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Amid change, affordable housing revitalizes parts of Ward 5

As development along Rhode Island Avenue and New York Avenue take shape over the next few years, much of DC's Ward 5 will see major changes. But can these changes draw new residents without displacing existing ones? A key element will be to preserve and expand the availability of affordable housing.

In recent weeks there have been new stories about development along Rhode Island Avenue, the warehouses by Union Market, and of course, Joe Biden's trip to Costco.

Last week, the Housing For All Campaign hosted a town hall meeting on housing in Ward 5. The meeting focused on how to keep existing residents and draw new ones as the housing landscape changes dramatically.

Fortunately, many organizations have had success developing affordable housing in Ward 5. One of the smallest is Open Arms Housing, which provides permanent housing and wrap-around services to 11 chronically homeless and mentally ill women.

Marilyn Kresky-Wolff is the Director of Open Arms, and she spoke at the Housing Town Hall about the success her program has had in the lives of these women: none of their residents have returned to homelessness. Two of the residents spoke about getting back on their feet and rebuilding their lives.

Open Arms Housing, like many other projects in Ward 5, have succeeded by paying attention to the needs of the community they serve. This was particularly important when they rehabilitated the 258 units at Edgewood Terrace VI, an extensive complex just across Rhode Island Avenue on 4th Street NE.

In the early 1990s, Edgewood Terrace served as one of the largest drug markets in Washington. Today it is a mixed income apartment community with on site services for residents including adult education, computer training, and day care programs for children. The key ingredient in the outstanding change was the commitment of the developers, Community Preservation and Development Corporation, to tenant engagement in every step of the revitalization process.

In 1995, when the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) bought the first section of Edgewood Terrace from HUD, CPDC immediately sat down with tenant association leaders. The relationship between CPDC and the tenants resulted in renovated apartments, as well as common areas for youth programs, job training, computer classes, and community events.

With more people drawn to public spaces and a partnership between CPDC, the tenants, and the Metropolitan Police Department they were able to break up the drug trade. Residents who had once been afraid to venture outside after dark now had reclaimed their community.

Affordable housing developers continue to find solutions to meet the diverse housing needs of the community. Ward 5 residents can look forward to the opening of Metropolitan Overlook, a mixed income condominium on 2nd Street NE, just blocks off of Rhode Island Ave. Rehabbing a property that has sat vacant for 20 years, Metropolitan Overlook will be a 37-unit condominium with 11 permanently affordable units.

Ward 5 will continue to benefit from the investments in affordable housing that build vibrant spaces for current and future District residents.

Elizabeth Falcon is the campaign organizer for the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), an association of affordable housing developers, community organizations, government agencies and more in DC. She writes about how policies affect affordable housing at the Housing For All blog. 


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Aren't these really one off projects with minimal multiplicative impact? I think that the CPDC revitalization of Edgewood is amazing. HOWEVER, it has sparked minimal other development (unless you count the conversion to condos of some other nearby projects) and hasn't contributed to significant improvement of the 4th and RI Ave. intersection, in particular that shopping center.

I agree with you that preservation of affordable housing is fundamental and that we need to increase the provision of/availability of such.

These days I am thinking about how we could carve out space for far more affordable housing production at Metro stations, but I haven't figured it out yet.


E.g., imagine if part of the redevelopment of WMATA land at RI Metro, Brookland, and Fort Totten included a building of affordable housing, run mixed like some of the Montgomery Housing Partnership properties?

This is a different kind of example, but the kind I am thinking about. Having a senior housing development as a part of a larger for profit development.

by Richard Layman on Dec 11, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport

Rich- I think the new Rhode Island Row is over 20% affordable housing.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 11, 2012 9:20 pm • linkreport

Not what I am envisioning but good point. That was required though, as it used DC/WMATA land. For example, in the discussions of the new Chevy Chase Sector plan, ACT suggested that the area around the proposed light rail station be more densely developed, to leverage the investment in public transit. MHP has projects there that could be intensified. Or land could be reserved around the proposed U Blvd./Langley Park station site. Or part of the Brookland Metro site, or a piece of a project at Fort Totten (note that the Cafritz lower income housing project adjacent to Ft. Totten is being redeveloped and is supposed to remain affordable).

There are equity and other reasons for mixing people of different incomes. The problem with it in terms of HOPEVI type projects is that it has come with significant reduction in the amount of housing made available to lower income residents. (The projects add mixed rate housing by taking away low income housing. There isn't one for one replacement of low income housing units.)

by Richard Layman on Dec 12, 2012 5:05 am • linkreport

In New York City, doesn't the Planning Dept have the leeway to grant additional height to a development in exchange for concessions such as affordable housing units? Maybe DC could do the same (assuming height restrictions are ever fixed)?

by Alan B on Dec 12, 2012 10:14 am • linkreport

@Alan B
DC does this - it's call Inclusionary Zoning:

by MLD on Dec 12, 2012 10:21 am • linkreport

but because of DC's height limit, inclusionary zoning has minimal effect in terms of making significant contributions to the stock of affordable housing, although it supports the laudable goal of producing (somewhat) mixed income neighborhoods.

It's why I've suggested that the air rights of DC government properties like say the police station on U Street NW or the fire station on M St. NW should be developed to be 100% affordable housing, to begin to add to the overall stock of affordable housing in a more significant fashion. Some neighborhood schools could be similarly repurposed if deaccessioned (although such projects typically are expensive, in other communities such conversions happen more frequently).

by Richard Layman on Dec 12, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

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