Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eckington Affordable Housing: A Moving Story


In rare confluence of church and (real e)state, Eckington's St. Martin's Parish and NorthStar Development and Consulting have come together to produce a new 178-unit affordable housing project in Northeast Washington DC. Initially obstructed by the community, which objected to the proposed demolition of a historic church convent at 116 T Street, NE, the development team agreed to physically move the convent. Just this week, Hamel Builders rolled the edifice 80 feet east of its original location (the nuns were previously evacuated) and, in doing so, freed up the lot so that construction on the $41 million project can commence posthaste.

Upon completion, the new 241,000 square foot project will boast a combination of one-bedroom public housing units available at 30% AMI and two-bedrooms available at 60% AMI - which in sum total, in the words of Reverend Michael Kelly of St. Martin's, makes it “the largest affordable housing project in DC.”

According to Neal Drobenare of NorthStar Development, the apartments will have "two internal landscaped courtyards, a business / computer center, internet cafĂ©, wireless internet access, full fitness center and community room…[plus] a full level of underground parking." At present, the new development remains untitled, as NorthStar has yet to “hit upon a final name that conveys a market rate level of quality, respect[s] St. Martin Parish's sponsorship, and the secular nature of the apartments themselves.” The project is expected to reach completion in the first quarter of 2010. Grimm & Parker is designing the new building.

The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington will control the apartments through a subsidiary, which will then pay St. Martin's Parish to lease the land underneath. Said De Drebonare:

“St. Martin's Parish will continue to lead our neighborhood steering committee, which has representatives from nearly all local churches and civic associations [and] will help build bridges between the neighborhood and our residents, as well as keep our feet to the fire on operating at a market rate level of service. A third party manager will run the building.”

According to Drebonare, the matter of transplanting a former nunnery wasn’t the only obstacle encountered by the development team since planning began in 2007. "The closing of the financing was quite the cliffhanger as [the] financial markets collapsed around us…we managed to close the day before the complete meltdown of the stock market in October."

Looks like someone up there was looking out for them.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

200+ impoverished residents, many with addiction and mental health issues, all concentrated in a single residential development in a neighborhood struggling to lift itself out of decades of poverty and crime...

what could go wrong?

Scenic Artisan on Jan 15, 2009, 5:18:00 PM said...

whatever the pros and cons of this; that photo is pretty cool!

Anonymous said...

yeah wait.. we're still building projects? what happened to mixed income and section 8 and all the, you know, good ideas?

Anonymous said...

Developers realized, with all of the tax breaks and rebates, that they could make money off of public housing. Add into that a church with a very vocal priest, a misinformation campaign, and a loud group of non-resident parishoners, and you have the recipe for this unfortunate project.

Chris in Eckington

Anonymous said...

Guess what else just became more afordable...every house within 3 blocks of this place. Who wants to live close to the new sursum corda?

Anonymous said...

You beat me to the naming suggestion of new sursum corda.

Anonymous said...

The surrounding community tried to encourage complementary development to scale with the surrounding housing. That would mean rowhouse or rowhouse-looking apartments like Ellen Wilson Homes on Capitol Hill (a very nice HOPE VI redevelopment). That would mean separate entrances and more interaction with the neighborhood. The community also tried to encourage a mixed income development on such a large site. What the community got instead was a PR campaign by Sharon Robinson's firm labeling them as NIMBY's who were racist and classist. The end product is a economically homogeneous tenant base warehoused in a yet another building within the community that won't interact with the neighbors of different and diverse backgrounds. For examples of this type of development, just walk down North Capitol toward the Capitol Building and on the right you'll see what it looks like. Ironically (sadly), the District is trying to break up that warehousing of poverty by the New Communities Initiative at the same time that they are funding this St. Martin's development. Boo for the tactics and boo for the lack of foresight and creativity and for not seizing the opportunity to partner with the community to create something everyone could be proud of. That WAS possible, if you didn't use such cynical tactics. The development team took the easy way out (and succeeded financially). We'll see if they succeed with the end result in 5-10 years. Hope they do, but it wasn't a good start.

Anonymous said...

Looks like we're tearing down the old slums in order to build new ones. Tisk, tisk.

Anonymous said...

I live near this crap shoot... I honestly believe this is going to lower my property values. We just succeeded in getting rid of boarding home on the corner of our block. It was a place meant for pregnant teens, but it attracted boys/men from all over the hood and all kinds of illegal activity. Now I have to deal with this? WTF! I hope I can unload my property ASAP before this shiznizzle is finished.

Anonymous said...

City liv'n ain't worth this crap. Expect your cars to get broken into and new "crews" to develop as soon as this place gets filled up. I would hate to live across from this. And I bet the police will be called here often.

PT said...

The comments posted here do not represent the views of many in the community who supported this development. Misinformed people characterizing this as "public housing" or housing for "people with addiction and mental health issues" are not furthering a constructive debate on how to bring more affordable housing to neighborhoods in DC. It is housing for working families who have as much right to live in the community as anyone else. (For the record, I live within 1 block of the site.)

Anonymous said...

While I'm not a big advocate of suing, it sounds as though the church has not been respectful of valid (and invalid) concerns of the community by even attempting to address them. Should the fears of some community members come to fruition (see postings above), I'm sure there is a viable lawsuit against the church. There are probably a variety of claims: public nuisance, breach of contract, etc. that could be brought against the church. Of course, whoever brings it has to have standing to do so, but it wouldn't take too much lawyering to figure this one out.

Anonymous said...

As for constructive ways to build affordable housing the answer is simple and now practiced it other areas of the city (and country). That is, don’t build large 100% affordable housing! Build affordable housing mixed in with market rate housing. The numerous benefits of true “mixed-income” housing were ignored by St.Martin’s in lieu of profit.

Anonymous said...

When the neighborhood tried to fight to improve the building, St. Martin’s was able to hire the most expensive property attorneys it the city to pounce on a mostly poor neighborhood. Unfortunately it would take a lot of money to successfully sue the Catholic Church.

Anonymous said...

The very worst of development. And oh so ironic as a taxpayer to be asked to fund the tearing down of old projects (under New Communities initiative) while simultaneously paying for the building of this new one.

Open-Eyed Eckington said...

Before the steering committee dreamed up this $28 million dollar bohemoth, St. Martin's had planned to build a group of townhouses that would have housed just as many people (maybe a few more) ... at ZERO taxpayer cost.

They said, "This would be a vastly simpler project for us. We have already raised millions in grant funds and would not need either tax credits or other subsidies to make the townhouse model work."

Instead, someone saw a chance to rake in big bucks, and was willing to exploit the prejudices of the community to push it through - even though people within Catholic Charities warn against precisely this type of project.

Ghetto: an isolated group; a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure

Anonymous said...

"It is housing for working families."

LOL.

Darren on Jan 22, 2009, 9:49:00 AM said...

I am pleased to live directly across the street from what will soon be a welcome and timely addition to our neighborhood. In fact, I bought my house with full knowledge of and in support of the project. I look forward to the increased property values that will result from a meticulously constructed and expertly managed new development. While I think some of the concerns about density were legitimate, I'm disappointed that many of neighborhood residents are more interested in licking their wounds than they are in imagining creative ways to help integrate our new neighbors into the neighborhood.

Brittany said...

I'm writing an article about this issue and would love to get some opinions from people. Feel free to e-mail me at angelgurl051806@aol.com and let me know how you feel. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Brittany:

Regarding your interest in writing an article on the St. Martin's Apartments issue -- perhaps you could identify which newspaper or press service you are associated. That would be helpful.

Anonymous said...

The best way to integrate our new neighbors into the neighborhood, would be to spread all income groups seamlessly around the neighborhood rather then gathering one income group into a densely populated, neighborhood dwarfing building.

Anonymous said...

Many, many creative ideas were presented at the beginning of this process. All were ignored. Regarding this issue, St. Martins will have a lot of mending to do after carpet bombing a now shell shocked neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Great. Public housing or low-income housing in an already blighted (though getting better) area doesn't help anybody. Mixed housing works best when low-income housing is placed in a safe and wealthier community. Why not Friendship Heights?

Anonymous said...

Poor does not equal criminal. I'm new to DC and you all do sound like racist NIMBYs to me. . .

what could go wrong? you could end up needing help one day and people could treat you with this type of hate and disdain

Darren X. said...

Poor doesn’t equal criminal. I agree. But I will tell you this:

I stopped by two open houses within a two block radius of this project this past weekend. At the first one, I left my umbrella on the front porch near the door not wanting to mess up the place. Upon finishing my tour, I was surprised to find that it had "moved" inside. The agent informed me that some child had simply come up and walked off with it. Fortunately for me, the agent was "watching out" and managed to re-obtain said umbrella. "I told you ..." said the mother to the child.

Perhaps you missed this: The mother WATCHED her child steal someone's property in broad (overcast) daylight!!!

The next open house agent mentioned NOTHING of this new development either. Only out of curiosity for what this “exciting” new construction project in my perhaps new neighborhood might be did I stumble across the real deal.

As a potential buyer (you know, half of what makes a market) I can tell you flat out that my fair market assessment of both of these condos just dropped by 20 - 30%.

Best of luck to the folks in this community. Hope it works out for you.

D/.

 

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