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LeDroit Park Neighborhood Revitalization
 
  Nineteen Ninety Nine
Washingtonians
of the  Year

"H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University, could have let LeDroit Park languish in violence, drugs and ruins---but he took the initiative to change things..." January 2000

H. PATRICK SWYGERT
"THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS CHANGING BY THE HOUR"

Copyright 2000 Washingtonian Magazine, Inc. 
Leslie Milk and Ellen Ryan: "17 Local Heroes." Washingtonian 
35, No. 4 (January 2000): 38-49. 
This authorized reprint may not be posted, published, or distributed without permission from The Washingtonian Magazine, Inc.

For years, historic LeDroit Park had as many boarded-up buildings as occupied homes. Headlines called it a neighborhood under siege. Residents were angry at Howard University for buying up more than 50 houses and lots for a future expansion-then letting them anguish in ruin.

That was before 1995, when Patrick Swygert became university president. Before the new HU Community Association, created to improve town-gown relations. Before Howard won a HUD grant for community economic development. And before dollars and determination made LeDroit Park proud again.

After so many years of neglect, how did one man change the status quo? " I brought a realization of the limitations of the university," Swygert says. "We need a partner, so I got one."

That partner--mortgage funder Fannie Mae and its foundation--has put more than $24 million behind Howard’s Phase I drive to renovate its properties, develop others, and fill them with home-owners. Neighbors, campus employees, and public servants can buy at below-market rates. Phases II and III will bring landscaping, safety, and street upgrades, business growth along Georgia Avenue, and complete telecommunications wiring for the neighborhood.

The double Howard alumnus also hopes to develop 25 open acres near McMillan Reservoir, create a "town center," and add a museum or two.

Residents were skeptical when Swygert began talking up his ideas. But he hired a full-time community liaison, poured $7 million into campus-area improvements, and asked the neighbors for input. The result has been called DC’s most significant redevelopment plan in a quarter century.

Now Swygert’s pushing city government to keep up with everything from lighting to parking to sidewalk repair. He doesn’t want the people who stuck with LeDroit Park through the bad times to become victims of its success.

And successful it is. "Folk are calling us--not campus people or city employees, just folk--and saying, "We want one of those Howard houses. How do we get one?" Swygert smiles: "I have to say, "They’re all gone. Every house and lot is sold."

 
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