Friday, November 06, 2009

Eckington's St. Martin's Still a Source of Tension


Originally scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2010, Eckington's St. Martin's Apartments are coming together, according to church authorities and architects involved with the project - although, November of 2010 is now looking like the more likely date for completion.

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 fa├žade 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.

Whether or not such steps help soothe community concerns, Todd is certain that as the building nears completion, everyone involved will continue to work "to be present for the community and ANC, Bloomingdale Civic Association and Edgewood Neighborhood leaders."

9 comments:

Alan said...

This project is a great idea - for the 1960's. Then we realized that stacking poor with poorer led homogenized, marginalized neighborhoods that ruined the neighborhood and did no better for so-called beneficiaries of the building. This neighborhood has long been struggling and prices have plummeted, this can only hurt us.

Anonymous said...

It's a fantastic way to keep the church up and the neighborhood down.
Gotta hand it to the poverty pimps, they know how to make money.

less propaganda said...

Five things:

(1) So NOW supporters are calling it a "housing project" and "public housing". Before, it was always "workforce housing" or "affordable housing".

(2) "Below the market rate" (or even "market rate") isn't backed up by actual numbers. (Who could have known the real estate bubble would collapse, like every other bubble?) Not that it matters ... "market rate" is sort of like MSRP on cars - something only paid by the rare person who can afford not to know any better.

(3) The fact that this AMI is from the last century is never mentioned.

(4) One of the big concerns was the walled off, isolated design - an enclosed courtyard which is inaccessible from the street and not viewable by the public ... NOT the other way around.

(5) Does Chapman Todd REALLY not know this project is in Eckington (not Bloomingdale or Edgewood)?

PS

Some of the best the arguments AGAINST the St. Martin's project are mentioned by ITS OWN PEOPLE in responses to the Catholic Charities Millenium Survey.

The original, far less expensive rowhouse project - which was fully funded and didn't require taxpayer subsidies or a zoning variance - would have been provided homes for just as many people.

Anonymous said...

As St. Martins said this project is needed because more "affordable housing is needed in eckington". There are more affordable housing projects in eckington than any other community. Almost 9 other massive buildings receive federal and district subsidies, housing almost 2000 people in eckington. St. Martins also promised that their would be a community area that all residents could use. You can look at the current construction and notice that it will be impossible for other residents to use the common areas. This is possibly the worst project that could have happened to this area. These projects have failed in the passed and it is a guarantee crime will increase. I am not even sure how the church got this passed when the community is strongly against the project.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the community wanted open access to the courtyard for the surrounding community and for the police. Having an enclosed courtyard was not a response to any community concerns. Rather it was done to ensure that all costs associated with building the courtyard and its furnishing would be includable in taxable basis, thus generating maximum tax credits. This is basic tax credit development. Please don't lie.

The community wanted to ensure that the failed urban planning theories that contributed to Sursum Corda were not repeated. Sursum Corda has many poorly lit, hard-to-access courtyards that make it difficult to police. That was the thinking behind wanting open access to the green areas.

Sure, if you take the extremes of both sides of a debate, you can easily vilify them...but this community was generally very informed and reasonable, but we got steamrolled.

Don't get me wrong, the church had the right to do what it wants with its land. But it did not have the right to put a huge apartment building in the middle of a 2-story rowhouse area. It needed to change the zoning to do that, and the Catholic machine bankrolled that effort very effectively.

I'm not optimistic about anything close to mixed-income in this building. DC has tons of H.C. voucher-holders with no place to use them, so this building will be 100% economically homogeneous, just like the concentrated poverty a few blocks down North Capitol that the District is spending millions and millions to break up. This has been a cynical failure of zoning and planning decisionmakers who accepted simplistic ideas and slogans and didn't look for a way to create something great. That was definitely possible--it just required hard work.

Anonymous said...

I believe the project will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I think he was referring to the Edgewood civic group that represents the neighborhood the project is in. The project is coming so I recommend we find ways to work with the church to set standards for community excellence from our future neighbors instead of immediately labeling them. Classic classism

Darren on Nov 9, 2009, 5:54:00 PM said...

Hear, hear. The battle is over. Regardless of the "arguments against" the project, new neighbors are coming. You can either contribute to figuring out ways to welcome them and encourage them to participate in efforts to make the neighborhood a better place to live, or you can keep whining and help make St. Martin's into the ghetto you all keep predicting it inevitably must become. It's telling, I think, that most of these comments are anonymous. Living directly across the street from the apartments, I've appreciated the professionalism of the developers and the quality of the work and look forward to meeting my son's future playmates and my new friends.

the tiny part of Edgewood known as Eckington said...

Why assume that the people opposed to this project have something against its potential occupants, or are "classist"? Now THAT is labelling!

Catholic Charities counted on this and exploited it, every step of the way.

And they will continue to exploit it. Listen to the knee-jerk reactions of those who leap to accuse their neighbors of prejudice, simply because they are better informed, or have seen people manipulated by greed-cloaked-in-righteousness before?

The people opposed to this project are DEFENDING these future tenants. We assume that, like the rest of us, they'd rather NOT be walled off in an involuntary gated community which they're being erroneously told the community insisted on.

THIS is the literal definition of a ghetto, as opposed to the popular definition. That one is a state of mind, and it comes from the psychological aspects which follow.

It has nothing to do with who the people are when they move in. It's how they usually end up, how most of US would end up under the same circumstances.

We are ALL shaped by "place", whether we like it or not. It is either ignorance or deliberate naivete to pretend otherwise.

Nevertheless, we are already providing an easy out for Catholic Charities, and they've counted on this all along. "It wasn't the project; it was the community!"

St. Martin's original, smaller scale project would served an equal number of tenants, but they'd be families - by birth or by choice - living in rowhouses like we do, not ones and twos stacked in a big anonymous apartment block. They'd have their own yards and porches (like ours), not walled-in courtyards and shared rec rooms (like institutions).

The difference is (1) they would have all been VERY low income, which a few individuals in the community admittedly didn't like. Just to be sure, St. Martin's found a more acceptable prejudice to exploit, and told us they'd rent them ALL to people in recovery if we didn't let them build TLAHPIDC ("the largest affordable housing project in DC").

If we had called their bluff, they probably wouldn't have. But let's say they did. How many people would have been eager to welcome "our new neighbors in recovery"? I'm betting the silence would have been deafening.

The other difference is (2) it would have meant little, if any, profit potential. TLAPIDC will be tremendously profitable to several groups ... not to mention the long season of sanctimony we're in for.

Just because people recognize this doesn't mean they have anything against their new neighbors.

And if someone doesn't sign up for the official welcome committee, it may be because he prefers getting to know people as individuals or doesn't see the need for a symbolic group action.

Or ... he may appreciate the irony of bending over backwards to prove we don't label people based on our preconceived notions (unless, of course, they're critical of the landlord ... THOSE people are whining classists).

Chapman said...

Hi – a couple of things.

First, yes, I do know that this development is in Eckington. The quote referring to Edgewood was the second half of a statement where I mentioned to the writer that I’d presented an update at both the Bloomingdale and Edgewood Civic Associations’ September monthly meetings. No slight to Eckington was intended, and I’d be happy to attend any neighborhood meeting regarding issues in Eckington, so anyone with info on anything upcoming please just let me know when and where.

Second, we are committed to being a good neighbor both now and when the building opens, and I welcome the opportunity to have conversations and discuss ideas. Just send me an email at chapman.todd(at)catholiccharitiesdc.org and I'll follow up with you asap.

 

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