The relationship between D.C. public housing residents and the D.C. government has not been on the greatest terms in the past. So much so, that the residents have become weary of trusting the government any time it wants to make changes to their homes and communities. A recent instance of community mistrust has arisen surrounding the changes being made to the Barry Farm public housing project in Southeast near the Anacostia metro station.
The land the Barry Farm community sits on was acquired in 1801 by James Barry who was one of the incorporators of the Washington Canal Company. In 1876 the Freedman’s Bureau, a government agency established to aid freed slaves and their families, bought the James Barry farm and divided it into lots to be sold to freed slaves. By 1869, 266 families occupied the land. Today, the land is home to over 100 families in a 432-unit public housing project managed by the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA).
The mistrust mentioned earlier stems from the majority Black population, living on land that has been historically occupied by Black families, coming up against threats of displacement. As a part of the New Communities Initiative, the DCHA has partnered with Baltimore based developer, A & R Development Corp. and nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc. The residents of Barry Farm, supported by local advocacy groups, have opened up a class action lawsuit against the DCHA in opposition to their redevelopment plan. The plan is proposing 1,400 mixed-income housing units and 58,730 sqft of retail. 344 out of the 432 units are planned to be replaced while 100 will be moved off site. The plan lacks units large enough for families of four or more and is predicted to displace 150 families or over 500 residents in the low-income Southeast neighborhood.
The DCHA has made accommodations for the current residents to be temporarily housed elsewhere while the demolition and construction of the new Barry Farm community takes place, with the right to return once construction is completed. However, the Barry Farm residents are not trusting of this model and are urging the DCHA to follow the “build first” concept so that they are not displaced indefinitely without a home to return to due to unforeseen challenges. The skeptical residents have good reason to be distrustful based upon a similar situation that has left hundreds displaced from the Temple Courts public housing project that used to be in Northeast.
The current Barry Farm residents feel that the D.C. government is trying to intimidate them into leaving before their new homes are built. They believe this is to blame for the lack of upkeep that has befallen the community ranging from leaky ceilings, holes in the floor, to appliances that do not work. Residents spoke of signage with warnings about construction beginning soon as well as bulldozers being present. The housing that has already been abandoned by families who were convinced to leave are becoming a health hazard for the people who remain. Those units have become breeding grounds for rodents and vermin which is another issue not being managed by the D.C. government.
The residents are not being treated equitably in matters of their quality of public health as well as housing. The Barry Farm community feels that it is being slighted and pushed aside from the complex that was built in 1943 on land historically significant to freed slaves after the Civil War. The unfortunate story of Barry Farm leaves its residents in a state of uncertainty and serves as another example of how low-income Black families are discriminated against in the United States by government entities.
Barry Farm is not giving up the fight for being treated justly in their rights to quality housing. For more information on the status of the case, follow the links below to stay up to date on the ongoing matter.
Greg Grant is an Urban Planner from Houston, TX who is interested in planning equitable transportation and environmental solutions for communities. In his spare time he enjoys cooking and DJing, but not at the same time.