NorthStar Development and Consulting partnered with St. Martin's on the apartments which will ultimately be controlled by The Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington through a subsidiary. Those curious about the progress on the 178-unit affordable apartment complex located at 116 T Street, NE can now see the recently installed windows, according to Lenora "Chick" Bowser. Built atop St. Martin's land, the four-story complex (plus one story of parking below-ground) has been billed by Parish Pastor Michael Kelley as "The Largest Affordable Housing Project in DC."
All units are rental and all are offered below the market rate with one-bedroom public housing units available at 30% AMI and two-bedrooms available at 60% AMI. That's either great news for working families or a ticking property value time bomb for local property owners - depending on who you ask. The project has faced community road blocks since its inception in 2005 when Hamel Builders was given the unique opportunity to roll the convent 80 feet east of its 116 T Street, NE lot to avoid razing a potential historic site.
According to Milan Mehta, Grimm & Parker's lead architect on the project, the convent will now hold six units built in accordance with Historic Preservation guidelines, with the other apartments contextual with the neighborhood. "We tried to break up the façade so that it mimicked the homes to the [Todd Place] side," explains Mehta, adding that the designers included a "grander frontage and greater street presence on the T Street side," facing McKinley Tech and Hyde School.
But design aesthetics—including an E-shape somewhat reminiscent of Sursum Corda's horseshoe design—aren't the only concerns some of the area's neighbors have with the 241,000 s.f., $41 million project. At a time when the New Communities initiative has sold the District on the idea that mixed-use, mixed-income, rent-or-own developments will spark progress in neighborhoods, some Eckington residents feel this development will have the exact opposite effect - namely, that it will concentrate poverty and crime into one designated area.
For their part, church officials and developers have repeatedly dismissed these charges as naive mischaracterizations of future St. Martin's residents. "This development will be mixed-income," counters Chapman Todd, director for housing development at Catholic Charities, adding that although the development is a stand-alone development separate from the New Communities initiative, it will serve as "an asset to a vibrant community in need of more affordable housing options."
As for the similarities to failed public housing projects like Sursum Corda, Todd assures that the St. Martin's Apartment design took into account neighborhood concerns about "common areas being open to the street" by placing features like the toddler play area, gazebos, and courtyard terraces one floor above street-level.