Barry Farm Redevelopment Plans Restart

An 1894 Baist survey of the greater Anacostia and Barry Farm communities.

On the first Friday in November, Nella Peterson, President of the Barry Farm Resident Council, was asked by the DC Housing Authority (DCHA), along with other members of the resident council, to read and evaluate seven proposals within a week to select a master planner and developer for her neighborhood.

“They’re very complicated and in depth,” Peterson says. “Housing has put a priority on these proposals. It’s mind-boggling; we have no time.”

Last month the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded Choice Neighborhood planning grants to 17 recipients, including DCHA, which received $300,000 for its proposal for the redevelopment of Barry Farm Dwellings. To jumpstart redevelopment efforts, when the Housing Authority completes the planning process it intends to apply for a competitive Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant. This could provide up to $30 million for the revitalization of the Barry Farm community, according to Dena Michaelson, DCHA’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications.

The announcement from HUD comes on the heels of DCHA’s receiving those seven proposals in response to the call for a master planning and development team to lead a $400 million, four-phase renewal process that could take an estimated two decades. Barry Farm Dwellings sits on 26 acres in Southeast, bounded by Firth Sterling Avenue, Suitland Parkway, Wade Road and St. Elizabeths’ West Campus, with more than one million square feet projected for mixed-use redevelopment. That is a large piece of land, though far smaller than the original Barry Farm, which had 375 acres when purchased for $52,000 by the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1867.

DCHA is expected to announce a short list from the seven applicants this month. Finalists were evaluated by a six-member panel with equal representation from DCHA, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DPMED) and the Barry Farm Resident Council. A similar panel will score the final proposals from the short list and make recommendations to Adrianne Todman, DCHA’s Executive Director, in March 2013. Once Todman accepts the finalist, she will take the proposal to DCHA’s Board of Commissioners for final approval. The proposal can be sent back to the panel with questions from either Todman or the Board. 

As part of the proposal process the master planner and developer will identify other sources of private and public funding that will be used to complete the project, including the Choice Neighborhoods seed grant, if DCHA wins it. The Housing Authority has a track record of leveraging HUD grants. In total, DCHA has received $182 million through seven HOPE VI grants, which have been leveraged to return “more than $1.5 billion in community development for the District,” according to Michaelson.

Ground-floor retail has not been incorporated into the recently opened Sheridan Station, but plans for Barry Farm’s redevelopment could include up to 30,000 square feet of retail to complement the addition of hundreds of market rate units.

DCHA is aware of Barry Farm residents’ concern about displacement. “The city’s New Communities program, HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods program and the DCHA Board of Commissioners’ Development Principles all require a 1-to-1 replacement of units that serve low-income families on site or in the immediate community,” confirmed Michaelson. “There are 100 units, 60 already built and occupied and 40 being built, at Sheridan Station and Matthews Memorial Terrace that are part of the Barry Farm redevelopment. The priority for all 432 units is for Barry Farm families in good standing. A successful redevelopment will deconcentrate the public housing on the footprint to provide for a mixed-income, transit-oriented, green community.”

Kalfani Ture, a doctoral student who has been immersed in the community since 2007, observes that “on one hand, policymakers say that Barry Farm Dwellings proper is too dense in the sociological characteristics of a ‘RUG,’ a racialized urban ghetto.” He continues: “But on the other hand, the same policymakers say Barry Farm needs greater density because it hasn’t appreciated for the market. The re-facing of the Anacostia waterfront, on both sides, is in the hopes a developer will see the attractiveness of investing in this community and create density of disposable income-consumers.”

Disconnect between city officials and Barry Farm residents is straightforward, says Ture. “The primary concerns of residents are self-preservation of their family and kinfolk in response to the structural policies that have produced the community’s desperation, which the current development policy proposes to resolve. The city’s intention is to make money and expose Barry Farm to the market. These are two antithetical perspectives on the same community.”


Barry Farm Residents Wait for the Next Step


Anxiety has been mounting for residents since Mayor Adrian Fenty and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry held a series of meetings at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in spring 2008 to discuss the city’s New Communities redevelopment plan, which began in November 2005 and was approved by the City Council in 2006. With the downturn in the economy and housing market in fall 2008, plans to rejuvenate the faded and blighted community were put on the shelf. More than four years later the whole process begins anew.

Through all the fits and starts seasoned residents of Barry Farm have developed mistrust toward the city government. The city seems to engender residents’ worst fears, and in response an emergency town hall meeting was organized in late October. The meeting drew more than 50 attendees, including neighborhood artist-activist and documentary filmmaker Tendani Mpulubusi, who is a member of the Barry Farm New Communities Advisory Board. “A sense of intense concern was expressed at the meeting,” he says, “but this emotion was purposeful, directed, and empowering.”According to Mpulubusi, Barry Farm residents are working with legal counsel provided by a citywide nonprofit to draft a “Community Benefits Agreement” and provide “competency and engagement” workshops as the development process moves forward.

On a recent visit to the neighborhood, flyers posted by the Barry Farm Resident Council were seen hanging inconspicuously on the door of the Barry Farm Recreation Center and inside Charlie’s Corner store on Sumner Road SE. The posters demand improved public safety, community heritage preservation, job training and employment opportunities and “Our Right to Return to Barry Farm after the Development!”

As for the future of Barry Farm, Nella Peterson, a home health aide to her mother, says, “I would like to see us return to being a close-knit community. We need to get back on that path.”


No Word on Next Meeting


A “Barry Farm New Communities” public meeting planned for October 25 at the Excel Academy was cancelled. With the approaching holidays and demands on the Barry Farm Resident Council, the next public meeting is not expected to convene until early 2013.