WASHINGTON - Long-awaited construction in Southeast D.C. will finally begin. This week the District’s Mayor announced the ground breaking for phase one of Barry Farm redevelopment will begin in September 2022.
This is big news for a lot of people in the greater D.C. area, but that news also comes with a mixed-bag of emotions.
A former Barry Farm resident, "Victoria," told FOX 5, "I’m kind of happy that they’re about to build you know, the new phase, you know better, you know, better, better lives." She’s eager to get back to the property her child can also use the Barry Farm Recreational Center.
Wanting to see positive change, former Barry Farm resident Detrice Belt also said, "I’m just, you know, confused and want to know who all will be returning to the property because we’ve all been scattered over the city and I’m really eager to get back to my community."
Belt chairs the Barry Farm Tenants and Allies Association, which for years, along with lawyers and other activists, has been fighting city plans to redevelop Barry Farm.
Belt welcomes redevelopment but is also concerned not all of the original families displaced from Barry Farm housing demolition will get to return.
"I’m very afraid where I live. I don’t know anybody. I knew, you know, living in Barry Farm’s for 20-years, I have a lot of friends and family there. Now that we’re apart from each other, it’s hard to connect," she said speaking on her own experience since being displaced.
In September, the city will be begin construction on the "The Asberry," slated to go up across the street from the Barry Farm Rec. Center.
‘The Asberry" is a mixed-use building with 5,000 square feet of commercial space. The first 108 affordable rental units will also be created, designated for seniors 55 and older.
The final project will have 900 new affordable rental and for-sale housing units, a total 380 units will replace the Barry Farm public housing units. Activists note that’s 380 figure is less than the 444 affordable units Barry Farm’s originally offered. They’re also concerned the newer unit sizes will be smaller.
Calling it a "big statement", Empower DC’s Organizing Director, Daniel del Pielago told FOX 5, "I think this is all under-rooted in the racism that exists in this country where a certain class, a certain group of people are seen as, you know, disposable. They can wait." Del Pielago told FOX 5 it’s something the city should not stand for.
In a press release announcing construction, Mayor Bowser is quoted as saying, "Barry Farm is the site of so much important history for DC and for families in Ward 8. The Asberry is the first step toward bringing families and seniors back home."
"This redevelopment has been years in the making and as we get closer to shovels in the ground, we are investing in the past and the promise of the Barry Farm community and we are committed to delivering not just new housing, but new opportunity," the Mayor added.
The Mayor has repeatedly said housing is a top priority for her administration. $43 million is going into phase one of construction alone, according to the phase one announcement.
After the Civil War, Barry Farm was an enclave for African American land ownership and became home to a rich history of Black culture and activism. In the 1940s, the Housing Authority created over 400 public housing units.
In the early 2000s, the city took it over under a District government program meant to redevelop struggling subsidized housing into mix-income communities. Residents of Barry Farm had suffered years of blight and violence at the housing complex. There were lawsuits and challenges filed – activists accusing the city of letting the housing community deteriorate.
Catherine Cone with the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which previously sued the city over Barry Farm, told FOX 5 the announcement is a step in the right direction if it doesn’t displace families.
"I think the mayor is proceeding this way is because construction of senior housing always looks like a victory for the Bowser administration, but real goal and the real need here is to ensure that families are able to return to the property and that requires that the city actually builds units that are large enough to accommodate families," Cone said over the phone.
When asked for clarification, the Mayors’ office confirmed the 108 first senior units is part of the 380 housing replacement units planned for the redeveloped Barry Farm community.
FOX 5 received this breakdown from the Mayor’s office:
"There was a total of 444 units at Barry Farm. A hundred units have been delivered through nearby off-site housing; Matthews Memorial (35 units - delivered in 2012); Sheridan I (25 units - delivered in 2011); and Sheridan II (40 units - delivered in 2015). Per The Court Zoning, Barry Farm will deliver 380 additional replacement units. With the combination of off-site and on-site units, the development will provide 480 replacement units for the residents of Barry Farm. Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Bowser announced the closing of the first on-site housing building, The Asberry, that is slated to deliver the first 108 units."
The Mayor expects the entire project to be completed in 2030.