Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Columbia Heights Affordable Housing Designed for Deaf

There is a tree-lined section of Euclid Street NW in Columbia Heights where a mural of an ocean scene faces an empty, grassy lot.  That lot, at 1421 Euclid Street, NW - near the corner with 14th Street NW and a BP gas station - is the site of a future housing development designed for the deaf.

The 28-unit, $11.5 million apartment building will feature an audio-video entry system and balconies with every unit.  The building will be the second D.C. apartment building designed especially to accommodate members of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community (Gallaudet beat them, by a bit).  The rental units will also meet the city's affordable housing requirements.

Justice Park Designed Especially For the Deaf
Buwa Binitie of Dantes Partners, the project's developer, released new renderings of the project to DCMud this week.  "This is going to look and feel like any other high-quality market-rate housing," Binitie said.  According to project architect Zachary Schooley of Grimm + Parker Architects, the apartment design, in addition to a two-way, audio-video entry system - will feature open floor plans to facilitate visual communication and signing.

The building's design considers future prospective deaf and hard-of-hearing residents' greater "reliance on the visual and tactile senses," Schooley told DCMud.  "Spaces where the tenants can openly assemble together, open stairways, large amounts of glazing and the use of color all create a more stimulating (visual) environment." The design includes eight studio units, 16 one-bedroom units, four two-bedroom units, for a total of 28 units - 9 fewer than the original plan's call for 37 units.

Schooley said architects are working to amplify well-lit spaces and minimize the number of
Park view from future Justice Park apartments on Euclid St. NW
darkened, or sharp, corners.  He said the design team had also been experimenting with textural elements, such as wall coverings, flooring materials that will enhance residents' tactile experience of the space.

Binitie said Dantes has also brought on a new development partner on the Justice Park project.  Mi Casa, Inc., an affordable housing non-profit, has replaced former development partners Perdomo Group and Capital Construction Enterprises, turning the development triad into a duo.   The switch-up happened in April, Binitie told DCMud, adding that Dantes has "always been in the lead development role in the project."

Justice Park, rendering courtesy Dantes Partners
Dantes Partners won the contract to design, build, and develop the city-owned property in July, 2010, under the administration of former mayor Adrian Fenty. The city stipulated that the building accommodate renters who meet eligibility requirements for affordable housing.  Dantes Partners is the firm behind several other
recent D.C. developments including VIDA affordable senior housing in Brightwood and the long-running but embattled redevelopment of the West End library and fire station.   

Binitie said Dantes has worked with a variety of community stakeholders during the design stage of the Justice Park project.  According to Binitie, input has come from the neighboring condo communities of The Villaggio and Fairmont, among other locals.
Justice Park, rendering courtesy Dantes Partner

Another person involved with the project since its inception is Glen Sutcliffe, an agent with W.C. & A.N. Miller, who caters to D.C.'s deaf and hard-of-hearing community.  The child of deaf parents, Sutcliffe said he immediately welcomed the opportunity, and rallied members of his network to support the project.

He said the ubiquitous open floor plans featuring joined kitchen-living-dining areas have particular value to the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  "When you are designing a living space for a deaf or hard-of-hearing individual, you have to think: everything is visual," according to Sutcliffe. He said the design would feature a strobe light fire alarm with a flash "piercing" enough to wake anyone up from a deep sleep, which would be a benefit even to the hearing. "Things that are designed and developed for a deaf person could have universal use all the time."
Although the D.C. metro area has a higher concentration of deaf individuals than almost any other locale in the world, Sutcliffe said, housing options for the deaf are extraordinarily underrepresented. "People might ask why we are doing this," Sutcliffe said. "Because a deaf person goes to buy a condo or a co-op or rent an apartment in the District and they have to do battle with the board, builder, or landlord to get accommodations."

Sutcliffe said even the simplest and cheapest feature is one that more builders could integrate into their designs:  the audio-video entry system. "It is my sincere hope that this building may serve as a model for other developers to design their building similarly as far as accessibility,"  Sutcliffe told DCMud. "What is necessity for the deaf community could be an amenity for the hearing population - if you look at it that way, it makes perfect sense."

But as stipulated by fair housing law, the apartments must be made available for rental to anyone eligible for affordable housing on a first-come, first-serve basis.  However, Binitie said, marketing will be "aggressively targeting deaf professionals." Renters must earn between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), or, no more than $60,000 a year. Binitie says he expects ground-breaking will take place in early 2013, and the units will open to reservation until six months after construction.

"It will be first-come first-serve according to fair housing, but you have to understand that these are going to accessible units and we are going to try to accommodate as many (deaf) as possible," said Sutcliffe.

Washington D.C. real estate development news


Anonymous said...

I believe the map and current site photo are incorrect - that is the site of a new park and community garden. I think the new building will be built across the street, between the Villagio and the BP station.

IMGoph on Sep 4, 2012, 11:01:00 AM said...

What's with the highlighting at the end of the article as well?

A Streeter said...

"...[A} total of 28 units - 10 fewer than the original plan's call for 37 units."

To paraphrase a description of a Civil War battle: that's interesting, but it isn't mathematics.

Anonymous said...

Wow. "Affordable" housing costs $410,714 per unit--most of which are small units? That's what you get when you divide the given cost ($11.5M) by the number of units (28).

Unclear what the $11.5M includes or excludes, but even if it covers all hard and soft costs, for this project to be "affordable" we're talking big subsidies of some sort. Probably from us taxpayers, whose apartments cost considerably less to construct.

I don't think this has anything to do with the deaf angle, since that's pretty much an overlay of a few additional visual devices. But something is fishy here--where is all that money going? The exterior rendering looks like decent affordable housing, but nothing high-budget.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Deaf are taxpayers too!

Anonymous said...

Finally! apartments designed for Deaf. I cannot wait! Thank You! Thank You!

Robert McConnell on Sep 10, 2012, 2:46:00 PM said...

Even in the District, Deaf people face considerable challenges when finding affordable/accessible housing!

Oftentimes, Deaf people in DC opt for group housing solutions in Old City and Trinidad - even if there are cheaper options elsewhere. Why? The proximity to Gallaudet often gives them the option of working with landlords who are familiar with the deaf community and readily provide accommodations such as strobe fire alarms and flashing doorbells. However, these older rowhouses are often "retro-fits" - and the fire strobe lights are rarely located in bedrooms, where they're most needed. That's a big indicator of why the universal design principles found here at Justice Park are so significant!

As Mr. Sutcliffe mentions, video intercoms will be a standard feature. Such an amenity is usually found only in high-end luxury homes - but not in affordable-housing units where Deaf people would be more likely to live. However, such a system would be useful to anyone - and that further drives home Glen's point, where accommodations for Deaf people can drive innovations to make life more convenient and safer for those who can hear.

Anonymous said...

This is exciting! I can't wait to see how it turns out. Definitely a different spin on afordable housing development for a market that is usually overloooked.

Lisa said...

Great that high quality development will be built to serve this market. Innovative and very much needed. Binitie has a reputation for delivering a good product in a reasonable time frame.

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