s the money to bring the people back, so we’ve been asking the question and looking into that,” he said. “We have not yet seen from the developer’s perspective on how they are going to fund this project.”
During the hearing David Maloney, the State Historic Preservation Officer, was asked by the HPRB to give his opinion on how to proceed. Maloney proposed a “split action” approach to the voting process. In this approach, the first “action” would be for HPRB to make a Statement of Intent that outlines how it would vote based on everything heard thus far. By putting their intent on the record, the Board suggested that DCHA and BFTAA consider their options and attempt to come to an agreement on their own. In the choice between more affordable housing vs emphasis on historic preservation, DCHA wants more affordable housing and homeownership while the BFTAA is more concerned with historical landmarking.
The second “action” would have the HPRB consider all the issues brought up by each party and then take a final vote. The HPRB has stated that they are in favor of historic designation as well as opportunities for affordable housing and homeownership.
“The Board has made it clear that we support designation [as a historic landmark],” said Marnique Heath, chair of the HPRB. “So that puts more pressure on the housing authority to make revisions of their plans, to do something that is in support of preservation.” Otherwise, the Board will be responsible for the planning of what buildings will be preserved on-site, which could lead to difficulties for POAH and the housing authority.
The HPRB requested a progress report from both parties on Dec. 5.
This article has been updated to reflect that while the Historic Preservation Review Board suggested the tenants association and the developer come to an agreement among themselves, this was not an explicit requirement of the actions adopted by the HPRB. It also now specifies that Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White and two other community members accompanied the Barry Farm tenants the developer flew to Chicago to view another of its projects.