On a hot and muggy Tuesday evening, hundreds of people gathered at the Barry Farm basketball courts in Southeast D.C. for the annual summer ritual of The Goodman League.

Hundreds of young men and women come out to see local hoop stars, and sometimes a few well known basketball players, show off their ball handling skills.

Meanwhile across the parkway at Bethlehem Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) held a private meeting to discuss the future of the Barry Farm public housing complex.

The DCHA scheduled a meeting for Barry Farm residents interested in hearing plans from developers bidding for the chance to manage the multi-million dollar transformation of the 432-unit public housing complex.

A new recreation center is already under construction and is slated to open December 2014.

The meeting was restricted to Barry Farm residents and developers presenting construction plans; other city residents including ANC commissioners, relatives of Barry Farm residents and the press were not permitted to enter.

Housing officials claimed that the meeting was closed because DC activists disrupted a prior meeting this month but said there will be several chances for residents to learn about the development and relocation process.

“There will be a number of meetings moving forward so having an opportunity to understand what the relocation process looks like is not something residents will lack an opportunity for,” said Rick White, Housing Authority spokesperson.

For residents attending the meeting, many were unclear and displeased with the redevelopment and relocation process.

“It’s not working for us,” said Jewel Simms, 51, of Barry Farms. “It’s a shame what they’re doing. How they’re trying to displace us as residents of a historical site.”

The planned destruction of Barry Farm has residents even more concerned about a significant loss of affordable housing units.

“It’s 71,000 people on the waiting list. If they do away with Barry Farm that’s going to be 432 units added to that list for public housing,” said Detrice Belt, 28, of Barry Farm. “They’re trying to take away public housing. We’re here to say public housing is needed.”

Jeffrey Washington, 35, was standing outside of Bethlehem church on the curb in a black T-shirt and jeans. Wiping sweat from his face he shared that his 52-year old mother has lived in Barry Farm eight years and is eager to relocate. But, he said, he worries that she does not fully comprehend the relocation process.

“She doesn’t understand that if they move her out, where they move her might not be public housing,” Washington said. “She can end up paying market rate rent.

It’s a lot of people out here they’re tricking, making them think they’re moving out to something better. But the fact is they’re moving them out to displace them.”

Housing officials also said they feel that redeveloping Barry Farm not only benefits current and future public housing residents but is necessary due to the poor condition of the nearly 60-year old housing complex.

“The truth is if you did nothing to Barry it wouldn’t be here in 20 years, it’s falling apart,” said White.

Some residents feel the apartments could easily be repaired or upgraded.

“My place didn’t need a lot of repairs, I needed minor stuff,” said Simms. “They have me at $700 a month but I can’t even get you to come in and plaster something done by your people.”

Simms says the common response she received for repair requests was that money was not available but she knows the city just got a surplus so she’s wondering: “What are you doing with it?”


Teria Rogers

Special to the AFRO