The Wait for a New House in an Unsavory Environment
Stephanie Lewis and her son live in the Bennington Apartments, which are located off of Benning Road Northeast. A former resident of the Eastgate Gardens, she is still waiting for Wheeler Creek to move her back into the new Eastgate.
Eastgate Gardens is no longer the community it was when all off its residents were forced to relocate and the apartments were demolished.
The D.C. Housing Authority’s newsletter, Excel, stated that some portions of Eastgate were demolished in 1976. The East of the River newsletter reported that the last buildings left standing at the site were deconstructed in 2002.
Planning for Eastgate Gardens, now called Glenncrest, has been in the works for a decade. The area now features town homes, some which are rented and some that are meant for residents who want to be homeowners.
The houses cost about $360,000 and the renting rate depends on the median income of the renter and some are tax credit.
The DCHA provided $20 million for the revitalization of Eastgate through Hope VI, a funding program sponsored by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to HUD’s web site, the HOPE VI Program “was developed as a result of recommendations by National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing, which was charged with proposing a National Action Plan to eradicate severely distressed public housing.”
Some of the Commission’s suggested recommendations include “physical improvements, management improvements, and social and community services to address resident needs.”
The changes not only focus on infrastructure, but also on residents’ self-sufficiency and personal growth. The physical revitalization may include demolition, as was the case with Eastgate.
Wheeler Creek Community Development Corp., which has also re-developed the Henson Ridge, Capitol Gateway and Capper Carrollsburg communities that are located on Alabama Ave., Southeast, 56th Street and Southern Avenue, Southeast and 2nd and M Streets, Southeast, respectively, carry out this program.
A portion of the new homes were set aside for former Eastgate residents to move into. However, the final decision on whether or not a family can return is left up to management at Glenncrest and their superiors.
Through pre-requisites such as credit reviews, former Eastgate residents are assigned a case manager from Wheeler Creek who advises them on how to improve their credit and may help them find employment, educational opportunities, childcare and other social services.
For some former Eastgate residents, the transition form their old neighborhood to the ones they lived in while waiting for construction at Glenncrest to be completed hasn’t been the smoothest.
Some have moved into apartments that Wheeler Creek helped them to find and others have found housing on their own.
Either way, some of the apartment complexes are public housing and sit in some of the District’s worst neighborhoods.
Lewis said that she recently received a letter from Eastgate informing her that she won’t be receiving a house.
According to her, an official from the Eastgate office was supposed to come do a home-check. “They ain’t never come,” Lewis said.
When she called the Eastgate office, Lewis said “nobody never answered.”
“I got a hearing,” she continued. “I gotta go tomorrow.” Lewis’s case manager at Eastgate is Kevin Newton. She said she intended on arguing against Eastgate’s decision during her meeting with him.
Kevin Newton said there is an appellate process with Eastgate that people like Lewis can go through.
“Sometimes they are successful,” he said.
Of her current location, Lewis said, “I’m ready to move. This place is a disaster. I stepped on a nail, they don’t like to fix stuff.”
The wood under Lewis’s toilet is rotting from constant leakage, there is mildew around the tub and the air vent in the bathroom and kitchen are taped up to keep water bugs from coming through them.
Lewis went on to call her neighborhood “a mess” and said that stolen cars are often in her parking lot. “They be hijacking cars round here,” she said.
“One little boy raped a little girl on the fourth court,” she said. “It just ain’t safe round here.”
Lewis said she doesn’t feel comfortable sitting on her “front” because the neighbors are nosey, they beg and borrow, and “they always in somebody business.”
According to Lewis, the rent office isn’t “intact” and that people who work there open the office whenever they feel like it.
Newton said he tells people whose cases he manages to contact DCHA and “have them do an inspection and show them that the landlord isn’t doing what he’s supposed to do.”
DCHA, after all, subsidizes the rent of some former Eastgate residents and they will force the landlord to keep apartments up to par.
“If they’re not being subsidized through housing [DCHA],” Newton said, “we tell them they can go to legal aide.”
As for now, Lewis is looking for another place to live just in case the situation with her former community, Eastgate, doesn’t work out.
Gail Gurley has already transitioned from Sursun Quarters, which is located at North Capitol and M Sts. Northwest.
“I love my new house,” Gurley said. “I don’t like it, I love it.”
Gurley said she enjoys home ownership because she has something to leave to her kids and no one can put her out unless she doesn’t pay her mortgage.
At Sursun Quarters, Gurley said there was shooting every night.
“My girlfriend daughter got killed over there,” she said. “It’s like a blessing to have my new home.”
Now, Gurley said, her children have a better environment to grow up in.
At Sursun Quarters, Gurley said she had rats and a lot of leaks, some coming through the front door and maintenance could never seem to find the source.
“I caught hell,” she said.
Gurley lived in Eastgate for almost 20 years and waited for a house in Glenncrest for four years.
“It was a little rough but I go it,” she said of her new home. “You gotta make sure your credit is straightened out and everything or your not gonna get nothing.”
Gurley said she wished some of her old friends were still living so that they could see the transformation that has been made on Eastgate.
“They did a good job,” she said.
Gurley said she sits on Eastgate’s appellate board and listens to people’s case.
One of her friends, Donita, has a daughter who wanted help with her case, citing that she had been denied a house because her house was dirty.
Gurley denies this and said that she feels bad that she couldn’t help. “I don’t know what happened,” she said.
Even worse, Gurley said, is that her friend Donita was instrumental in the fight to save Eastgate.
Now, Gurley is concerned that some good people might bring ‘bad seed” family members who sell drugs back to the neighborhood.
“It happens every time,” she said, “We’re not trying to have that anymore.”