Redefining what home means

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Across the street from the gleaming new TC Williams High School, a bedroom community sits mostly undisturbed, aside from the occasional construction racket or whaling siren. Its far away, at least figuratively, from where Lesheka Terry lived before redevelopment of the she area calls the ghetto led her home, to the quaint public housing unit on Radford Street.

Look, wouldnt you like to live here? Terry asked proudly from her doorway while her kids ran circles round the living room. She has two with one on its way. I loved the opportunity to be able to move into something brand new.

Terrys house is at one of three scattered sites built to house residents displaced by the Chatham Square project in 2001, which dispersed 48 public housing units across the city. The project, which infused mixed-income housing into the predominately black and low-income area, is a blueprint for the Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan, which is expected to produce similar sites.

The plan, officially adopted by City Council last weekend, mentions little where low-income residents will go if their houses are demolished or the area becomes too expensive for low-income families.

What we dont know is the number [of public housing units] that will stay and the number that will leave, Director of Planning and Zoning Faroll Hamer said. Its possible we could move all of them back. Specific relocation protocol will be discussed in the more encompassing Braddock East Plan, Hamer said.

Radford St. residents said their overall relocation experiences have been positive (I can sleep at night, Terry said), but some kinks need smoothing.

Its still public housing, said Terrys neighbor Crystal Coleman. We havent had hot water in three weeks, added the single mother who used to live in the James Bland neighborhood, a potentially affected area of the Braddock Plan.

Terry, too, has had maintenance issues. Flooding broke her TV and damaged her couch, she said, while a damaged mildew-producing sprinkler has gone unfixed despite calls to the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA). ARHA officials did not return a reporters repeated calls.

We have an opportunity to actually better public housing, Famer said, referring to the out of date public housing units around Braddock Metro. Planning and Zoning will work with ARHA and City Housing staff to decide where and how much scattered-site housing will be necessary after the Braddock Metro area is redeveloped, according to Hamer.

But relocating families and housing is more than geographical. Less tangible, Coleman indicated, is the effect relocation had on relationships and community support, which she experienced first hand after leaving the James Bland neighborhood.

I hate for friends and family to be separated, said Coleman. I have lost some friends, but we still keep in touch. That atmosphere could get to be too much, though. Nonetheless, Coleman considers herself fortunate, she said.

I feel like I was forced out, said Terry, who moved from Oronoco St. during redevelopment to Maryland subsidized housing before moving to the scattered-sight housing. But we get these opportunities and we think its okay to jump out there.

Famer, who noted a pattern of gentrification, said that the underdeveloped neighborhoods around Braddock Metro Station will continue to change. Development is not all about revenue for the city, but to provide better transit and quality of life options for residents, she said.  The alternative, quite frankly is to leave it as is. People resist change all the time thats not a reason for the government to be paralyzed.

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