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
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
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