Trinidad: The Difference 5 Years Makes

by Shilpi Paul

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To many in DC, Trinidad is unfortunately remembered for a conspicuous police presence that made headlines five years ago. A slew of gun violence in 2008 resulted in the police department taking the drastic step to set up checkpoints for drivers coming into the Northeast DC neighborhood to determine if they had a “legitimate purpose” for entering.

That scar has been slow to disappear, but a few years have made a difference in how the neighborhood is perceived. Trinidad’s location just to the north of the H Street Corridor coupled with (up until recently) an affordable housing market by DC standards, has made it an attractive destination for young adults, who join many residents that have been there for generations.

Now, as its popularity grows and housing prices rise, a determination has emerged to keep the area affordable and its character intact. New residents, who have seen the tensions created by gentrification in surrounding areas, are working to protect older residents from being pushed out.

DC’s Trapezoidal Neighborhood to the East

Trinidad is a trapezoidal neighborhood that is roughly bounded by West Virginia Avenue NE to the west, Mt. Olivet Road to the north, Bladensburg Road NE to the east and Florida Avenue NE to the south. As noted, it sits to the north of the bustling development in the H Street Corridor and several blocks east of DC’s newest destination, Union Market.

The neighborhood was reportedly named after a 19th century speculator who hailed from the more famous tropical Trinidad. Several houses were built in the area in the late 1800s, and for several decades, working and middle-class residents enjoyed a pleasant existence in the quiet, leafy neighborhood.

During the 1950s and 60s, suburbs started luring DC residents away. In 1968, riots ripped through the area and sped up the exodus. Then, a real estate scandal created the perfect environment for illicit activity: due to the unlucky fate of falling within the sights of unlawful speculators in the 1980s, many homes in the neighborhood were driven into foreclosure, laid vacant, and then were reborn as crackhouses. Trinidad became an open air drug market, and the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s left severe scarring throughout the area. Only in the last several years has the neighborhood begun to turn a corner.

A Housing Bubble or Formerly Undervalued Homes?

Trinidad’s renaissance has gained momentum in the last five years, and the neighborhood has consequently seen real estate appreciation that, of late, has made even DC’s hot market look a little lukewarm.

UrbanTurf recently reported on a Trinidad home that increased in value by $165,000 in just two years, and two weeks ago, neighborhood blogger Titan of Trinidad featured a home that entered the market for almost $1 million, an unimaginable price point for the area just 12 months ago.

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Row houses on Trinidad Avenue.

Kyle Stearns, who zeroed in on buying in Trinidad after attending the H Street Festival, has experienced the high prices and heated competition associated with the Trinidad market. Stearns and his fiance have been searching for a family-sized row house in the $400,000 range for a few months. They found two homes that they liked, but after two unsuccessful offers, they are getting discouraged. “For each house, we offered between $30,000 and $50,000 over the asking price, and there were at least eight competing offers on each,” said Stearns, who thinks there is a mini housing bubble in the neighborhood.

Real estate agent Jennifer Myers thinks differently.

“A bubble assumes a burst or pop,” said Myers. “I don’t think that’s happening in Trinidad. The area has been undervalued for so long, it’s finally catching up to where it should be and prices will rise to a point and remain steady.  It’s the natural progression that H Street had after Capitol Hill, and it’s only logical to think that Trinidad is next.”

Can Affordable Housing Be Maintained?

According to Keller Williams’ Suzanne Des Marais, 85 fee simple homes sold in Trinidad last year at a median price of $242,500, with a range from $103,575 to $550,000. (Des Marais’ analysis covered the legal subdivision of Trinidad, which also includes several blocks to the east of Bladensburg Road.) Compare those numbers to 2010 when 96 fee simple homes sold, but the median price was much lower ($179,503), and the highest priced sale was just $409,090. The difference in price for the highest priced condo sale in each of those years shows an even greater difference: $309,118 in 2010 compared to $510,000 in 2012.

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The almost $1 million house for sale.

The rising prices have long-time residents like Marqui Lyons worried. “Increased property taxes will be hard on older residents,” Lyons told UrbanTurf. “The city as a whole needs to address that.”

In addition to rising home prices, new apartment projects are driving up rental rates. When The Flats at Atlas, an apartment complex with monthly rents ranging from around $1,700 to $3,000, delivered about a year ago on Bladensburg Road, some residents took a concerned look at the project.

“A lot of people had questions,” said Jaime Fearer, a resident and Secretary of the Trinidad Neighborhood Association. “Does that mean we’re getting kicked out? Does that mean I won’t be able to afford a place to live?”

As vacant homes get snapped up by newcomers or developers, many houses are changing hands as residents “age out.” Fearer and her husband bought their home in an estate sale a few years ago after the previous resident passed away. More transformative, said Fearer, are apartment buildings that are being bought by developers, renovated, and then sold as higher-end condos.

“When a four-unit building gets gutted and goes on the market as condos, you’ve lost affordable units,” noted Fearer. ““We have to work proactively now to preserve affordability.”

Certain measures are being taken. Last fall, the American Planning Association embarked on a pro bono effort to connect Trinidad residents with urban planners who could help them brainstorm strategies on how to maintain affordable housing while welcoming economic development. In 2011, the DC Department of Housing and Community Development and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, funded by HUD, launched an initiative to create a strategy to do the same. In addition to meeting with the community, they also conducted market research and examined strategies such as workforce training and worker-owned business co-ops. DHCD is planning on investing $9.5 million in property acquisition, home rehabilitation and home purchase assistance in Deanwood, Anacostia, Ivy City and Trinidad, according to the initiative site.

Whether any of these efforts can counter the rising tide of home prices in the neighborhood remains to be seen.

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Joseph H. Cole Recreation Center

The New and The Old

When Fearer and her husband moved in to their row house a few years ago, they made a point to reach out to residents in the surrounding houses and now have strong neighborly relationships. “I have found in this neighborhood, if you are able to look someone in the eye, say “Hi, how are you doing?’ and be sincere, it goes a long way,” she said. Comments from happy new residents in an article about the neighborhood that UrbanTurf published in 2010 seem to largely echo that sentiment.

Of course, like any neighborhood that is being populated by a younger web-savvy generation, Trinidad now has a fairly active blog presence. Frozen Tropics has covered the area surrounding the H Street Corridor, including Trinidad and north Capitol Hill, for a few years and Titan of Trindad (ToT) has established itself as a dependable voice in the last several months.

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A market on Montello Avenue.

Initially irreverent and parody-esque with posts about dingy storefronts and graffiti written in a satirically enthusiastic manner, ToT has become more serious and investigative in recent months, reporting on real estate, schools and new developments as well as breaking news about shootings, drug busts, and the criminal endeavors of local politicians.

Fearer, who is responsible for the web presence of the neighborhood association, maintains a website, Twitter feed and Facebook page.

A Hard-to-Change Reputation

Thirty years ago, Trinidad was one of DC’s centers for drug-related activity and associated violence. The 2008 incident, referenced above, perhaps unfairly bolstered that reputation in many people’s minds.

While crime has dropped since then, a look at recent statistics reveals a slew of robberies, some armed, in the last month, as well as a couple shootings. The crime is distributed throughout the neighborhood, but the northwest corner is particularly active, while the south end is relatively peaceful.

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Wheatley Education Campus

However, in conversations that UrbanTurf had with a number of current residents, most spoke to how safe the area now feels. With its sizable population of long-time residents, a culture of looking-out-for-the-neighbors exists, and new residents who interact with their older ones can tap into it. “I feel quite safe where I live,” said Frozen Tropics author Elise Bernard, who has lived on the south side of the neighborhood for ten years. “Neighbors tend to watch out for each other.”

Litter, on the other hand, is one of residents’ biggest concerns. The environment created by a trash-filled street leads to certain “issues,” Fearer politely hinted. One of our recent commenters was more explicit. “It’s still rodent-infested,” said the former resident, who moved out in 2010.

Schools and Two Rec Centers

The neighborhood has several pre-kindergarten through eighth grade schools within its bounds, including the Wheatley Education Campus, a public school on Neal Street, and the Center City PCS Trinidad Campus, a charter school on West Virginia Avenue. Webb Elementary School closed in 2009, but KIPP, the national charter school network, recently announced plans to take over the space in the near future. Trinidad also has two recreational centers — Trinidad Recreation Center and the Joseph Cole Recreation Center.

Aside from the amenities on the H Street Corridor, residents have access to the retail on Bladensburg Road, though it seems dominated by liquor stores and auto shops. However, the owner of Bardo Rodeo, a popular, shuttered Arlington brewpub, is opening a new project at 1200 Bladensburg Road. The founder plans to resurrect Bardo, using the same brewing equipment and recipes.

The Bottom Line

Its location and solid housing stock are drawing people to Trinidad, but it also making a once affordable neighborhood less so. In the coming years, we’ll see if the steamroller of development yields at all to residents trying to maintain affordable housing options.

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/trinidad_the_difference_5_years_makes/6591

29 Comments

  1. Trin Res said at 12:23 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    I have lived in Trinidad for just over four years and have seen a slow, steady change for the better. I don’t fit into the 20s and 30s group that have been moving, but I applaud them for the efforts that they have made to connect with “veterans” of the area.

  1. MikeinDC said at 12:53 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    The tipping point has already happened, if you were waiting, you missed it.  The $150s a couple years ago are now high 300s.  Still deals but no steals.

    And someone please explain to me how a resident who has lived in their property for decades and sees the value of their home increase exponentially to the point that return can help them to live a better and more secure life is a “bad” thing.

    “The city as a whole needs to address that.”  Yes.  And they have, it’s called the Homestead Exemption, look into it.

  1. Bree said at 1:12 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    A recent Trinidad resident here. My husband and I bought our renovated home in 2011 and paid just under 400K. Now, any home near us sells at over $500! Affordability might be hard, but I am so thankful that there are leaders like Jaime making this concern a priority.

    Re: The newbies vs the older residents, in just under the 2 years we have lived here we have gotten to know our neighbors and they are extremely friendly & caring. Some of our neighbors take in our packages if it’s raining, and one of our neighbors has watered our plants when they “looked thirsty”. In the warmer months we spend many evenings chatting with our neighbors, many who have family in multiple houses on nearby blocks. Trinidad might have a bad rep to those in the city, but I am happy to call this neighborhood my home. To the people that live here, it is a great and thriving community.

  1. JB said at 1:19 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    Re: “And someone please explain to me how a resident who has lived in their property for decades and sees the value of their home increase exponentially to the point that return can help them to live a better and more secure life is a “bad” thing.

    “The city as a whole needs to address that.”  Yes.  And they have, it’s called the Homestead Exemption, look into it. “


    BINGO!  People need to stop complaining.  Increase in home prices is NEVER a bad thing.  It generages wealth, makes the area nicer, and makes it SAFER.

  1. IMGoph said at 1:28 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    Snark aside (and really, don’t you wish some people could just put it aside and speak to each other in a civil manner?), I’m sure many people are aware of the homestead exemption, but others may not be.

    It’s a form of privilege to assume that everyone has the ability to access the information that some of us are all blessed to know about. Knowledge is power, and there’s nothing wrong with working hard to make sure people are empowered, which is something the Neighborhood Association is assiduously seeking to do.

    Increased wealth is certainly a good thing. Making sure there is an equitable and fair benefit to that wealth is something that needs to be worked on to ensure that it actually happens.

  1. DCguy said at 2:02 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    “The rising prices have long-time residents like Marqui Lyons worried. “Increased property taxes will be hard on older residents,” Lyons told UrbanTurf.”

    Please, stop parroting this falsehood that’s bandied about ad nauseam with each neighborhood changeover. In D.C., older residents are eligible for a cap on their property taxes. They are protected.

    It’s simply irresponsible journalism to keep repeating this when it’s a clear falsehood meant to further divide D.C. residents (longtime residents vs. relative newcomers).

  1. DC_RCJH said at 2:13 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    I still think there is a bubble developing in the neighborhood for two main reasons: lack of inventory, and speculation of the neighborhood. 

    The prices of houses now are all based on predictions of where the neighborhood will be in, not where the neighborhood is now.  That certainly meets the definition of a bubble to me.

  1. SL said at 2:32 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    “The prices of houses now are all based on predictions of where the neighborhood will be in, not where the neighborhood is now.  That certainly meets the definition of a bubble to me.”

    Well, welcome to home-buying reality in DC. Home prices skyrocketed in Columbia Heights once DCUSA and other developments were announced; just the arrival of new green line metro stations did the same for Columbia Heights and Petworth long before any improvements were visible. Everyone wants to get in early while prices are “still low” and that’s what drives up prices. The quick increase in prices causes a buzz that tends to attract even more buyers. And that encourages more people to sell…and those houses are renovated, driving up prices more.

    I don’t think what’s happening in Trinidad is a bubble at all - it’s just repeating a story that has already happened in Logan Circle, U Street, Columbia Heights, H Street, Petworth (where I live) and many other DC neighborhoods over the last 10-15 years. Affordable homes in close-in neighborhoods are in short-supply, so Trinidad is ripe to become the next big thing.

  1. Trinidaddy said at 3:04 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    All these old residents crying about affordability are the same people laughing all the way to the bank when they do decide to sell. Also please remember the 10% tax increase cap per year, designed to mitigate sudden value jumps. No one is ‘forcing’ anyone else out - please put this issue to rest, once and for all. As far as the neighborhood - I bought in 2010 and have loved the extremely cohesive community, wonderful neighbors and the proximity to H St. We have an amazing ANC commissioner who gets things done and regular neighborhood festivals and events. Love living here and don’t see myself leaving for a long long time.

  1. Trinidader said at 3:57 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    This article definitely reflects the changes my wife and I have seen in the last five years of living in the neighborhood. Even in 2008 we never felt unsafe and the biggest crime issue has been occasional burglaries. Tons of young families in the area now too and there is a Tots of Trinidad group that has put on some well attended fun events.

    It seems like there is a big opportunity given the changes in the neighborhood for someone to buy one of the buildings on that block on Montello where the market above is pictured and open some sort of restaurant, coffee shop or other business. That would be a great central meeting spot for the area. Might still be a few years away.

  1. Kes said at 5:17 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    Been in Trinidad since mid-2011, in the more “active” northwest area, near Bladensburg Rd. I definitely have the same feeling of safety other residents have written about. Everyone knows me and I know everyone, and I’ve never been hassled, mugged, or robbed.

    Regarding affordable housing, many have written about property taxes, but that’s missing the point. It is rising rents that will close the neighborhood off to lower-income residents. On my block, half of the houses are occupied by renters, not homeowners, as is the case for the most of the 4-unit buildings Jaime mentions in the article. Older residents with existing leases will have their rent increases capped, but as properties values go up and landlords start selling, rents will price many people out of Trinidad. Several 4-unit buildings by Trinidad Rec just went on the market a few weeks ago. Will the new owners keep on their tenants, or will they do a quick gut-reno, flip and sell them as condos just before (or just after!) the streetcar finally does start operating on H St?

    I also doubt that Trinidad prices rising so quickly are signs of a bubble. Homes on the other side of FL Ave are $200K more expensive than comparable properties in Trinidad. If anything, the notoriety of 2008 has artificially kept prices here low longer than they would otherwise have been. Good for new buyers like me, but bad for older residents waiting to sell. I suspect several homeowners are waiting to list as soon as the streetcar is operational, which may depress prices slightly, or at least check their growth, but Trinidad’s days as a cheap neighborhood are definitely numbered.

  1. Kes said at 5:29 pm on Friday February 15, 2013:

    Also, our vaunted *nearly*-$1Million-Home just underwent a $30K price reduction. Not surprised, and I frankly doubt they’ll get even $800K for it in the end. Although with the DC single family home inventory so low, I suppose anything is possible.

  1. Robby said at 10:22 am on Saturday February 16, 2013:

    Why is it that in positive news coverage about Trinidad all the positive forces are newcomers (read white), and the detractors oldtimers (read black?. It’s disturbing, however I guess it’s the narrative of the majority. Thank you Urban Turf for the article and for the reminder of our “community, identity, & stability”  Just tired of racial subterfuge.

  1. jag said at 2:11 pm on Saturday February 16, 2013:

    There appears to be some people who seriously don’t understand the economics of gentrification. No it’s not good for everyone just because there’s a Homestead cap. A large percentage of residents in these neighborhoods fall into two categories:

    1. low and mid-income renters who are obviously pushed out.
    2. fixed income seniors. You don’t think a 10% y/y rise in property taxes adds up?

    The notion that everyone’s complaining and then “laughing to the bank” is remarkable stupid and uninformed.

  1. James said at 5:20 pm on Saturday February 16, 2013:

    @Jag…by definition, a renter are people who are occupying someone else’s property for an agreed upon period of time. If they cannot afford the rent payment under a new lease, they are not being pushed out, they are choosing to move somewhere else because they have decided that the new rent payment is too much. What right does anyone have to cap the amount of money someone is allowed to charge for rent on their property? If they charge too much, obviously nobody will move it. Why should they artificially charge less money because you say so? Would you like it if I went to your job and told them your salary should be capped because they are paying you too much?

  1. Carol Casperson said at 7:59 am on Sunday February 17, 2013:

    If you are a senior citizen and make less than $100,000 you can apply to have your taxes cut in half after the homestead deduction.  All the new residents should help their senior neighbors by checking the tax assessment and printing out the application if their senior neighbor doesn’t have the senior deduction.

  1. bloke said at 6:59 pm on Sunday February 17, 2013:

    james, that is exactly what people mean when they say “pushed out”, that the costs are more than they can afford.

  1. jag said at 1:57 am on Monday February 18, 2013:

    “If they cannot afford the rent payment under a new lease, they are not being pushed out, they are choosing to move somewhere else because they have decided that the new rent payment is too much.”

    ...that’s, definitionally, what being “pushed out” means. Is this some sort of joke going over my head?

    “What right does anyone have to cap the amount of money someone is allowed to charge for rent on their property?”

    Who are you arguing with? A straw man, it appears.

  1. zcf said at 3:06 pm on Monday February 18, 2013:

    Why should I feel sorry for the renter whose rent is increasing more than I should feel sorry for the landlord who is being forced to charge less for a place than market rate? 

    Or for that matter, why should the incumbent renter have more rights than someone trying to move in and willing to pay the price the market has set?

    Seriously people, it’s called property rights.  None of us are *entitled* to a house in a particular neighborhood, unless we own it.

  1. crin said at 11:16 am on Tuesday February 19, 2013:

    “What right does anyone have to cap the amount of money someone is allowed to charge for rent on their property?” Since we’re a democracy WE have the right to cap the amount of money someone is allowed to charge if WE can enact such a law. Don’t confuse Rights with Opinions.

  1. Trinidaddy said at 11:38 am on Tuesday February 19, 2013:

    @zcf: Amen. People, please take your guilt trip somewhere else. I will NOT be made to feel sorry for moving into any neighborhood.

  1. sad said at 12:10 pm on Tuesday February 19, 2013:

    “People, please take your guilt trip somewhere else. I will NOT be made to feel sorry for moving into any neighborhood.”

    And people wonder why many “old timers” hate newcomers. The arrogant, entitled few make the rest of us look terrible.

  1. Nick said at 12:28 pm on Tuesday February 19, 2013:

    I lived in a group house on Morse in 2009. There were always drug dealers on the corner of Morse and Montello. Since then H St blew up and the lower prices in Trinidad made me look there when my wife and I were ready to buy a house a few months ago. We made an offer on a house all the way up by Montello and Raum. The house needed a ton of work but I thought I could do it. We drove past the house at night and there were drug dealers all over that corner. Still we offered. It was a huge mistake. The sellers agent tried to get a bidding war going to we pulled the offer and it ended up going for about $10k less. It’s being gutted now. I’m so happy that I didn’t get it. That is not a safe area. We ended up buying in Takoma DC/Lamond. The house was only $270k. It’s about a 10 minute walk to downtown Takoma and 17 to the metro. That’s not ideal but since we didn’t want to spend a lot all we were left with was homes that were in neighborhoods that were dangerous or uncool. For the sake of my wife and any kids we may have, I’m very happy we chose the uncool one.

  1. um no said at 1:31 pm on Tuesday February 19, 2013:

    yes, and we can also enforce a law that says we have to take other people’s property or other rights.  And we do, but it doesn’t mean it’s not right.  And it makes you a communist.

    And sorry, but who feels more entitled in this argument? The one who’s not willing to pay?  or the one willing to work hard and pay? We have a market society (thank gawd) and our trades are voluntary.

  1. me said at 1:53 pm on Tuesday February 19, 2013:

    In a democracy, you can enact any law you want, but it doesn’t make the law “right.”  Think of slavery.

    And slavery is actually an apt comparison, because it seems a lot of people here are perfectly okay with letting other people work for the benefit of others. 

    and FWIW. I’m not a newcomer, but I knew I wanted to live in DC.  So I bought a place here.  I worked my ass off in engineering school while others partied, then worked my ass of again once I graduated, again.. while others partied and spent their money on beer.  (or this is DC - probably crack) 

    Now I’m supposed to subsidize renters who can’t afford this town anymore? 

    Sorry, but take your sob story elsewhere.

  1. Kyle said at 12:07 pm on Wednesday February 20, 2013:

    Paying this kind of money for these houses is about as interesting as paying $5 for a cupcake.

  1. Shauna said at 10:33 pm on Thursday February 21, 2013:

    I have been “shark attacked” (when thugs circle you on bikes) a handful of times while walking my dog and close to being jumped on a scooter by groups a handful of times. I have a fairly cordial relationship with the PCP dealers on my corner who holler and litter literally on my doorstep all afternoon long. Many of the younger ones in Trinidad don’t work and just deal as they probably have watched their fathers/uncles do. The amount of people you see sitting on their stoops everyday ALL day must mean that many are living on the cities dime anyways (welfare, disability…etc). It is pretty difficult to feel sorry for people who do not work and may still make a pretty penny as they sit on a property that is only becoming more valuable AND watch SO many of them sit there with rat infestation and broken this, that and the other and front gardens looking like a landfill and just not caring to do anything about it or to take any small effort to put into their homes they claim to care so much about.

  1. Donald said at 3:00 pm on Thursday May 23, 2013:

    But weren’t the long time residents the people that allowed the neighborhoods to go to pot in the first place? And if you sit on your front porch and watch drug dealers on the corner and you don’t call the police every single time, then yes, you allowed it to happen.

  1. Vikki said at 6:19 pm on Friday June 14, 2013:

    I’ve lived in the area for almost 5yrs now and the change is slow but steady. What will develop the area and change the hood is a few small businesses such as coffee shops, restaurants. The one worrisome issue are the young teens who already seem to be victims of their environment. So some collaborative effort such as neighborhood sports activities to get these children coached, active and productive.

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Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Hillcrest
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

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