Since January, 2003
 Page Through from Before to After

For close to 10 years, there has almost always been something going on to photograph between 5th, 3rd, L, and Virginia. Between 2003 and 2007 there was the boarding up and demolishing of the old Capper/Carrollsburg dwellings and the construction of the two new Capper apartment buildings. Then, in 2008, work finally began on Capitol Quarter's mixed-income townhouses, starting at 5th and L and working northward then back southward.
And now, as 2012 comes to a close, the final batch of homes, on the south side of L between 3rd and 4th, have been completed, and with the photos I took Sunday, my work in the Capitol Quarter blocks is done.
There will be more to come at Capper--apartment buildings are still to be built on the empty lots between 2nd and 3rd, and on the trash transfer site, and at the old Capper Seniors site at 7th and L, plus office buildings at 250 M and 600 M--but until those get underway (timelines all currently unannounced), my days of traipsing around the old Capper footprint with camera in hand are at an end.
I've taken more than 5,000 photos of just this portion of Near Southeast, and while not all of them are on the web site, if you go to the Photo Archive map and click on a star or use the search form, you can follow the progression I've witnessed at the 14 Capitol Quarter intersections (such as the one above, showing the southwest corner of 4th and L from 2006 to 2012, and the one below, showing the northeast corner of 4th and K from 2004 to 2009).
The photos, of course, mostly just track the physical change, and don't really reflect how these blocks now have so much more foot traffic, so many more strollers, and so many more bikes (and so many more shades of pastels on the buildings!). The photos probably do hint at the, ahem, shift in demographics from a nearly 100 percent public housing community to a mixed-income area that includes some of those previous public housing residents alongside newcomers who've paid close to $1 million for their new homes, which probably still elicits a grumble here or there, though that's also an on-going discussion across the city, not specific just to Near Southeast.
But for those of us who saw what this area south of the freeway had looked like for so many years, there can still be moments of wonder that this redevelopment actually happened. It's been amazing to watch, and I'm so glad I got to see it up close from start to finish.
Comments (16)
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natitude says: (11/12/12 12:47 PM)
JD, What a journey you have taken us on. It was this development that led me to your website and learning about the whole Near SE area sometime around 2005. I ended up moving to the area in 2007 do in significant part from learning about the potential of the area from your site. The baseball stadium was an incredible lucky surprise, and I remember how close DC came to disproving the construction of Nationals Park. Truly amazing what this area is becoming, albeit frustratingly slow at times (Canal Park, Half-Street). We are so lucky to have someone as talented and passionate as you documenting the transformation. Your work is priceless. Keep it up and thank you so much.

Bruce says: (11/12/12 4:31 PM)
I remember when I camped out overnight in Oct 2006 for the very first release. I met some great people who are now neighbors and friends. The police came by and asked us if we were protesting
As we sat around overnight, watching "activity" taking place by the port o potty in the parking lot (now a Carroll on the corner of 4th and K), we knew that the area would be great and it is. Although it took almost 3 years to close on our homes, it was worth it. Phil came by Saturday morning with coffee for us. We truly were pioneers!
Thanks for the coverage.

dcnative says: (11/13/12 11:43 AM)
cappers was a 700 unit public housing property. hundreds of families were forced out to and many did not come back because the public housing units were drastically cut. is this fair? it looks nice and pretty but it was made nice and pretty for people OTHER than the original residents.

JD says: (11/13/12 12:28 PM)
Except remember that not all public housing units that are on the boards have been built. The entire Capper redevelopment will have 700 units of public housing, just like the old Cappers. But there are still five apartment buildings yet to be built.

See the map:

ZoolanderANDtheBoYz says: (11/13/12 2:28 PM)
@dcnative...In a city like Washington, land has a hefty value. All those public houses (project houses) were on a very expensive land. Most developers paid around $50 million for a city block lot in the area. This area used to be a war zone engulfed by crime, poverty, drugs, and prostitution. The city has the right to force out families who live on a city or federal dime and relocate them somewhere else.
One of the most effective way of simplifying a neglected and degraded neighborhood is to change a public housing in to mixed income affordable housing and that works. Today, this neighborhood has a low crime rate in the city and the city collects millions of tax revenue from the 4000 residents and property owners.

conngs0 says: (11/13/12 2:40 PM)
I think that JD's reminder about the neighborhood's plans is an important one. Of the 700 units of public housing that were removed from the old Cappers neighborhood, every single one will be restored. And it will be located in a mixed income neighborhood that will be an undeniably nicer place to live than it was back in 2003.

Nevertheless, I understand dcnative's frustration. Certain public housing units were boarded up in 2003 and there still isn't even a timeline for any of the Capper apartment buildings? After a decade of development? Surely some public housing units can be brought back to the neighborhood at a faster rate without diminishing the pace of development for the rest of the neighborhood, no? Then again, it's not like the rest of the neighborhood is developing at an astounding pace either. The Boilermaker Shops likely won't make any progress until next year sometime, and Twelve12 is still just a big hole in the ground.

I just hope that enough of the tax revenue from the completed development projects along with those that are just getting underway will be allocated towards making a model public housing infrastructure that turns out to be worth the wait.

Eric says: (11/16/12 3:32 PM)
"The city has the right to force out families who live on a city or federal dime and relocate them somewhere else. "


So the 700 (!!!) remaining public housing units won't be mixed income? It'll literaly just be an entire buildings filled with nothing but public housing?


JD says: (11/16/12 3:36 PM)
No, Eric, the remaining five buildings aren't all public housing. Across the entire Capper redevelopment, there will still be 700 units of public housing. 300 were already built in the Capper Seniors and 400 M street buildings, then the units (can't remember exact number off the top of my head) in Capitol Quarter, and the rest (250ish?) will be spread across the five buildings still to come.

B in DC says: (11/16/12 6:28 PM)
I really wish we could get some additional information from DCHA about when construction might start. I understand that several years ago they would have had trouble with financing, but I would think it would be much better now. At some point, does DCHA need to turn over the plots to private developers (with a condition that the public housing units be included)?

dcnative says: (11/20/12 11:39 AM)
"The City has a right to force out families who live on a city or federal dime and relocate them somewhere else?"

Let me tell you something Zoo whoever the hell you are and anyone else who believes that forcing people out to make a neighborhood better is a good thing...EVERYONE has a right and say so to what happens in their community regardless of economic status, class, or race. First of all, there are people in public housing that DO work or generate some form of income, second of all we ALL pay taxes that go right into the government that pays for the public housing we live in. EVERY TIME we make a purchase we get TAXED, a DC TAX. I have the same amount of rights to not be displaced from my community without any say so or option to return as a person living in a higher income neighborhood or any other type of dwelling. The answer is putting resources INTO that community that actually uplift the community for the residents that are already there. Not let it go downhill, put no resources into it, then force everybody out and redevelop it for some new people not even from there!!!

Eric says: (11/20/12 5:38 PM)
Being "from somewhere" doesn't entitle you to live there. By your logic everyone is entitled to government assistance because we all pay a tax when we buy something.

It's silly logic. Those evil gentrifiers are doing more to subsidize government dole recipients AND inject life into the economy than whoever you're referring to.

Not from the neighborhood, but born and been in DC most of my life, so don't pull the native card on me.

dcnative says: (11/26/12 2:02 PM)
being from somewhere doesnt entitle you to live there?...what a twisted way of thinking. thats why whites killed the natives and stole their land. we have the right to NOT be uprooted and forced out of our community. point blank!!! we need community economic development to revitalize. im so sick of the paternalistic attitude of people thinking they know whats best for low income black people. we know what we need. we need resources in our community. we want to work, we want to go to school, we want quality education, we want jobs in the community, we want effective quality job training, we want good eating options, but all we get is liquor stores, carry outs, and drugs pumped into our communites..then ppl say"look how bad it is..its their fault...lets put them out and make it nice for someone else"...thats BS!!! and i fight everyday against community sued a housing authority to keep all of the units public housing after they were renovated and guess what..we won!!!! so look out..cause communities are fighting back!!!

Eric says: (11/26/12 9:02 PM)
"we have the right to NOT be uprooted and forced out of our community. point blank!!!"

If you don't really own the land or house you're living in, you really don't. This is a basic real estate/economic fact, and it has nothing to do with race.

" we need resources in our community. we want to work, we want to go to school, we want quality education, we want jobs in the community, we want effective quality job training, we want good eating options, but all we get is liquor stores, carry outs, and drugs pumped into our communites.."

No one opens stores in those communities because it's dangerous and there's little disposable income. You're putting the cart before the horse.

"my community sued a housing authority to keep all of the units public housing after they were renovated and guess what..we won!!!!"

And because of that, you'll still have nothing but carry-outs. Ironic, huh?

conngs0 says: (11/27/12 2:39 PM)
I hate to interrupt (or re-start) this back-and-forth, but I think it's universally accepted that the Capper neighborhood was a bad place to live a decade ago, and that it was an even worse place to visit. That was the starting point for the current project as well as the rest of "near southeast.

There were several alternative courses of action, one of which was merely to maintain the status quo and develop somewhere else (I don't think anyone is advocating that, but the status quo is always on the table). But if the goal was to make the Capper neighborhood a better and more opportunistic place to live for those in the 700 public housing units, I don't see how any of the alternatives could have been better than the course of action on which the neighborhood currently is.

If the planners had the opportunity, would they tweak the timeline of development projects to restore the 700 public housing units faster? Maybe. But after a decade, which included a severe financial recession that ground virtually all development in the country to a hault, 450 public housing units have been returned to a neighborhood that offers an immeasurably higher degree of safety and economic opportunity than the neighborhood's previous iteration. And the development isn't even close to finished!

JD says: (11/29/12 2:27 PM)
Comments to City Paper from the current DCHA head about the redevelopment of Capper are on point to this discussion:


tspaquin says: (12/7/12 2:25 PM)
In the heat and emotion of typing I think the fact may have been lost that of the original 700 affordable units, about 500 have already come back to the neighborhood. The rest will come when the apartment buildings are built. Good things come to those who wait.

There was definitely some anger expressed on this thread. The anger was completely misplaced. If there are people to be angry at -- be angry at the people who gave you the original Capper neighborhood and other public housing of this model. Marion Barry and folks of his persuasion did incredible damage to this city by the things they put in place, and now it will take reasonable folks (of all races and stripes, by the way) to correct these ills, and it will take time to do it right.

I'm sure the old-DC folks would say that what they did was well-intentioned -- but good intentions don't get results. The public housing model of the past gets you all the things that were mentioned -- crime, drugs, liquor stores, and "carry-outs". (sidenote: I'm still waiting for a good chinese carry-out to come back to the neighborhood).

As for the demand to "put resources into the community" -- that's what was done here. But it takes more than just money and resources. It takes a workable plan that has a sustainable legacy to thrive (in this case a mixed-income community), unlike the plan to build a concentrated public housing complex, which results in the same types of failure every time it's tried.

I really hope that Potomac Gardens is next in line to see this kind of improvement. The residents of that community, and all of the surrounding neighborhood, would be so much better off.

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Project Directory
Thompson Hotel ('20)
West Half ('19)
Novel South Capitol ('19)
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New DC Water HQ ('19)
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Virginia Ave. Tunnel ('19)
99 M ('18)
Agora ('18)
1221 Van ('18)
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One Hill South ('17)
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ORE 82 ('16)
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Camden South Cap. ('13)
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225 Virginia/200 I ('12)
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1015 Half Street ('10)
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909 New Jersey Ave. ('09)
55 M ('09)
100 M ('08)
Onyx ('08)
70/100 I ('08)
Nationals Park ('08)
Seniors Bldg Demo ('07)
400 M ('07)
Douglass Bridge Fix ('07)
US DOT HQ ('07)
20 M ('07)
Capper Seniors 1 ('06)
Capitol Hill Tower ('06)
Courtyard/Marriott ('06)
Marine Barracks ('04)

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