March on Potomac Gardens

March on Potomac Gardens

Washington, DC’s Capital Hill East web discussion group has proposed an anti-crime march on the Potomac Gardens public housing community. This has set the blogosphere boiling but has yet to make it into DC newspapers and broadcast media. It will. The proposal, no matter how well-intentioned, is certainly un-neighborly; some may consider it divisive, racist, elitist, and downright ignorant.

Residents of Potomac Gardens know about crime. They are frequent victims. There probably isn’t a steel apartment door in the place that doesn’t bear the marks of break-ins and attempted break-ins.  Residents are much more likely to be crime victims than criminals. Most residents are elderly, single mothers with children, or grandmothers with grandchildren.  No one who has any other alternative would live in Potomac Gardens.

Other than blaming the victims, what suggestions do the Hill East gentrifiers have for Potomac Gardens? Most involve razing the buildings and exporting the poor to other neighborhoods, as if they would be welcome there. There are proposals for “mixed income” housing on the site, meaning buildings four or five times the capacity of current ones or displacement of most residents. No one ever suggests provisions for temporary resident housing during construction. This does not seem to be an issue, since Washington’s municipal government officials are more concerned with the needs of downtown developers than the residents who voted them into office.

If the gentrifiers of Hill East want a protest march, why don’t they join forces with the victimized residents of Potomac Gardens and march on the Wilson Building (the Washington, DC City Hall) and the federal HUD offices? Policies from those buildings formed this dysfunctional situation, and implementation of long-term solutions will require more innovative thinking than they have shown up to now.

March on Potomac Gardens

In the short term, surrounding Potomac Gardens with steel bars, installing dozens of surveillance cameras, and supplementing police with private guards has heightened the prison atmosphere without much reduction in crime. Social programs and D.C. Public Schools have been ineffective in helping residents escape. Until other alternatives emerge, Hill East residents can help their younger Potomac Gardens neighbors by volunteering as tutors with the Friends of Tyler School. Since 1990 it has helped over 300 kids, most from Potomac Gardens, and 90 percent have graduated from high school, the first step towards moving on to jobs and other housing. No one wants to live in Potomac Gardens if they don’t have to.

For further discussion of the issue see Sam Smith’s DC City Desk.

Martin Austermuhle of DCist reports that Councilman Tommy Wells will host weekly potlucks at Potomac Gardens to discuss public safety issues.

Image by Mike Licht. Download your own angry mob here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

17 Responses to “March on Potomac Gardens”

  1. Paul M. Says:

    I am the original poster of the suggestion that a march might be in order. I would like to make it absolutely clear that my initial post was somewhat whimsical and intended to provoke a robust and broad discussion of the issue of juvenile violent crime and victimization in the Hill East are of Capitol Hill. To say the least, I achieved this goal.

    The comments and dialogue have been terrific and represent amazingingly diverse points of view, almost all of which I consider valid; I wish the name-calling and hurling of assumptive generalizations were less, but hey, it’s a topic that is tailor-made for passionate exchanges.

    I was more than a little surprised when several dozen participant of the New Hill East Yahoo group actually siezed on the idea of a march and supported it. I quickly tried to provide some focus and articulate and well-reasoned rebuttals to the notion that a march, regardless of its intent and organization, is a bad idea. The extent to which I accomplished this is yet to be seen.

    I do not support actually marching on/in Potomac Gardens, nor do I support any public protest that would intentionally alienate Potomac Garden residents. To the contrary, as mentioned repeatedly in my subsequent posts, I would like to organize and be part of a protest march against juvenile violent crime and victimization that includes and supports everybody in this community whose level of outrage has reached the point of intolerance. This surely includes residents of Potomac Gardens and Hopkins; I have suggested several times that if planned and executed properly such a protest march could, in fact, send a massive show of support to beleaguered residents there that 1) there is a larger community outside those fences that is interested in improving everybody’s living conditions, 2) as an entire community we are interested in helping to improve conditions there (read my remarks re: holding our city leaders accountable for their contributions to the juvenile crime issue and public housing generally), and 3) regardless of race, class, demographics, we as a community are energized and galvanized in our collective effort to make our community most unwelcoming to those in our midst who seek to rob us, assault us, and otherwise make our lives dangerous.

    I am deighted my moment of outrage and venting has prompted so many to speak up, regardless of which side of the issue they support.

    PIM

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    Paul M.: Thank you for the clarification. Like most people in the Hill East neighborhood, I am not a member of the Hill East email group, and have been unaware of the origins of this situation and the subsequent snowballing of it.

    As you know, this has taken on a life of its own, and I hear that March on Potomac Gardens flyers are being passed around the neighborhood. I would be surprised if these have not reached Potomac Gardens by now, and can only imagine the feelings of threat and hostility these have created among the law-abiding and crime-plagued majority of residents there. It is going to take major reassurance from the community outside of those fences to, well, mend fences.

    Before marching anywhere, for anything, with anyone, I respectfully suggest you consider some kind of direct action to prove the sincerity of that interest in improving everybody’s living conditions, even if it’s planting some flowers inside the Potomac Gardens fences, since it’s the season.

    There are also tutoring opportunities inside and outside of those fences. It’s a good thing for the children, of course, but it’s good for the community — instead of an anonymous face you become “Andre’s tutor” or “Tamika’s tutor,” and Capital Hill becomes more of a neighborhood.

  3. Frank Sherman Says:

    Can you follow up on the “March on Potomac Gardens” flyer rumor?

    I have asked all around the surrounding blocks of PG from various neighbors, and no one has seen the flyer. Nor is a any flyer posted on lightpoles, trees, etc.

    Are you sure such a flyer has been passed around, and can you obtain (from whomever you heard that it was being passed around) a copy of the flyer to PDF here? I’m skeptical that one has actually been distributed.

  4. Mike Licht Says:

    The usually trustworthy neighbor who told me he had received one — by hand — threw it out. This was in the 1500 block of K Street SE. I still have not seen one myself, and have asked my friend to solicit another copy.

  5. Frank Sherman Says:

    No worries — although with yet another attack, I’m worried there will be renewed calls for marches, which will likely rev up elements of PG to commit more crimes on neighbors, which will prompt more calls for marches which will . . .

    I’m no friend of PG (I’d love to see it torn down and replaced with the units they have at Ellen Wilson place), but I sense a very long summer coming.

  6. Mike Licht Says:

    Frank: Have you ever visited anyone in Potomac Gardens? Most residents are elderly women, single mothers, or grandmothers caring for their grandchildren. Residents are more often victims of crime than criminals, reluctant to report crimes out of fear.

    Making this an “us vs. them” issue is absurd, unless Hill East is plagued by roving bands of vicious grannies.

  7. Frank Sherman Says:

    From your own comment earlier, you wrote:

    “I would be surprised if these [flyers] have not reached Potomac Gardens by now, and can only imagine the feelings of threat and hostility these have created among the law-abiding and crime-plagued majority of residents there.”

    My point was that if the GOOD residents of PG will feel hostile, what do you think the CRIMINAL elements of Potomac Gardens will feel?

    And with yet another attack in front of PG yesterday, the “beat” goes on.

  8. Cam Says:

    You should cite stats if you are going to put in a sentance like “Residents are much more likely to be crime victims than criminals. ” Actually there is a high percentage of arrests that come out of PG if earlier crime statistics are looked at. So while some people living in there no doubt have been victimes, this in no way negates the fact that people walking out of the grocery stores are also getting jumped by others who live in the building.

  9. Cam Says:

    And the comment of “Most residents are elderly women, single mothers, or grandmothers caring for their grandchildren.” Yes, exactly, and it is the teenaged grandchildren that are usually arrested after the muggings.

  10. Mike Licht Says:

    Cam Says: You should cite stats

    I will if you will.

    …while some people living in there no doubt have been victimes

    More people who live in Potomac Gardens get mugged than people from those pricey condos nearby. Ask you local MPD officer. Better yet: visit the people who live in Potomac Gardens and ask them.

  11. be Says:

    Thank you for this responsible post. I’m often disheartened by discussions of folks who have just moved into the newly developing neighborhoods in DC and then demanding removal of public housing and the people who seriously need it. Join the community. Feel responsible about the safety of all the residents of the community. Not just those who look like you or whose bank account looks like yours.

    Be.

  12. Cam Says:

    Mike Licht Says:
    More people who live in Potomac Gardens get mugged than people from those pricey condos nearby. Ask you local MPD officer. Better yet: visit the people who live in Potomac Gardens and ask them.

    Those aren’t stats, that is you making a claim. The fact that people living in the building are being attacked would show that the attackers are also from inside the building since the outside is surrounded and would make escape to an outside street problematic, as would the outside security cameras.

    You can paint rainbows and unicorns all you want but the fact is, whenever a housing project like this goes away crime rates drop hugely. When the Robert Taylor projects in Chicago were changed to mixed income housing the murder rates in Chicago dropped by 50%. So please stop trying to convince us that every single person inside Potomac Gardens is a kindly little grandmother caring for her darling grandchildren. If this was the case then you should have no trouble supporting a law that says if any person in a public housing apt. commits a villent crime then the family loses their lease. If nobody in PG is committing crimes then you have nothing to worry about from a law like that.

  13. Mike Licht Says:

    Cam wrote:

    Those aren’t stats, that is you making a claim.

    More interested in stats than people? Fine. Knock yourself out. Call 202-727-1000 and get back to us.

    The fact that people living in the building are being attacked would show that the attackers are also from inside the building since the outside is surrounded and would make escape to an outside street problematic, as would the outside security cameras.

    Wrong. It’s easy to get in and out of the development, and those who prey on the single mothers, kids, and elderly residents do so. The fences and video are “security theater.”

    … whenever a housing project like this goes away crime rates drop hugely.

    You mean, disperse poor people and local crime drops? What insight!

    The problem with “mixed income developments” is that they retain only 10 – 20 percent of apartments for the poor and working poor without accomodating the majority. Add that to the 3-year backlog for subsidized housing and it is apparent what a sham this approach is. DC has a vast over-supply of empty “luxury” housing near the ballpark. See any trend to add 10-20 percent of “affordable” units to these ghost highrises?

    …you should have no trouble supporting a law that says if any person in a public housing apt. commits a violent crime then the family loses their lease.

    That regulation exists, so you don’t need to march with pitchforks and torches. Again, residents are much more often victims than perpetrators, so it does little good.

  14. 8th & I Marines Barracks planned expansion could claim notorious SE Potomac Gardens housing projects « The Washington Syndicate Says:

    […] in the history of previous neighborhood marchers, less than two years ago, after an uproar on the Hill East listerv following muggings of yupsters by juveniles from […]

  15. Do Fence Me In Capitol Hill’s Potomac Gardens isn’t as dangerous as it was, but its gates remain. - Housing Complex - Washington City Paper Says:

    […] eastern Capitol Hill, those periodic cycles often center around Potomac Gardens, the 352-unit public housing complex that occupies a full city […]

  16. CapitolHillResident Says:

    A NEW PROPOSAL FOR POTOMAC GARDENS !

    I propose that the city (under partnership with a developer) offer residents of Potomac Gardens a buyout offer in return for their commitment to permanently move out of the complex. These former Potomac Garden residents would then be free to choose a better living situation that works for their individual circumstances (perhaps even home ownership).

    Since Potomac Gardens is comprised of 352 units, the total cost for buying out the Potomac Gardens residents would run in the millions. The city would buy the property from the current owner at a slight premium to market value. With the property now free for redevelopment, the city would allow the developer to construct a large scale project as follows:

    1) Demolish the entire current complex of buildings and temporarily replace it with park space while redevelopment plans are formalized.
    2) Option to build one mixed use mega-development project, OR sell off individual parcels of land
    3) Include park or other outdoor gathering spaces equal to 1/4th of the total ground floor square footage.
    4) Construct townhouses or retail that is consistent with Capitol Hill architecture

    If there were any issues with redevelopment feasibility, the developer could be offered tax credits by the city.

    Everyone wins.

    [Edited to reduce redundancy]

  17. Mike Licht Says:

    CapitolHillResident:

    Assuming your comment isn’t some kind of Swiftian “Modest Proposal,” it’s not very new, and not very just, It leaves the low-income residents without a place to live, but since your aim is merely to displace our neighbors and let them go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s not here … mission accomplished.

    That said, there are a few more tiny flaws:

    The city would buy the property from the current owner ….

    The city IS the owner. Specifically, the D.C. Housing Authority, the agency pledged to provide low-income housing for DC citizens.

    Demolish the entire current complex of buildings and temporarily replace it with park space while redevelopment plans are formalized.

    You don’t replace something with nothing, demolition costs money, and a building site is not a park. Capitol Hill has plenty of parks already; what it lacks now is affordable housing.

    … the developer could be offered tax credits by the city.

    It isn’t enough to privatize public property for private gain, you want to let taxes slide too.

    If there were any issues with redevelopment feasibility …

    Um, yes.

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