Katanya McCauley’s family has lived in Southeast Washington for five generations. Her grandmother lived in the Capper Carrollsburg community. So followed her mother and later she and her two girls, too, lived there. And following the neighborhood’s redevelopment, McCauley, her daughters and a grandchild still live within in the same area in Southeast where she has called home her entire life.
“I’m in the middle of where I grew up and it is changing so much,” said McCauley, who noted her alma mater Van Ness Elementary is still around the corner. “I think it is good that I’m in the neighborhood of my roots.”
When McCauley was a teenager, she first heard about HOPE VI, a federal program to redevelop distressed public housing into mixed-income communities. The Capper Carrollsburg public housing was the last of seven HOPE VI redevelopments in Washington, D.C. Of the 707 units that were demolished, just 270 remain to be rebuilt as part of DCHA’s policy of one-for-one replacement.
She remembers her neighbors as being friendly and her building being protected from some of the more dangerous elements within the community. She credited her mother’s “very, very protective” nature for keeping her safe from any harm growing up.
As part of the redevelopment her family was first relocated to another building within Capper Carrollsburg. Then a few years later, McCauley, married with children, and her family moved off the property completely as onsite development continued.
“There was fear, doubt. Capper had been my home since I was born,” she said. “You hear lots of stories and those were not good.”
Thanks to DCHA-led community meetings, she learned the new redeveloped community wasn’t going to be the same as the Capper she grew up in. Just a couple blocks from the Nationals’ baseball stadium, she knew that there were going to be affordable and public housing units mixed into a neighborhood that also included market rate housing. She realized the large apartment buildings that went on for blocks would be gone. She discovered there were plans for retail opportunities and parks. She heard a grocery store would be within walking distance.
“During relocation some of us had a choice to take a voucher or relocate” to another public housing property, said McCauley. “I said, ‘I’m not taking a voucher.’”
She felt the uncertainty of the private rental market was not something she wanted to deal with. She also knew that there were certain neighborhoods she did not want to raise her daughters in. So as she toured homes, she had a list of things she wanted to see in her new neighborhood – stores, transportation options, schools, and good neighbors were among her lists. When considering the family’s temporary relocation, the McCauleys toured three properties and decided on Greenleaf Gardens, a DCHA community not too far from their Capper neighborhood. The family was familiar with the area since they shopped at the local grocery store and the girls attended school nearby.
“I didn’t have to share laundry lines. There were bus stops,” said McCauley, who said the apartment was spacious and had a backyard area. “It was nice, but it had its ups and downs like anywhere.”
She liked her immediate neighbors and looked in regularly on an elderly one, but McCauley said the family mainly kept to themselves. If there were troubled areas, she steered her girls to take the longer walk to school. Because of her proximity to her old neighborhood, McCauley was able to stay involved in redevelopment-related activities.
After about five years at Greenleaf, McCauley received the call from DCHA asking if she would be interested in a new home within Capitol Quarter, the redeveloped Capper Carrolsburg.
“I said, ‘I’m ready to go!’” McCauley said with a laugh.
Her new unit has central air conditioning, heat, and laundry. There haven’t been any of the major maintenance issues that she used to deal with at her old property. She likes to take her grandchild to Canal Park to play and is pleased to see the new community center has opened its doors.
“I’m close to the subway, buses, stores. I don’t think I could have done any better,” she said of her new apartment.
“Here, everyone minds their business. I think it is a good thing,” said McCauley, who noted the community is so quiet she can keep her windows open all day and can’t hear any of the “ruckus outside” that once forced her to keep her windows closed in the old neighborhood. “I came from a place where everyone was in everyone else’s business. ‘Save the drama for someone else’s mama. This one don’t want it.’”
Now her greatest concern is about a raccoon she saw walking the streets of Capitol Quarter not long ago. She also wants someone to cut back the lavender in her front garden because the bees it attracts scares her grandchild.
These things are “minor compared to other issues…,” she said.
But for future families going through the redevelopment process, McCauley had some advice.
“They are uprooting from their roots and they aren’t comfortable with that. I understand,” McCauley said. “But I would say, be open to the possibility to be better.”