"We have 210 homeowners here who now have created, collectively, about $40 million in wealth," Smith says.
Smith's rebuilding began in an apartment complex no one would rent on the first floor for fear of gunfire. He turned that into a glimmering one, when he realized his renters — most of them working class African Americans — could be owners.
To help people, Smith started the Home Buyers' Club.
It was a crash course on credit and mortgages, and it drew people like Jacques Patterson.
"For me, the Home Buyers' Club was an introduction into credit and buying a home," homeowner Patterson says. "He took those people basically and said, 'I know that you are hard workers and basically all you need is the education to know how to buy a home.'"
"These were solid individuals who went to work in the morning, came home in the evening — but unfortunately, when they got home, they literally got in their apartment, locked the door and didn't come out until the next morning," Smith says.
Smith thought the area needed more safety and more services. So he renovated six public schools, redid the public library, built a splash park — and he's now developing the first supermarket in the area in 30 years.
"It's a lot more than building apartments or building homes. It's about rebuilding peoples lives. That has to be intertwined with what we're doing," he says.
But even then, Smith wasn't finished. He thought the area needed a community center. So he raised $27 million and he built THEARC. It houses the Washington Ballet, a music school and the Boys and Girls Club where Patterson's daughter Jacquelyn comes after school.
It has the only performing arts theater in Southeast Washington
As proud as Smith is of what he's done, he's also proud of what he proved. Even as he rebuilt this neighborhood, he made money.
"Our investment here has proven itself to be very worthwhile," Smith says, adding that it can happen in other inner city areas as well. "In fact, not only can it work, it's what's needed," Smith says.
What's needed, he says, is this formula: Believe in people, invest in their surroundings — and you can reclaim the places most cities have written off.
For more information about THEARC, please click here.