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Arts


Festivals like Saturday's Art All Night are great for cities

Local DC performing and visual artists and installations will invade seven DC neighborhoods Saturday night as part of a free program called Art All Night. This year's festival, and events like it, are great for fostering urbanism.


Artist Monsieur Arthur mixes paints for a live feed projection on the front of the Carnegie Library at Art All Night 2015. Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.


Art All Night includes dozens of individual events in seven neighborhoods that are part of the DC Main Streets program: Shaw, Dupont Circle, H Street, North Capitol, Congress Heights, Tenleytown, and Van Ness, from 7pm to 3am. (The full schedule of events for each neighborhood is online here.)

Art All Night started in Shaw in 2011, inspired by the Nuit Blanche festival in Paris. This year it features almost exclusively local DC artists (with a few invited international guests), "in celebration of the Made in DC initiative," according to event organizers.


Shaw Shaws installation at 2015 Art All Night. Photo by Victoria Pickering.

Festivals make us consider the urban fabric in new ways

Art All Night founder Ariana Austin has described it as an opportunity for the community to get exposed to local and international artists and "encounter the city in a new way."

That's true, but it only scratches the surface on why festivals like this one are a boon to communities.

GGWash contributor David Meni went to the Art All Night exhibits along North Capitol Street in the Truxton Circle/Bloomingdale area last year. He says nearly all of the art installations and concerts there took place in vacant lots that would be fenced off at any other time.

"These are spaces that would normally be overlooked or even intentionally avoided. I think one of the biggest values of Art All Night, at least in that area, was to get folks from the community and neighborhoods nearby engaged with those spaces and envisioning their potential. There's a particularly large vacant lot at the intersection of Florida and North Capitol, but for this one night it was active with artists and music and food vendors—I'm sure that got a lot of people thinking about how that lot could be used in ways that bring the community together year-round."

"An arts festival is akin to a parade, marathon, or any other big urban event," adds contributor Abby Lynch. "They can draw people to a new part of the city, let us experience it in a different way. They can also take a busy area and activate it at a different time—I'm guessing that Van Ness isn't typically that busy at 2 or 3 am, so this is bringing new activity to the area in that sense as well."


Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.

They can be an economic opportunity, too

Van Ness Main Streets sees art and cultural programming as an opportunity to use art for business revitalization. "Our Jazz @ VN series was developed to showcase our local restaurants and create an activity to highlight our restaurants as well DC's vibrant jazz scene," says Theresa Cameron, the organization's executive director.

These sorts of events can provide mini-breaks to an overly restrictive zoning scheme too, points out contributor Canaan Merchant. "Mini businesses that may not make sense in a brick and mortar space can still flourish in a festival space and the great thing is that the brick and mortar places do well as well, which makes me think that a rising tide lifts all boats."

Abby also adds that festivals like this "compliment the activities of brick and mortar institutions, too. They can concentrate programing to draw a big crowd in a way that a performing arts center with two stages and shows every Thursday through Sunday just can't. That big crowd is also a good way to showcase lots of artists (or arts groups) for a broad audience, providing them exposure in a way they wouldn't get if they were to produce a show on their own. And a healthy creative community is a good thing for a city."

In fact, some urbanists have argued that cities should focus less on museums as a development magnet and more on festivals. Why? The flexibility and overhead of festivals can provide a greater return on investment than capital-intensive museums. Certainly, that doesn't mean DC should jettison the Smithsonian, but it's an interesting argument.

Development


When the Metro first arrived in Shaw and Columbia Heights, they were far different than they are today

During rush hour, northbound Yellow Line trains need to reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there isn't enough capacity for all of them to run to Greenbelt. That's because when Metro designed the Yellow Line, it was hard to imagine neighborhoods like Shaw and U Street developing as rapidly as they did.


This pre-2004 map shows original full-time Yellow Line service. Image from WMATA.

Why can't Yellow Line go farther north full time?

For the Yellow Line to operate north of Mount Vernon Square full-time, there would need to be a pocket track somewhere between that station and Greenbelt, so that Yellow Line trains could turn back towards Virginia without impeding Green Line trains at rush hour. (Right now, a few Rush+ Yellow Line trains do go all the way to Greenbelt, but usually only about four per hour during peak periods).

The tunnel that carries the Green and Yellow Lines under 7th Street and U Street NW opened in two stages: from L'Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place in April 1983, and from Gallery Place to U Street in May 1991. These tracks initially only provided service for the Yellow Line, but the Green Line would soon utilize the tunnel when it began operation from U Street to Anacostia in December 1991. Check out the Evolution of Metrorail graphic below, which we initially ran two years ago to see how service has changed:

The tracks running through the 7th Street tunnel had always been intended to be shared by the Green and Yellow Lines, but only for a short portion. Although it was intended for the Green Line to operate along the entire length of the tunnel - continuing onwards to Petworth, Fort Totten, and northwest Prince George's County - the Yellow Line would short turn at a pocket track somewhere along the route, so as not to overwhelm operations at Greenbelt (as I discussed in my first post on this topic).

Metro's planners opted to build the necessary pocket track at Mount Vernon Square station, which meant that Yellow Line trains would have to end their route and turn back towards Virginia without serving neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth. Except for the brief six-month period between the opening of Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and U Street stations in June 1991 and the commencement of Green Line service that December, the Yellow Line has always terminated at Mount Vernon Square in regular rush hour service.

Off-peak Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten began in 2006. This has certainly been a first step towards meeting the increased demand in DC's Mid-City area (generally thought of as the neighborhoods served by the Green Line from Shaw to Petworth). However, these areas have now grown enough in population that full-time Yellow Line service is warranted, despite the significant obstacles that stand in the way.

The growth of Mid-City has led to a need for increased Metro service

Massive redevelopment in Mid-City began around the turn of the century, and has continued at a frantic pace to the present day. That's meant increased demand for service along the Green/Yellow Lines at all hours.

When the Mid-City section of the Green Line opened in 1991 (between Gallery Place and U Street) and was completed in 1999 (from U Street to Fort Totten), the area was still reeling from the destruction caused by the 1968 riots. Shaw and Columbia Heights were still plagued with empty storefronts, and the landscape was pockmarked with empty lots where incinerated buildings had once stood.


Aftermath of DC's 1968 riots. Image from the Library of Congress.

The corridor has since benefitted from an incredible amount of reinvestment since the opening of the new Green (later Green/Yellow) Line stations in the 1990s. New construction has ranged in scale from projects like Progression Place, a huge mixed-use center that was recently built directly atop Shaw Metro, to smaller infill developments aimed at repairing the urban fabric.


Apartments at the Columbia Heights station. Photo by Alice Crain on Flickr.

A problem inherent in the system's design

Unfortunately, plans for Metro service patterns in Mid-City didn't anticipate the future growth that these neighborhoods would face. The Yellow Line was designed to provide a direct connection from Virginia to downtown for the commuting crowd; it travels express between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza, then provides a connection to each of the other Metro lines downtown before turning back at Mount Vernon Square.

The system's planners didn't predict that a significant amount of Yellow Line passengers would desire to travel past downtown, to neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Thus, it was assumed that the Green Line would provide adequate service for this portion of the line. Hence the pocket track going in at Mount Vernon Square, rather than at a more northern station like U Street.

So, could Metro build a new pocket track to account for the development spree?

Unfortunately, because this service pattern is cemented by the chosen location to build a pocket track, any attempt to correct this past oversight will be very laborious and costly.

It would be extremely difficult to add a pocket track to the Green and Yellow Lines anywhere between Mount Vernon Square and the District line because the tracks run almost entirely underground all the way to West Hyattsville. It would be prohibitively disruptive and expensive to excavate along the existing route and construct a pocket track between the mainline tracks—a WMATA study placed the cost of a Fort Totten pocket at $150 million.

Although the lower platform at Fort Totten is mostly built in an open cut (a shallow excavation that puts the tracks slightly below ground level), the tracks emerge directly from tunnels on both sides. The necessary location for a pocket track - the east side of the station, on the far side of the platforms from the city - is also the location of the B&E Connector track, a non-revenue link between the Red and Green Lines. The combination of these factors would make the construction of a pocket at this location very complex.


The track layout at Fort Totten. Light-colored tracks are below ground. Graphic by the author.

The next logical place to build a pocket track beyond Fort Totten is in Prince George's County, at the point where the tracks emerge from underground near West Hyattsville station. However, while construction of a pocket here wouldn't require excavation, it would still be extremely difficult and disruptive because the tracks are side-by-side on an elevated viaduct.

Because a pocket would have to be built between the existing mainline tracks, Metro would have to reconstruct a roughly 600-foot section of this elevated viaduct in order to pull the tracks apart and create space for a third track in between. This would be comparably disruptive and expensive to constructing a pocket track underground near Fort Totten. What's really required is a section of track that is at-grade, e.g. resting at ground level rather than underground or on a viaduct.


The Green Line viaduct and platforms at West Hyattsville. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The next feasible place to build a pocket track would be at the above-ground embankment behind Home Depot on East-West Highway near Prince George's Plaza station (although that, too, might be difficult due to the curve at that location).

Of course, a pocket track gets less and less useful the further it is from downtown. The next possible location for a pocket would be near College Park, at which point Yellow Line trains might as well continue all the way to Greenbelt.

It looks like for now, stations north of Mount Vernon Square will have to make do without full-time Yellow Line service. Until WMATA can procure $150 million to add an expensive new underground pocket track at Fort Totten, as well as $100 million for new rolling stock (plus millions more in annual operating funds), rush hour Yellow Line trains will have to continue to terminate at Mount Vernon Square. But the temporary terminus at U Street offers us a glimpse of what could have been if Metro had built a pocket track there back in 1991.

Development


The Area Median Income (AMI), explained

There are a number of programs used to create affordable housing in the region, including housing vouchers, inclusionary zoning, low-income housing tax credits and public housing.


Photo by Images Money on Flickr.

Each of these programs use a central statistic—the area median income, or AMI—to determine whether families are eligible for the program.

In this explainer, I focus on how the AMI is calculated and what it means for affordable housing in the region.

The area median income (AMI) is the household income for the median—or middle—household in a region.

As a quick refresher, if you were to line up each household in the area from the poorest to the wealthiest, the household in the middle would be the median household.

Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates the median income for every metropolitan region in the country. HUD focuses on the region—rather than just the city—because families searching for housing are likely to look beyond the city itself to find a place to live.


A rendering of the Channing E. Phillips Homes, which will go up next to the Shaw Metro and will be affordable to families making 60% of the area median income. Image from AHC Inc.

In DC, the region includes more than twenty nearby cities and counties, including Prince George's County, the city of Alexandria, and Fairfax County. Families in these suburbs tend to be wealthier than those in the District, so the AMI is higher than it would be if HUD calculated the AMI for the city alone.

HUD uses the five-year estimates of the American Community Survey—a national survey similar to the Census—to measure household income. They begin with the median income for a family of four.

In the Washington region, the AMI is $109,200 for a family of four.

Because the metropolitan region includes some of the country's wealthiest suburbs, this is among the highest AMIs in the country.

The table below reports the median income for families of various sizes in our metropolitan region. Because family incomes differ by the number of people in the household, HUD uses a formula to adjust the AMI for families of different sizes.

These adjusted AMIs are used to calculate affordability throughout the region, including Prince George's County, Alexandria and the District itself.

Table 1: The AMI in the DC Metropolitan Region, by Household Size:

Household SizeMedian Household Income
1$76,440
2$87,360
3$98,280
4$109,200
5$120,120
6$131,040

To determine whether a family is eligible for various housing programs we compare a family's income to a percentage of the AMI.

We typically distinguish between three types of households. Households earning less than 80 percent of the AMI are considered low-income households by HUD. Very low-income households earn less than 50 percent of the AMI and extremely low-income households earn less than 30 percent of the AMI.

Other eligibility standards, including 60 percent AMI or 110 percent AMI, are occasionally used to determine affordability.

In Table 2, I report the income associated with each affordability threshold. In our region, a four-person households earning 80 percent of the AMI earns about $87,360 each year. A four-person household earning 30 percent of the AMI earns about $32,760 each year.

Table 2: Affordable Housing Standards in the Region:

Percent AMIHousehold Income
30%$32,760
50%$54,600
60%$65,520
80%$87,360
100%$109,200
110%$120,120

Every affordable housing program in the region uses these AMI calculations to determine eligibility

Housing vouchers are generally available for families earning 30 percent AMI. This means that families earning $32,760 or less are eligible for vouchers.

The mandatory inclusionary zoning program in the District requires builders include units available at 50 percent AMI. Families of four earning up to $54,600 would be eligible for these units.

And affordable housing developments cap rents below market rate to ensure that families can live in these units without spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent. In the Channing Phillips Homes, a new affordable housing development in Shaw, apartments will be targeted at households earning up to 60 percent AMI. This means that a four-person household earning $65,520 or less would be eligible to live in the development. Rents would be capped to ensure that households can afford the rent without paying more than 30 percent of their income.

Critics of these affordability standards argue that poor families in the city are disadvantaged by the AMI calculation

By including the entire region in the AMI calculation, HUD includes many wealthy suburbs of the District. Since these suburbs have a higher median income than the city, the AMI for the region is higher than it would be for the city alone.

As a result, the poorest families in a region, who typically live in the city, earn substantially below 30% of the AMI in the region. There is virtually no housing assistance designed specifically for those families.

History


Was your neighborhood "obsolete" in 1950?

The National Capital Park and Planning Commission, forerunner to today's NCPC, declared most of Shaw, Mount Vernon Square and Triangle, Capitol Hill, Southwest, Buena Vista and other neighborhoods "obsolete" in 1950. Yes, amazingly, they really used that term.


"Problem areas" and "obsolete characteristics" according to NCPPC, 1950.

That's some of the astounding information in the 1950 document Washington, Present and Future from NCPPC. ShawNeighborhood listserv participant RayM scanned a number of pages showing plans to radically remove multi-family dwellings from historic neighborhoods and force the kind of low-density, single-use, less walkable pattern of development that permanently destroyed many urban areas.

What was wrong? People lived in neighborhoods with alley dwellings, some of which were less well maintained. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs talked about how planners in Boston declared the North End a similar "slum" simply because people lived at a certain population density per acre, and the view at the time was that government had to force people to live more spread out.

There are certainly reasons to believe race played a part as well; these neighborhoods were predominantly African-American. The solution, people thought at the time, was to tear down the old neighborhoods and build new ones in the "towers in the park" style of the housing projects we all know and loathe today. Here is their plan for Shaw:

Fortunately for Shaw, a thriving neighborhood with beautiful old row houses and some of DC's best-preserved carriage homes, most of this plan never came to pass. It largely did, however, in Southwest:

Besides wholesale demolition of neighborhoods, planners tried to push people out of so-called "blighted" neighborhoods with zoning. On Capitol Hill, for instance, the zoning plan wanted to take the fabric of different size buildings coexisting and declare that illegal. Instead, all commerce in the NE quadrant of the Hill would be restricted to H Street, Massachusetts, and a 2-block stretch of 8th, and all multifamily to Maryland Avenue.

They also wanted to widen 11th Street and demolish everything for 2 blocks on either side of East Capitol to create a new extended Mall. (This is the reason that the street between A and C NE is Constitution, not B, and likewise in SE is Independence, even though the original L'Enfant plan called them B Street).

Many of these decisions were efforts to segregate

It's important to recognize that some characteristics of the District today come directly out of explicit "social engineering" decisions that planners pushed on the District when the 1958 zoning code was written. Rules against accessory dwellings and corner stores, parking minimums and single-use zoning were all efforts to zone many of the people, mostly African-American, out of the neighborhoods.

That's just one reason to be pleased that last January, DC's Zoning Commission adopted a new zoning code that will take effect on September 6th, doing away with the code that came from this era.

This post originally ran in 2012, but since the history hasn't changed and the new zoning code goes into effect soon, we wanted to share it again!

History


Read about one of Duke Ellington's favorite Shaw hangouts

To work against gentrification nasty's reputation of erasing a neighborhood's history, it can help to keep stories about places and people alive. Case in point: a block in Shaw sandwiched between 6th and 7th Streets NW. It's where young Duke Ellington might have crossed paths with the son of a Russian landlord in a fabled Shaw pool hall in the years leading up to World War I.


624 T Street NW, site where Frank Holliday's Pool Hall was located. Photo by the author.

Around 1913, Edward "Duke" Ellington—barely a teenager—began hanging out in a pool hall in a building in the 600 block of T Street NW owned by DC physician Louis Kolipinski and operated by Frank Holliday.

Kolipinski was a Russian (Polish) immigrant who graduated from Georgetown medical school. He began practicing medicine in 1897, and by the first decade of the 20th century was investing in real estate throughout Washington. He owned several buildings in the 600 block of T Street NW including the two-story brick building where Holliday and later proprietors operated a pool hall. The Howard Theater, completed in 1910, is located across an alley just east of the building.


The Howard Theatre vicinity around 1919. The arrow is where the Frank Holliday pool hall was. Image from Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia.

The entire block was a hotbed of African American entrepreneurialism and artistic expression. The businesses there straddled the line separating "proper" Washington and the city's underworld, which was populated by numbers men, bookmakers, and bootleggers. Ellington credited his time on the block with being critical to forming his identity. There does not appear to be any evidence that Ellington and the Kolipinskis ever met.

Dr. Kolipinski died in late 1914 and his wife assumed control of his real estate assets, which remained in the family until 1987. Today the one-story building constructed in 1931, which replaced an earlier two-story building, is a brew pub that opened in 2013. The Ellington connection is a key part of the establishment's nostalgia narrative: "Established on the spot where Frank Holiday's Pool Room once stood—next door to the Howard Theatre and where Duke Ellington learned how to play jazz as a teenager."

The Kolipinskis had several children, including Andrew Leopold Kolipinski. Andrew was born around 1910 and was not that much younger than Ellington. Though Washington was rigidly segregated in the early twentieth century, underworld establishments—like pool halls, after hours clubs, and brothels—were among the few places where people of different races and classes could mingle. Holliday's pool hall's heterogeneity, at least when it came to class, was one of the things that attracted young Ellington.

"Ellington also spent significant time as a teenager in a less rarified area of black Washington, at Frank Holliday's poolroom in the Shaw neighborhood," wrote Harvey C. Cohen in his 2010 book, Duke Ellington's America. "The poolroom attracted a mix of people who Ellington claimed educated him as much as his schoolteachers did: 'pool sharks,' lawyers, well-traveled 'Pullman car porters,' 'professional and amateur gamblers,' a slew of piano players, and Dr. Charles Drew.

Ellington biographer Mark Tucker wrote about Ellington's time in the T Street establishment in his 1991 book, Ellington: the Early Years:

Ellington also learned race pride could be carried too far, as when the "proud negroes" of Washington opposed school desegregation because they did not want their educational standards lowered. And he saw how this pride could become prejudice in a black community where caste distinctions were made on the basis of skin color. Perhaps to escape this stratification, Ellington sought out places like Frank Holliday's poolroom at Seventh and T streets, a place that showed "how all levels could and should mix." There he found college graduates, professional gamblers, Pullman porters, law and medical students (probably from nearby Howard University), and musicians. In school Ellington studied Negro history and learned to be proud of his people; in the poolroom he was taught "the art of the hustle" by card sharks, check-forgers, and pickpockets. But even these small-time criminals, with their worldly airs and slick style, were worthy of emulation: "At heart, they were all great artists."

The Howard Theatre and former Holliday pool room (left of truck), January 2016. Photo by the author.

Ellington had acquired his nickname, "Duke," by the time he was hanging out in Holliday's pool hall. Andrew Kolipinski died in a car crash at age 21. According to his November 1931 obituary he had acquired the nickname "Duke" while attending Randolph-Macon College. There don't appear to be any documents or narratives surviving that describe how the Kolipinskis interacted with their tenants and the businesses housed in the buildings they owned.

Frank Holliday's pool hall is the stuff of local legends, and Ellington's personal story. It occupies a prominent place in Ellington biographies and it connects existing places, like the Right Proper Brewing Company's brewpub, with a past Washington that is rapidly disappearing from aging residents' memories. Inside 624 T Street, patrons, sightseers, and history buffs collide in gentrified space that doesn't erase the past, but builds on it.

It may be that Duke Ellington and Duke Kolipinski never met. It's also possible, however unlikely, that their paths crossed in Washington's Shaw neighborhood. I wonder what a pair of teens, one a talented and curious African American and the other, the son of European immigrants, would have talked about had they met each other in or around Frank Holliday's pool room.

Bicycling


A church in Shaw thinks bike lanes make streets safer

Some churches in Shaw are fighting hard to block a proposed north-south protected bikeway, but not all churches think it's such a bad idea.


Hemingway Temple AME Church. Photo by Martin Moulton.

Hamingway Temple African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, at 5th and P streets NW, has sent a letter to the District Department of Transportation suggesting "a fair balance" in its ongoing study of ways to add a protected bikeway around 5th, 6th, and/or 9th streets.

The letter says,

We realize that as our neighborhood becomes more heavily populated, its needs also become more diverse. Preserving church parking is important to our members, but we appreciate the Mayor's Vision Zero initiative and strategies that will make our streets safer and eliminate all traffic related fatalities. ... Separate protected facilities for cyclists keeps them out of the way of motor vehicles. Reducing the width of roads makes them safer for pedestrians to walk across.
(Before someone jumps on the church's seeming to claim the only benefit of bike lanes is to keep them out of drivers' way, cycling advocates have long been arguing drivers should support bike lanes for this very reason—they're actually potentially in the interests of people bicycling and people driving alike.)

The letter credits Martin Moulton, board vice president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, for engaging with the church. The nearby KIPP DC Shaw Campus, for which Moulton has worked as a consultant on community outreach, also has for some time let church members park in its parking lot on Sundays.

This demonstrates, first, that reaching out to engage constructively with churches is important; and second, that there can be creative other solutions to churches' parking needs besides forbidding bike lanes entirely. We can hope more churches will engage with area cyclists and find ways to make streets safer while still allowing parishioners to reach worship services as well.

There will be an open house meeting on the bikeway study this Saturday, February 6, from 12-4 pm at KIPP. People who want to speak should arrive at noon to sign up, and public testimony will begin at 1.

Public Spaces


A new pocket park and safer street layout are coming to Florida Ave NW

Much of the discussion around a new development at 965 Florida Avenue NW has centered on disagreement about its affordable housing component. That aside, the project will add a lot to the neighborhood, including a new pocket park and a better layout for the intersection in front.


The new pocket park is the two green triangles on the left side of the image, with the building at 965 Florida on the right. All images from MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group unless otherwise noted.

Developers MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group will build a new 4,478 square foot pocket park on the west side of the reconfigured Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. This will act as a "buffer" between traffic and the existing town houses, their application says.

To create the pocket park, the developers will reconfigure the intersection of Florida Avenue and Sherman Avenue, eliminating the continuous diagonal on Florida and a disused pedestrian island between the northbound and southbound lanes of Sherman.


The existing Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. Image by Google Maps.

The sidewalk along Florida and Sherman will be widened by six feet to 14 feet and there will be a new "private street"—essentially an extension of Bryant Street that is part of DC's plans to reconnect Georgia Avenue and Sherman Avenue.


An eastern aerial perspective of the site.

The project, along with others proposed for the block of Florida Ave between V Street and Sherman Avenue, will create a nearly unified streetscape of mid-rise, mixed-use buildings.


Florida Ave street level elevation.

Affordable housing has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the 965 Florida development. While MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group have committed to setting aside 30% of its 428 residential units for households earning up to 30% or up to 50% of area median income, criticism has erupted over the District government's decision to sell the property for just $400,000 when it was reportedly worth $27.6 million.

Some argued DC coud build more affordable housing if it sold the plot outright, while others said the deal guaranteed that affordable housing would go up in DC's core.

Either way, 965 Florida is moving forward and will bring many attractive—and needed—improvements to the Shaw and U Street neighborhoods.

Note: If you read this post when it first published, your eyes aren't deceiving you! We re-ordered it to emphasize the key changes coming to the neighborhood.

Development


A new Florida Ave development is getting more affordable units than originally planned

Plans for the much-discussed development at 965 Florida Avenue NW now include 129 affordable residential units, almost 18% more than earlier plans. The additional housing may alleviate some concerns over whether the DC government made the best deal for the site.


Rendering of 965 Florida Avenue. Image by MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group.

The planned 10-story mixed-use building includes 428 apartments, with 30% set aside for the District's inclusionary housing program, leaving 299 to be rented at market rates. The affordable component includes 32 units for households that make up to 30% of area median income (AMI) and 97 for households making up to 50% of AMI.

DC will auction off the affordable units to households through its inclusionary zoning lottery. Households must register for the lottery by providing documents proving that their size and combined income meet the AMI requirements.

AMI for a household of four in the Washington DC metropolitan area was $107,300 in 2013, according to the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. Using this number, a household making up to $32,190 would qualify for 30% of AMI units and one making up to $53,650 would qualify for 50% of AMI units.

The previous proposal for 965 Florida included 107 affordable units out of 352 planned in the new building.

More units but still just 30%

While there will be more affordable units, the developers, MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group, are also building more apartments overall. That means the percentage of below-market units at 965 Florida isn't going up.

The 30% number follows a bill by Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie requiring that 20% to 30% of residential units built as a result of public land deals are included in the District's affordable housing program.

Questions have been raised over whether the District made a poor deal when it agreed to sell the 965 Florida site for just $400,000 and a 30% affordable unit commitment from the developers when the plot was reportedly worth $27.6 million if sold outright.

Some argue that DC could have created more affordable dwelling units by selling the plot and using the proceeds to build below-market units elsewhere in the city.

Others point to the fact that the project guarantees that affordable housing will be built in one of the city's most popular, transit-oriented neighborhoods rather than just on its fringes.

The debate has died down somewhat since the DC Council approved the deal in September.

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