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To preserve or redevelop? One man will soon decide for a key Anacostia site

DC's housing agency wants to develop a long-vacant site in Anacostia with affordable housing and retail, but residents and the city's preservation officials say it is incompatible with the neighborhood. The choice between the two hangs on one last appeal.

Photo by Old Anacostia on Flickr.

The city's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has owned the "Big K" site on the 2200 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue since 2010. It includes the abandoned former "Big K" liquor store and two historic, yet blighted, houses next door.

DHCD has been working with the Chapman Development company to plan an affordable apartment building on the land. Chapman wants to demolish the liquor store, built in 1906 but just outside the Anacostia Historic District, and move the two houses to a nearby city lot where the former Unity Healthcare Clinic has sat vacant for nearly two years. Chapman would pay for the relocation, while DHCD would renovate the homes with a fund of $750,000.

Chapman also plans to acquire the adjacent Astro Motors to assemble the entire Big K site and build a building of 114 apartments over a retail ground floor. The apartments would be affordable housing for people making 60% of Area Median Income, or about $58,000 for a family of 3. The original proposal was 6 stories and 141 units, but Chapman shrank the project in response to community pushback.

Rendering of the original, larger proposal.

The revised version maxes out at 5 stories, but each of the upper two stories would be set back so they do not occupy the whole footprint of the parcel, forming an "E-shaped building" as seen from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. DHCD would transfer its ownership of the Big K lot to Chapman for $1, while low-income tax credits and government transfer rent payments would help finance the building.

Top: Elevation of the original proposal. Bottom: The new proposal. Renderings from a community presentation by the development team.

However, at community meetings about the project, residents have opposed the plan. They do not want to see so much new affordable housing, saying that Anacostia already has more than its fair share. Others said that the building's scale is incompatible with the historic district, which mostly comprises lower and smaller buildings.

Residents also opposed the name Cedar Hill Flats. Cedar Hill is the name for the home of legendary civil rights activist Frederick Douglass, and community members wanted to keep that name linked solely with Douglass. Chapman has agreed not to use the name.

The Historic Preservation Review Board "denied the concept for new construction as incompatible with the character of the historic district because it is too large in height and extent relative to the historic buildings in the commercial corridor and out of scale with the historic district" in October. Then, at the end of February, Chapman brought its revised, shorter version to HPRB, which again denied the application:

It is too tall relative to the district's historic buildings and too extensive, to occupy half the square and crowd the narrow sidewalk. It would also destroy the unusual topography of the site. ... The Board recommended that a permit not be issued to move 2234 and 2252 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue because the move would diminish the buildings' integrity and harm the character of this corner of the historic district, and because the houses could be rehabilitated and reused in place.
The preservation staff and board were also skeptical that the $750,000 earmark would be enough to properly relocate the homes without damaging them.

Project goes to the Mayor's Agent

HPRB's charge is only to look at the historic preservation issues in an application. But when a property owner believes the "special merit" or public interest value of a project should outweigh historic concerns (or if there is a financial hardship involved), there is an appeals process to an officer known as the Mayor's Agent. Currently, that agent is J. Peter Byrne, a Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Chapman has appealed to the Mayor's Agent. At a hearing yet to be scheduled, Byrne will review the application to move and rehabilitate the two houses and, will consider the purposes and benefits of the entire Big K project. DHCD and Chapman Development will likely argue the "special merit" of different components of the project, its amenities, and talk about how they help achieve objectives in DC's Comprehensive Plan.

At February's HPRB hearing, staff from DHCD, including Director Michael Kelly, Chapman Development and a consultant from Streetsense, argued that economic development was a key component of the project. Although members of HPRB contended that economic development was not under their purview, it is possible that argument will meet the special merit standard for the Mayor's Agent to rule in favor of the project.

After four long years of debate, the long path for Anacostia's most infamous vacant property may finally be coming to an end—or if this proposal fails, could continue for years more to come.

John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia


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Some people can't have nice things, others don't want them.

The issue with the proposed height is ridiculous. You can see the 5 story tall, new Salvation Army bldg of modern design that certainly doesn't fit in the neighborhood, that is literally (I measure it with google earth) 120 feet away from this parcel. You can see it in the pic above.

Residents in this ward complain all the time that the renaissance that has flourished in every other Ward in DC the past 13 years, has bypassed them without once asking themselves why?

This is why.

by SEDC on Mar 31, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

This is yet another example of the insanity of the District's historic preservation law and its zealous enforcers on the HPRB. This is a lovely building and would bring construction and economic development to a part of the city that desperately needs it. It would also, of course, increase housing supply which would help drive down rents.

And yet...the HPRB stands in the way. And if you think that the Mayor's Agent is anything but a dedicated preservationist himself, get real. He knows the law (he's a professor of, among other things, historic preservation law) but when it comes to something like special merit there is no question which side he's going to come down on.

Can we radically pare back Historic Preservation law and the HPRB's scope of authority now, please? Is there a more compelling reason than this one?


by Hill Guy on Mar 31, 2014 12:24 pm • linkreport

Honestly, the "community concerns" about this project are patently absurd. Really, getting mad about a new development with affordable housing, where affordable means "cheaper than usual, but still expensive enough that it's not exceptionally low rent", makes absolutely no sense. There is no "shouldering of a burden" of affordable housing when the housing is only affordable to people making near the average household income for the nation as a whole. The historical concerns, for whatever their aesthetic merit(not going to try to comment on that), over a pair of buildings that will only deteriorate more as the debate rages is overblown. In an area with a myriad of problems, are two houses worth the time and effort put into debating their preservation?

by JPC on Mar 31, 2014 12:28 pm • linkreport

some people will fight any change.

by Richard on Mar 31, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

This building isn't too tall. If anything it is too short. It's in a walkable/bikeable neighborhood and close to a Metro. What if they built taller and allowed the extra 2-3 floors to all be sold at market rate. That would balance the affordable units with some owned by wealthier people. Height can not be something the HPRB tries to preserve...

by David C on Mar 31, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

Good bye and good riddance.

by charlie on Mar 31, 2014 12:56 pm • linkreport

I think I like the original a little more than the new one, but am not sure about anything more than 6 floors given what is currently there.

That said, there are worse things than something of that form going up 8-10 stories.

by Richard on Mar 31, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

File it under Some People will Complain about Anything: this is what they are so desperately trying to preserve...

by BTA on Mar 31, 2014 1:35 pm • linkreport

I hate the attempt to minimize the upper stories as shown in the second illustration. You see this a lot around Alexandria. I wish HPRBs, other review bodies, armchair architects, and the general public could just accept an "honest" 5 or 6 story building and get on with life.

by spookiness on Mar 31, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

The apartments would be affordable housing for people making 60% of Area Median Income, or about $58,000 for a family of 3.

I realize W8 doesn't want their ward to be a dumping ground for affordable housing. But, it's worth pointing out that these "affordable" units are designed for families making approx. TWICE Anacostia's median household income*. That is, on average, the people moving into these units will be twice as rich as the average Anacostia resident. Attracting residents with higher disposable incomes will result in more community amenities.

Also, residents in housing that's affordable will have more disposable income than residents making a little more money but living in housing that's unaffordable. More disposable income = more amenities.

That said, a well preserved neighborhood is an amenity in itself, although that's the one amenity not in short supply in Anacostia.


by Falls Church on Mar 31, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

My guess is that most of the folks that have commented here do not live in Anacostia. That part of MLK is already crowded with affordable housing and low income, non-profits, etc. The community wants mixed income housing WITH market rate AND affordable options for this site and to build something that incorporates the existing historical structures. And yes, the Salvation Army building is ugly and tall and does not fit the look of the street. We don't want more of the same. FYI, Marion Barry has just today introduced "emergency" legislation to force this project to happen as is today.

by I live here, do you on Mar 31, 2014 4:06 pm • linkreport

Methinks the article title presents a false dichotomy.

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

I don't live in Anacostia, but I do live in DC and it is DC who owns this land. So since my tax dollars are at stake, I think my opinion matters.

by David C on Mar 31, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

@I live here - How are those structures going to be incorporated into a larger building on that site?

by Thad on Mar 31, 2014 4:19 pm • linkreport

Those Federal funds are dubiously being used to racially and economically segregate, not build dumping grounds. After all we are talking about people, not trash. Yikes.

Also, you guys agree with Marion Barry on something! Change your minds yet?

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 4:21 pm • linkreport

"But, it's worth pointing out that these "affordable" units are designed for families making approx. TWICE Anacostia's median household income*. That is, on average, the people moving into these units will be twice as rich as the average Anacostia resident. Attracting residents with higher disposable incomes will result in more community amenities."

This may be the first recorded case of affordable gentrification on record. This kind of social engineering through housing and preservation policy can really leave you tied up in knots!


by Hill Guy on Mar 31, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

Oh really? I seem to have missed the part where it says everyone moving into the new building will make the income maximum. Cool theory.

I heard another theory that says everyone new to the building will make 1 penny a year and pay their rent with subsidies.

I dont know what I think, but I feel like both theories are just as plausible.

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 4:30 pm • linkreport

I really don't understand the issue, it's not like Berry Farm II it's subsidized housing geared at the middle class which DC sorely needs.

by BTA on Mar 31, 2014 4:36 pm • linkreport

David C, you are welcome to take this affordable housing project paid with your tax dollars in your 'hood. Together with that 'China town 3' architecture. We don't want it.

by Anacostia boy on Mar 31, 2014 5:10 pm • linkreport

Yes, DC sorely needs it. All over the city. More the better. Let's not over water this one pot though. There are 7 others. Might be too much of a good thing in Ward 8 is what Im saying.

When I heard the 14th st Arts Overlay wanted to limit restaraunts what type of idiot would I have to be to object loudly because MLK SE needs restaraunts?

Too many restaraunts was 14th Streets problem. Likewise, we have our own problems. Dont make your problems ours.

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 5:34 pm • linkreport

Hill Guy, Falls Church, everyone else, when was the last time you walked by this site? And have you been to a Chapman-developed building in Southeast? If your neighborhood was already awash in poorly-maintained blocky brick public housing projects, would you want another to be built inside the only residential historic district east of the river? Would you ever consider living in this building?

Chapman "and his wife" recently made a $10,000 donation to Gray and DC Child and Family services - awwwww how sweeet - a not-so-subtle payoff to push this project through the Mayor's Agent. Chapman often compares the building he intends to build in the Anacostia Historic District to The Grays on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Grays is already showing its age and in a decade will be falling apart like most other projects DC gov has built / supported EOTR in the last half century. More immediately, the grocery store on the ground level of The Grays that began as an organic food store will now close its doors for good, unable to stock/sell enough to stay in business. All of which is besides the point, since The Grays is built along a major six-lane thoroughfare, while the Big K site is on a smaller four-lane road in a historic district filled mostly with two and three story wood-frame houses.

The Salvation Army is ugly and tall, even hideous and overbearing. It is more and more of the same social services that EOTR is already too full of. It is also outside of the historic district. It does not have to conform to the same zoning policy as the building at the Big K site and is not presented to the same boards for approval. Four Points can likewise max out the allowable building envelope with whatever they like on the other side of MLK from the Big K site, since that is also not in the historic district. But the Big K site is in the historic district and it lives by different rules. These rules are annoyingly rigid for a reason - to PROTECT the historic district from encroaching development or acontextual alterations. The Anacostia Historic District is a fraction of the size of the Capitol Hill Historic District, so every block has more meaning and importance. Even so, Chapman's planned 100% affordable unit development would never be allowed to be built in Capitol Hill's Historic District. Active intelligent citizens like Hill Guy would never allow it.

The fact that this project is being pushed so hard by DHCD only shows how much Gray has on the line to make Cedar Hill Flats happen, completing his SE development trifecta with St. E's and Skyland. The fact that only Muller has written about HPRB's decision against DHCD's predatory move to build this 100% affordable housing in EOTR's only historic district (and weeks after the decision, at that) highlights what a joke DC's other city reporters are (The Post, The Weiner), obsessing over the distraction that is St. E's while Gray pulls a fast one with Chapman.

Why are Gray and Barry working so hard to fill the pockets of this gentleman landholder from Virginia? And why do all of DC's intelligent urbanism-minded WOTR citizen have such a hard time putting themselves in someone else's shoes, seeing this for the sham that it actually is? Ask yourselves - if you lived in a historic district of balloon-frame houses and the government wanted to let a Virginian build an affordable housing project in drag on your main street, how would you feel?

Anacostians want change alright, a change from the poorly-constructed crap that DC Gov has been dropping all over EOTR for decades. Instead of using $750,000 of DCHD's money to rehab the old houses after Chapman moves them to the back of the neighborhood, why not rehab them at their current locations, build smaller buildings on the remaining empty parcels that compliment and highlight the old houses, and emphasize the charm, character, and heritage of the existing houses and surrounding historic district in their redevelopment schemes? Why the hell is the solution for the site reached by a highest and best use study commissioned by Chapman?

by i live here, do you x2 on Mar 31, 2014 5:38 pm • linkreport

I don't really care one way or the other but this is kind of like turning down a steak because you'll only take lobster. Those houses look well past the point where rehabilitation is economically feasible anyway. If people cared so much about when why are they falling down?

by BTA on Mar 31, 2014 7:22 pm • linkreport

Private homeowners allowed the homes to fall apart? Let's not invent a community-at-large caring metric based on a couple bad neighbors or absentee real property owners, ok?

Besides, city owns them now. Ask DCRA or DHCD why they are allowing demolition by neglect.

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 7:36 pm • linkreport

And did you say steak? Hahahah

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 7:39 pm • linkreport

The fact is that increased amenities only come after a neighborhood has bettered itself to the point that incomes rise and development(density) happens. Sometimes that involves middle steps, going from now to a planner's paradise of mixed incomes, ground floor retail, and reasonable rents isn't going to happen in one stage. This project is part of it, putting aside the cronyism involved. Something is better than nothing, and private(albeit subsidized) investment in Ward 8 is a rarity already. Don't make outside investors any more scared of the neighborhood than they already are

by JPC on Mar 31, 2014 7:42 pm • linkreport

Another example of failing to leverage the uniqueness of a neighborhood. If these houses were left in place, rehabbed, and integrated into a larger project, this site would be a unique gateway to an important historic district. That would encourage real economic development.

@ BTA - have some respect. Who are you to decide what the neighborhood should be grateful for?

And I also guess that you're not a real estate expert - because then you'd know that the proposed affordable housing project is also "economically unfeasible" and that's why Chapman is buying the land for only a $1, and using tax credits to finance it. Similar financing tools could be used for a more creative project.

by ray on Mar 31, 2014 8:00 pm • linkreport

My guess is that most of the folks that have commented here do not live in Anacostia.

Maybe you should be more concerned with what's the objective truth than where it's coming from.

Also, I pay $thousands a year in property taxes in DC, operate a business there, and own property in W8. I have a vested interest in how my tax money is used. Of course, you could argue that taxation doesn't afford me the right to representation, but oh, the irony.

I seem to have missed the part where it says everyone moving into the new building will make the income maximum.

Fair enough. Not everyone will earn the max $58K. But, nonetheless, units that are affordable for TWICE the Anacostia's median household income of $29K are still very likely to bring in many people above the median. The result is still additional disposable income which can be spent in the neighborhood. It's going to improve property values, bring amenities to the area, and make living there more desirable than the status quo.

After all we are talking about people, not trash.

Yeah, we're talking about getting rid of the trash currently on those parcels and building housing for people.

Falls Church, everyone else, when was the last time you walked by this site?

6 months ago. I doubt much has changed as things don't seem to change very quickly around there.

by Falls Church on Mar 31, 2014 8:22 pm • linkreport

What's so fragile about wood framed houses that they apparently can't handle having apartments being built near them?

by Drumz on Mar 31, 2014 8:44 pm • linkreport

Yes building 100% affordable housing brings in amenities just look at the other EotR Chapman project and Yes Organics, I mean Fairlawn Market, I mean...

You said dumping ground. Not me, buddy.

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 9:05 pm • linkreport

I can tell you what doesn't bring in amenities -- vacant blighted buildings that scare away potential new residents and businesses.

The problem isn't the Chapman building. The problem is vacant blighted buildings that attract actual crime, increase the perception of crime even more, sap vitality, and bring down property values.

by Falls Church on Mar 31, 2014 9:28 pm • linkreport

Amenities are coming. Some, already there. That is a nice parcel. It will fetch more soon. I'll gladly wait/keep fighting.

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 9:35 pm • linkreport

Also, the Grays on Penn has an income max of $35k. The big K proposal is for a max of $58k. Big difference.

If the website is accurate, all the units at the Grays come with granite counters, hardwood floors, energystar stainless appliances, washer/dryer, and the building has a room with cardio equipment. A grocery store is in the building. That sounds better than the vast majority of market rate housing available EOTR.

by Falls Church on Mar 31, 2014 9:38 pm • linkreport

you are welcome to take this affordable housing project paid with your tax dollars in your 'hood.

Thanks. And if they do, I will welcome comments on it from people who live anywhere in the city, even people who disagree with me.

by David C on Mar 31, 2014 9:40 pm • linkreport

That grocery store (Fairlawn Market) announced it was closing today.

Additionally, the 58k is for a family of 2.

by anon7 on Mar 31, 2014 9:51 pm • linkreport

@ i live here, do you: I don't live in Anacostia, but I agree with you 1000%

by ray on Mar 31, 2014 10:28 pm • linkreport

Ask DCRA or DHCD why they are allowing demolition by neglect.

Demolition? The houses are being moved around the corner.

If these houses were left in place, rehabbed, and integrated into a larger project, this site would be a unique gateway to an important historic district.

How would that even be possible and what would such a project consist of? You can't build a building around these - there's no room. Saying that you could do something else isn't much of an alternative plan.

by MLD on Apr 1, 2014 8:23 am • linkreport

No sir. One house has been demolished already, by neglect. There were three properties at that location. Also, they are not being moved anywhere, ever. At least by Chapman. Several hurdles he will have to jump and he doesn't have the stamina imo. Looking like Lolo Jones out there. . .

And personally, I might be persuaded that moving the properties is ok. Depends whats put on the table. I might be alone on that, but I doubt it.

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 9:44 am • linkreport

so - from the communitys POV - its pretty obvious development is good. Whats there now is an eye sore. The shape of the building is fine - BUT - the building will be all guaranteed affordable at max inc of 58 for 2. Say average family income of 45 to 55k. Probably no lower than what market rate units would get NOW. But. Rents and prices in DC continue to increase. This area is close to the booming Capital Riverfront area. WUPS near metro are in short supply. In, say, five years this could draw market rate housing at higher rents/incomes/values. So maybe better to wait?

From the City POV. The city is committed to building thousands of units of affordable housing (right?) to help offset displacement/gentrification (a big concern to W8 residents, right?) But funds are not infinite. here is a parcel the city owns, that they could not sell for very much. Affordable housing in expensive neighborhoods is a nice idea, and might even be supporting by some folks in those neighborhoods (at least the kind who are regulars at GGW) but where is the money for the land going to come from? (I know, from DC's huge surpluses - but there are a zillion ideas for what else to do with those surpluses)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 1, 2014 9:57 am • linkreport

It makes no sense for residents to debate this project. The housing affordability in DC is shameful, while Ward 8 can't be the dumping ground for all of the affordable housing, would the residents prefer high end luxury condos? No, and no one would build them because of the lack of amenities/crime. With Anacostia, the best step is to bring it from a heavily subsidized working class community, to a middle class community. The people that would move into here will bring pedestrian traffic right to the main strip, and enough disposable income to attract at least a few quality retail/dining options. It's a win win for everyone, current residents don't get priced out by building $1,500/month studios, and more middle class people can afford to live in DC!

by Strange on Apr 1, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

At strange I would just like some of my friends to be able to move in. You know that rare twenty or thirty something single that makes over 42k per year.

Let's do some Math. These are almost all, if not all, 1 bedroom units. They will rent for 1300 or so.

How much disposable income does a single person making less than 42k per year have when they are paying 1300 per month on rent? Not much after taxes, transportation, loans if any, and insurance etc...At best it nets the neigborhood nothing. At worst, it increases demands on social services. We are spinning our wheels.

What is with the false dichotomies btw? Luxury or income capped are our options? Keep it at 1300 without the cap.

And quit saying it is a dumping ground. Again, these are people. There are words for steering poor and discrete classes of people into one area. That word is segregation.

The District owns properties all over the city. Instead of building a soccer field in SW put some affordable housing there and give SE the Soccer field. Or keep the Soccer Field in SW and put some affordable housing in the Wards that really need it. The city owns plots everywhere.

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

Are the buildings shown an accurate representation of what will be built or are they merely "massings" or whatever. If not accurate, then let's not get too worked up about them being "ugly".

Does anyone know of a census of affordable housing in DC, preferably in map format?

by David C on Apr 1, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

"What is with the false dichotomies btw? Luxury or income capped are our options? Keep it at 1300 without the cap."

Without the cap there is no federal funding by law. DC could still subsidize housing without an income cap, but lots of taxpayers would undoubtedly object to that ("why are we subsidizing yuppies?") Would a private developer build this and rent 1BRs at 1300? If they did, what price would they pay the district for the land?

"The District owns properties all over the city." Most of which they can sell for more money than they can get for this parcel, I suspect.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 1, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

Urban Institute DC Neighborhood Info keeps stats on designated affordable units. Havent seen a map but someone skilled in GSIS? could coallate the info.

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

That would make a cool post, and help inform the debate I think.

by David C on Apr 1, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

Right. He would lose the LIHTC.

Would a private developer buy the land, I think so if the RFP went out with the provision the homes could be moved (which it did not). If not, in time someone will buy it after its value has matured.

Tax payers may object. That's cool. We are doing the same now. I wouldn't begrudge them their objections.

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 12:54 pm • linkreport

"If not, in time someone will buy it after its value has matured."

As I said above, the anti's strategy seems to be to wait for values to rise. That MAY be a good strategy from their POV (if the difference between this and the private development is enough to offset having nothing built for 3 years, or five years, or seven years)

"Tax payers may object. That's cool. We are doing the same now."

District subsidized housing on district land with no income caps? I'm curious where.

"I wouldn't begrudge them their objections."

Thats cool too - but they just might outvote you.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 1, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

They might. The judicial branch is somewhat isolated from popular opinion however ; )

District doesnt need to subsidize the housing. District should just get out the way

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

Also its worth mention that people like me who make less than $58k currently might apply and expect to see their salaries increase over the years. If you attract younger professional families with earning potential that could be a solid base for more amenities and "better" development in the future. If there was an alternate proposal for the site that would be one thing, but the alternative for the forseeable future will be nothing.

by BTA on Apr 1, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

Thanks again for a great article, John!

Question for those who live in Anacostia - if you are against affordable housing for the entire structure, is there a mix of affordable housing and market rate that would be acceptable? That way, the city can meet its desires to provide affordable housing, more working class families can afford nice residences in metro-accessible locations (with a very long affordable housing list, there is no shortness to demand), and also meet the residents request that units be non-affordable? If a mix of affordable/market rate can be agreed on, can the developer make such a building work financially?

On the height - I think the revised building accommodates concerns for height between the setbacks and the E shape (less building frontage directly on MLK). What will appear to be a 3-4 story building on MLK due to setbacks (5 stories in the rear) will actually be consistent with not only the Salvation Army building, but also 2100 MLK (which I believe is in the Historic District (HD)), 2041 MLK (not in HD), and the DHCD building (not in HD). While the building can of course be made lower in height, the revision is not unreasonable given the benefits the building will provide (ground floor retail on the street instead of setback up on a hill if done in the existing buildings, new retail space that is code compliant and will attract retailers that are not otherwise interested in the older building stock of the area, a large number of active users - more than could be accommodated in existing buildings, residents with disposable income to spend in the area, ...). I think it would be helpful to see the new building proposal placed in the context of the street with a street-level view to see the change in feel of the building with the revised heights.

However, with regards to the statements that the buildings shouldn't be moved - can you please elaborate on what you suggest would be built on the open parcel and how the existing two houses would be used? Also, how would income from those uses generate enough to cover the costs of rehabilitation (which will be SIGNIFICANT given the state of the buildings and the new uses that will probably be recommended for them)? Unfortunately, an assured return on investment is needed to upgrade or rehabilitate the buildings to the quality level desired, otherwise rehabilitation by any group other than the government will not happen.

by CityGal26 on Apr 1, 2014 1:08 pm • linkreport

Wait you think DC doesnt need subsidized housing? Have you seen rents in this city?

by BTA on Apr 1, 2014 1:09 pm • linkreport

Can someone school me on this? I thought that the reason the city took over these parcels was because they were blighted and no private developer had shown any interest in buying and developing them. Is that not right? If it is, then why would the "wait and see" approach be a good idea? Doesn't the existence of blight there help to stifle commercial interest? May be I'm wrong about that; I don't know. I am also concerned about the math. As someone else pointed out, it seems questionable that tenants in this development would have much in the way of disposable income. But, maybe I am wrong about that too. Open to being enlightened (hoping to be enlightened).

by Darin on Apr 1, 2014 1:11 pm • linkreport

It's less than 42k if you are single. 58k is for a two person household.

I have heard anywhere from 50% to 100% no cap. It doesn't matter developer has only made vague promises of "some" no cap units depending on externalities outside his control.

Honestly, the people who are 100% no move of homes, no matter what, are rare from what I have seen. Who knows for certain though? They could be out there enmasse, I just haven't seen them.

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

$58k is only slightly less than the 2010 DC median household income of $64k. That would definitely constitute a good amount of disposabl income, we're not talking Georgetown or Dupont levels but its there. Say if you have a three person family with one stay at home parent with a small kid netting $55k a year thats probably $50-45k after taxes or so minus another $20k for housing and transportation thats like $25-30k a year to spend on food, entertainment, cloths, household goods, furnishings etc. a lot of which would go into the local economy.

by BTA on Apr 1, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the "schooling". On a somewhat related front: what about the properties along MLK heading toward Howard Road? Is there any development plans for that area. There is the church that sits right on the corner of Howard Rd and MLK; but, right next to it is this big vacant lot. Anything in the works for that space? And the liquor store, storefront church and barbershop? Are they all staying, or is there some plan for that area?

by Darin on Apr 1, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

Firstly, there will be no three person families. These are one bedroom units.

Second, you are comparing apples and oranges. The DC stats you give on household income include households of one all the way up.

The way these units are situated they probably will only include single people. Maybe a few couples not planning on a family any time soon.

Singles are capped at 42k. Well below the 58k or 64k stat you give.

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

John, why can't you write about Big K from the perspective that historic preservation is important? Why not write about the possibility of these rehabbed homes in there current location to show that they can be re-used in other matters and contribute to the economic revitalization of the area. They do it in Charleston SC.

by Anacostia on Apr 1, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

"They might. The judicial branch is somewhat isolated from popular opinion however ; ) "

Judges can't make DC subsidize uncapped housing.

"District doesnt need to subsidize the housing. District should just get out the way"

ah, I thought we were talking about $1300 rents with no cap. Again, Im not sure that $1300 rents for standard 1 BR's would make the project work, now, even if the land was given away free. So it sounds like we are back to the strategy of waiting.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 1, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

Judges can file injunctions. They cant force them to build affordable housing anywhere, but they can tell them where it cant go.

And I am patient : )

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

This article specifically mentions two bedroom units. Obviously that is not definitive but certainly within the realm of conditions that could be put on the site. The Grays on Pennsylvannia does have two room floor plans. Anyway the same point could be made about young couples without kids who would then have enve more disposable income.

by BTA on Apr 1, 2014 3:45 pm • linkreport

AWITC, the city paper article mentions $1300 for a two bedroom with the one bedrooms at about $1150

Chapman says one-bedroom apartments will be renting for between $1,149 and $1,189, while two-bedrooms will fall in the $1,300 range. No Anacostia residents I spoke with could think of any apartments in the neighborhood that are that expensive. (Several people mentioned Sheridan Station, the new development near the Anacostia Metro, where the upscale apartments are all rented out. But one-bedrooms there rent for as little as $750, and no more than $1,025.)

by BTA on Apr 1, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

Since sept 2013 theyve chopped 80 units. I know there are a few. But that was also in September.

Im looking at revised drawings from HPO from Feb 2014. It doesnt say. From the drawings there appear to be 4 1000 square foot units. About 50 or so 600 to 800 and the rest about 300 sq ft im guessing those are studios

by anon7 on Apr 1, 2014 4:18 pm • linkreport

I'm really confused by the people who think this development will raise average incomes in the neighborhood. Just as there are income maximums for these subsidized units, there are also income minimums. To be classified as affordable, the tenant cannot spend more than 30% of her income on rent. So, for example, if the cheapest 1-BR rents for $1149/mo, the tenant's income has to be at least $45,960/yr. If she lives by herself, she's already over the maximum income limit for a single-person household. So every single-person HH in this building would have to be a tenant with a voucher (to whom minimum income limits do not apply).

If she's got a kid, the income limit raises to about $51K. So she has to make at least $46K but no more than $51K. Do people really think there's a ton of HHs in this tight income band to fill these units? Two kids bumps the max up to $58K, but it's still a rather narrow band. Plus, there are also rooming requirements, so depending on the sex and age of the kids, this fictitious 3-person family may be required to rent a 2-BR. Which of course raises the minimum income required and further restricts the band of eligibility.

On the other hand, scores of voucher holders currently living in less desirable housing in Ward 8 are easily eligible. Automatic rent payments from DC gov't are a great deal for the developer and management company, don't ya think? But reshuffling poor HHs does little to nothing for development in the ward.

Anon7 has done a really good job of presenting the arguments against this development. I think if folks paid attention to the arguments presented instead of patronizingly assuming folks in Anacostia are clueless and don't want anything nice, then they might actually learn something.

Lastly, for those who assume market rate can't work in Anacostia right now, Sanford Capital has proposed an even larger mixed use rental development at Congress Heights metro with only 8% affordable units and the rest being market rate. They also paid much more than $1 to acquire the land to build on. If their market studies show mostly market rate can work in Congress Heights, I'm sure it can work in Anacostia, which has even higher average property values.

by PG2SE on Apr 1, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

Dont other AH developments have comparable income maxes and mins? Do they all draw only voucher holders?

Are there sufficient units for voucher holders? Is adding more housing for them a DC govt goal? How do voucher programs integrate with the Districts affordable housing goals?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 1, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

I'm trying to understand the complaints. As I see it they are:

1. This building is ugly
2. We should preserve what currently exists
3. This project will further saturate the area with low income residents

On #1, I am not suited to make a call. Nor am I clear that we've seen the final decision. Nor do I see away to argue about what is ugly and what is not. And, as an owner of a mirror, I have to defensively wonder what people have against the ugly.

On #2, I just don't see how that is economically viable or a good idea (not at this location)

On #3, I'd like to see how saturated the area really is, and also have answers to AWITC's questions. But, I'll again state that by building a taller building, it becomes easier to provide affordable housing and a mixed income building. Fighting to make it shorter, as people have done here, means it is either affordable housing or not. And while I see the cost of adding more low income people to a neighborhood that reportedly already has a lot, I see this as the lessor evil when compared to just ignoring the needs of the low-income people this would help.

by David C on Apr 1, 2014 5:06 pm • linkreport

I wasn't implying this section of town is a dumping ground, I was simply voicing the opinion of many EOTR residents that there is an over concentration of affordable/subsidized housing in Ward 8. That is an entire issue in and of itself. I think Anacostia has a little ways to go before it can bring market rate rentals, (DC market rate NOT EOTR market rate) 1100-1200 is the estimated rental price for a 1bdr, which is affordable in comparison to the majority of rentals in DC, but more expensive than the $700-$900 that is the average for EOTR. My biggest point is if they did charge market rate for a 1bdr they would have trouble attracting residents and if they didn't people would complain of gentrification! There needs to be a middle ground between the market rate rentals and subsidized housing. This building is able to do just that. The housing market has failed to provide viable solutions for the working professionals who don't make enough to afford a 1500-1800/mth apartment. That's why we see so many roommates in 2+bdr apartments, and group houses. Affordable doesn't have to mean low income, it can, but it doesn't have too!

by Strange on Apr 1, 2014 6:18 pm • linkreport

Dont other AH developments have comparable income maxes and mins?
It depends. From what I gather, income maximums for an AH project can be set at 60% of AMI or 80%. Obviously 80% would mean higher maximums and would draw a much better income mix among residents. You'd have to ask Chapman why he's set on the 60% level. Maybe serving lower income tenants means a bigger LIHTC for him. Nice deal if you can get it.

You also have to factor in the percentage of units that are set aside for AH. Chapman wants this development to be 100% affordable, with 0 market rate. When you hear about these developments WoTR, the mix is more like the one Sanford Capital is proposing at Congress Heights metro, 92:8 market rate to affordable. Again, why his second proposal continues to insist on 100% affordable housing when that was a clearly expressed point of contention for the community is a question for Chapman.

Do they all draw only voucher holders?
See above. If the 80% level were used and it included market-rate housing in the mix, it would not draw only voucher holders.

Are there sufficient units for voucher holders? Is adding more housing for them a DC govt goal?
It's against the law to discriminate by source of income, so theoretically, vouchers should be redeemable anywhere that the value of the voucher covers the rent. In practice, many private landlords are clueless about the law and will actually tell people they do not rent to Section 8. The answer to that is to enforce the law. But getting more to your question, the bigger problem is that there aren't enough vouchers for the number of people that need them than it is insufficient number of units for voucher holders. The waiting list for vouchers is several years long.

How do voucher programs integrate with the Districts affordable housing goals?
Don't know. But my personal feeling is that actually enforcing the law against discriminating against voucher holders would do wonders for economic mobility of poor and working class households.

by PG2SE on Apr 1, 2014 7:46 pm • linkreport

Not sure where you are getting your $700-$900 figure from. Market rate for a 1-BR in Anacostia, without utilities, is $1035. For a 2-BR, it's $1130.

by PG2SE on Apr 1, 2014 7:54 pm • linkreport

Sorry, that was my estimate based on my rental in Anacostia and all of the other people in 1bdr apartments I know in all of Ward 8, not specifically Anacostia. Thanks for the correction!

by Strange on Apr 1, 2014 8:05 pm • linkreport

The main question aside, the proposed design is mediocre generica. It looks like practically every other mixed use/mutlifamily development being build across DC and Arlington. If the houses are to come down, is it too much to ask for original, interesting architecture that is perhaps also sensitive to the neighborhood context? Anacostia deserves better. Meh.

by Alf on Apr 2, 2014 4:36 pm • linkreport

I think people are losing sight of the point, perhaps because it wasn't stressed in the article, that this is in the Anacostia Historic District. We have historic districts for a reason (Georgetown, Capitol Hill) and we see how lovely they are when they are maintained and renovated with respect to that history.
Yes, homes and buildings in the Anacostia Historic District haven't been renovated yet, but they will the City continues to group folks are already looking East...
If the old healthcare lot is (a) close by, as mentioned in the article and (b) also owned by the City, as mentioned in the article, why not build the apartments there?
If the developer doesn't want to deal with the historic review board rules, don't develop in a historic district. There is PLENTY of available land in Ward 8 that is NOT in a historic district. The historic review board has no say over what goes there.
And if the city has the funds to renovate the houses, like they claim in the article, what haven't they renovated them?

by Missed the Point on Apr 3, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

(I the City continues to GROW....)

by Missed the Point on Apr 3, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

Affordable housing is not adequate for a Special Merit decision because affordable housing can be achieved on any piece of land. No argument can be made that this is the only piece of land where affordable housing can be put.

Moving or demolishing the historic buildings is not compatible with the National Historic Preservation Act and will disqualify this project from federal funding. Federal undertakings (construction, loans, financing, etc.) cannot result in adverse effects to historic resources. Moving historic buildings off their site is considered an adverse effect. If the developer changes his plans to retain and preserve the historic buildings, then he can have his federal financing.

by crin on Apr 3, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

thanks PG2SE. I dont know too much about minimums but that is interesting, if true.

Missed the point is right. So many other city owned lots in the immidiate vicinity but not within the historic district that can be used for an ugly building.

Crin is right too. Mayor's Agent is a long shot for Chapman. This is why they are trying to preempt the Mayors Agent with legislation.

Middle ground is making it a mix of capped and uncapped, Strange.

Also, it is important to note that by building most of the new 30-60AMI affordable housing in one or two areas you are not building it where alot of it is needed. You are essentially accelerating displacement and gentrification in one area and contributing to further isolation and segregation in another. This is not a good thing.

I confirmed there are only a handful of 2bdrm units

by anon7 on Apr 3, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

I realize this thread is dead now, but I did a bit more research and wanted to correct some misinformation I put out earlier.

What I stated before about there being income minimums for these units is *not* true. Other HUD programs like Section 8 set the tenant's maximum rent liability to no more than 30% of their income and make up the difference with the subsidy. But for LIHTC, once the rent for the unit is set, there is no restriction requiring that the tenant occupying the unit pay no more than 30% of her income for it. So my earlier statement that the 1-BR units could only be filled by voucher holders is wrong. Bwomp bwomp.
Source here.

Still, the study does say that nearly 2/3 of LIHTC units serve households earning well below the income maximum and that rental assistance programs are what allow this to be the case. So there likely would still be a large number of voucher holders in this development and thus, still questionable how much this development would do to raise average incomes in the area.

Going back to AWITC's question earlier about similar AH housing, it would be great to know the income mix among tenants at Chapman's other EoTR development to get an idea of this.

by PG2SE on Apr 4, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

Thank you for the update, PG2SE.

Re: the author - what is your opinion on if this will go forward or not? It seems more likely than not to me, if only because of Barry's support and the procedural plans detailed in this article.

by h st ll on Apr 4, 2014 11:21 am • linkreport

Thanks for the update and study link.

Chapman said only 9 units out of 100 plus were voucher holders in the Gray's.

I don't believe nothing that man says though. . . lol

I had a hunch most of the people in the building would be below the maximum. That means even if they are not using vouchers they will be paying alot of their income towards rent and not have much disposable income.

Look at the Grays. It couldnt support Yes Organics, somewhat obviously imo that place is expensive. But later it couldnt support Fairlawn Market either, a regular old grocer.

by anon7 on Apr 4, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

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