Monday, January 3, 2011

Will Gray Administration Address City Nuisance Properties?

There’s the crumbling façade of a historic house on N Street that, aside from a chain link fence securing it, has remained frozen in time while all of the adjacent properties were renovated, rented, or sold. A rowhouse on Ridge Street collapsed in the middle of the night in 2007, leaving an empty lot. Two blocks away, the 1970s-era “porto-library,” resembling a highway rest stop, stands boarded up on New York Avenue since it closed 2 years ago.

In each case, the landlord is the same – the DC government.

These 3 properties are in my neighborhood, but there are well over 100 city-owned vacant houses and lots across the city. Many remain in the same condition, and under city control, for a decade or more.

That does not count the larger properties, such as closed schools. Some have promises of future renovation. Others are slated for uses that are not in tune with the District’s comprehensive plan or surrounding community’s wishes. Downtown, the shuttered Franklin School, a historic gem built to teach 400 children as a model educational institution, is slated to become a 30-room boutique hotel.

Meanwhile, the District’s fledgling community college opened its downtown campus in a nondescript office building for which taxpayers pay the rent -- starting at $1.8 million and rising to $3.8 million each year (and an additional $264,000 to $391,909 annually for its parking lot).  The city’s public law school, charter schools, and nonprofits search for space.

The Gray Administration must develop a comprehensive inventory of its property, carefully evaluate the city’s needs, and thoughtfully consider the ideas and preferences of those who live around the sites.  He should quickly move vacant houses into affordable and market-rate housing, preserve our public treasures, and return the larger buildings to productive use.

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