The proposed 11th Street Bridge Park that would cross the Anacostia River continues to inspire big-name philanthropists to write big checks to revitalize some of the District’s poorest neighborhoods, and help low-income residents prepare should an economic turnaround arrive.
The latest is JPMorgan Chase & Co. Over the next three years, the financial giant agreed to donate $10 million in Wards 7 and 8 of the District, including $5 million to preserve affordable housing for low-income residents as part of a proposal established by the Southeast D.C. non-profit organization planning the park, Building Bridges Across the River.
Sometimes likened to New York City’s High Line public park, the Bridge Park calls for a public plaza, amphitheater, environmental education center and other amenities to be built along a 1.45-mile stretch of bridge atop four piers that once carried the 11th Street Bridge. It would connect Anacostia, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, with the much more affluent neighborhoods in and around Capitol Hill.
Construction is projected to cost between $50 and $55 million, about $25 million of which has already been raised. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2019.
Organizers are already concerned that the park project will drive up rents and property values to the degree that low- and moderate-income residents of the area will be forced out once the park opens, similar to what has happened when new development arrived in other parts of the city in recent years.
From the get-go, the project’s organizers have enlisted community members and housing experts to determine how to prepare low-income and mostly minority residents to ready themselves for a possible economic turnaround. For instance, a homebuyer’s club created by park organizers has already set 53 Ward 8 homeowners on the path to buying their own homes, according to Scott Kratz of Building Bridges Across the River.
That larger mission has attracted big-name philanthropists from across the country interested in battling poverty and inequality, among them the Kresge Foundation of Michigan, the JPB Foundation of New York and the Horning Family Fund of D.C.
J.P. Morgan typically donates between $700,000 to $800,000 annually in D.C. It is upping the ante in part because the firm sees problems — inequality and displacement — that are likely to worsen and an opportunity, the Bridge Park, it considers “a genuine opportunity to make a difference” said Peter Scher, the firm’s chairman for the D.C. region.
“A lot of cities you go into and everyone is moving in 100 different directions. The nonprofit community is not aligned with the business community and the nonprofit community is not aligned with itself,” Scher said. When it comes to housing costs in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, he said, “in most cities they are waiting until after people have been displaced. Here we are seeing an opportunity to get in relatively early.”
J.P. Morgan has been targeting its philanthropy toward cities, said Scher, who is also global head of corporate head of corporate responsibility. He said that since 2012 the company had begun targeting its philanthropy toward job training, minority-owned small businesses, neighborhood revitalization and financial education. A few years ago J.P. Morgan made a $100 million, five-year commitment to Detroit and announced Sept 14 that it would donate $40 million to underserved neighborhoods in the South and West sides of Chicago.
The Bridge Park project is one of just four winners this year of a J.P. Morgan competition for the best ideas from community-based groups for revitalizing neighborhoods. Of the $5 million, $3 million will go toward a community land trust aimed at housing affordability, $1 million toward support for neighborhood businesses and the remainder for construction skills training and program evaluation.
“We can use this investment to test, pilot and evaluate some of our economic strategies to make sure local residents can remain in place,” Kratz said. “They see the ability to pilot some of this work and, as we’re successful, scale it” in other areas of the country.
This article appeared in the Washington Post, September 25, 2017