Last Saturday, a group of District residents led by ONE DC set up a tent city on Parcel 42 — a vacant lot across from the Shaw/Howard University Metro station. This marked the latest phase in a prolonged effort to get more subsidized affordable housing developed in the neighborhood.
It’s a tangled tale and hard to piece together. But the Washington Business Journal gives a good recap through November 2007. ONE DC has its own account, which takes us up to the present. So here goes ….
Seems that the Fenty administration decided to bring Radio One back to the city and to create a home for it in a new complex on top of the Metro station. To this end, it agreed to provide $16 million in public financing –most of it as free rent for Radio One. (Thought you’d like to know where your taxpayer dollars were going.)
The original plan the mayor approved included 112 units of affordable housing, plus rental space, underground parking and a community center to be built on a separate lot — Parcel 42. (ONE DC, however, references a Community Benefits Agreement with the now-defunct National Capital Redevelopment Corporation that said Parcel 42 would be used for affordable housing.)
In any event, the plan evolved. Basically, it seems, the developers wanted to make more money on the housing. First it was condos. Then more rental housing at market rates.
Ultimately, only 45 of the 180 units planned were tagged as affordable. And they were to be affordable for households earning up to 60% of the area median income. This is a higher ceiling than what many analysts and advocates mean when they talk about affordable housing, though not higher than the standard used for some federal affordable housing programs.
ONE DC and neighborhood supporters protest. The administration and developers agree, as a trade-off for the higher-rent housing, to also put housing on Parcel 42. In short, they seem to buy into the prior Community Benefits Agreement.
ONE DC contends that the developer selected for the Parcel 42 project was to get a $7.8 million subsidy from the District in exchange for building 94 apartments affordable to individuals and families making less than $50,000. The rent structure was to make some affordable to those with incomes as low as 30% of the AMI. Near as I can figure, this would be considerably less than $50,000.
Then, says ONE DC, the mayor let the developer know that he had other ideas for the affordable housing subsidy. Rosemary Ndubuizu, spokesperson for ONE DC, tells me he wanted all units pegged to 60% of the AMI. The developer said it couldn’t do better because the subsidy had been cut by about $2.8 million.
ONE DC tries in vain to reopen negotiations. Ultimately, it stages a demonstration in front of the mayor’s house. Two days later it’s told that the mayor will increase the subsidy so that housing will be affordable for households making $50,000.
Two months ago, it finds out that the lead developer has been told to cut the housing back to 54 units and make the lowest-cost units affordable for people earning $70,000 a year. This is somewhat under 70% of the AMI for a family of four.
Needless to say, ONE DC and the neighborhood residents it’s organized feel stiffed. They’re demanding that the Fenty administration follow through on the agreed-upon subsidy and rent structure for Parcel 42. They also have broader demands aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing in the District.
There could well be another side to this story. But thus far the Fenty administration hasn’t offered it. Perhaps hoping that the protesters will fold their tents before the construction crews arrive. And they certainly will. But they won’t silently steal away.
They plan to cap the “liberating of the land” tomorrow, July 15, with an early morning “delegation” to the mayor’s office. What, if anything, will come of all this is an open question.