Housing Complex

The Calm Before the Dorm


“Development Invades the Preserve of the Wealthy,” declared the Washington Post headline. A new residential project near American University called Westover Place had neighbors up in arms, worried that their peaceful lifestyle would be disrupted by a horde of new residents.

“Here you have these fine established residential neighborhoods, which will be impacted with increased density and traffic and all kinds of things that really could be very damaging,” Polly Shackleton, the D.C. councilmember representing the neighborhood, told the Post.

Illustration by Robert Meganck

Raymond F. E. Pushkar, vice president of the Spring Valley-Wesley Heights Citizens Association, complained that the city was “allowing all sorts of development in established neighborhoods.” Neighbors worried that the new residents would worsen traffic and make it harder for them to find parking spaces.

That was September 1977. Fast forward 37 years, and residents of the area are still making the same complaints. Only this time it’s the people who have moved into once-controversial Westover Place raising a stink.

Their target is AU, specifically the “East Campus” dormitories that the school plans to build on a parking lot near Westover. The battle over the East Campus has been going on ever since the university presented its campus plan in 2011. The residents of Westover Place, a gated community east of AU between Massachusetts and New Mexico avenues NW where townhouses routinely sell for more than $1 million, worry that the proximity of additional students will create noise, worsen traffic and parking congestion, and provide regular visual reminders that they bought homes directly next to a college campus.

The university has taken a number of steps to accommodate neighbors’ demands. As the campus plan approval process kicked off, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D requested that “student residences should be built with tinted windows that shield from residents’ views the type of window hangings that are characteristically found in the windows of AU’s student dorms.”

AU didn’t exactly move to block out views of Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, and “My Goodness My Guinness” posters, but did agree to orient the dorms such that no windows will directly face Westover Place.

Neighbors demanded a buffer between their homes and the dorms. The university consented to placing administrative buildings in between, and to creating a 65-foot landscaped space between those buildings and Westover Place, fenced off so students couldn’t congregate there.

With neighbors worried that the East Campus would bring too many students to the area, AU agreed to cut the number of beds there from 770 to 590. To address noise concerns—and for the safety of people passing below—AU decided to use windows that open only four inches.

But some neighbors want the university to go further. In a June missive to the Westover Place email list, a group of residents listed their demands. Four inches were evidently four too many: The windows on the East Campus buildings, they wrote, shouldn’t open at all. A fenced-in buffer wouldn’t suffice either; a stone wall should be erected parallel to the Westover Place homes that border the campus. And the university should place a guard at the entrance to Westover Place to make sure that no AU students or faculty park in Westover.

Read more The Calm Before the Dorm

Why Did Developer WC Smith Buy Up Most of Congress Heights?


A walk along the District’s farsoutheastern edge reveals much that wasn’t there 20 years ago. Heading eastward from the Congress Heights Metro station on Alabama Avenue SE, the first stop is the Shops at Park Village, anchored by a Giant that became Ward 8’s first full-service supermarket since the last century when it opened in late 2007. Turn right on Stanton Road, and there’s the sprawling Villages of Parklands, with more than 1,000 apartments, plus townhomes and a splash park (renovated in the 1990s and 2000s). Off to the right are the Park Vista apartments (completed 2011) and the 75 single-family houses of Asheford Court (2009); to the left is the 257-unit Orchard Park apartment complex (2008) and the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Campus, a performance, education, and office development better known as THEARC (2005).

What do these properties have in common, other than having transformed a once-decrepit (if still-poor) section of Congress Heights and Shipley? They were all built or rebuilt by the developer WC Smith.

It’s not uncommon for a developer to go all-in for a neighborhood. The JBG Companies control much of the U Street corridor between 7th and 14th streets NW. Douglas Development bought up much of F Street NW downtown. Nearly all of EastBanc’s properties are within a block of M Street NW in Georgetown. After all, there are advantages to controlling a neighborhood: The developer gets to choose what goes around its properties, theoretically creating a kind of value-building symbiosis.

But there are three things that set WC Smith’s domination of the Congress Heights area apart. First, unlike U Street or downtown or Georgetown, it’s one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods; the average median household income of the census tracts within a half mile of the Congress Heights Metro station is less than $32,000, the lowest of any Metro-station area in the District. Second, the extent of WC Smith’s dominion over Congress Heights is unparalleled: In some sections of the neighborhood, there’s hardly a square foot it doesn’t control.

And finally, in a town where developer-bashing ranks among the favorite pastimes, you’d be hard pressed to find a Congress Heights resident with a bad word to say about WC Smith.

“Let me tell you something,” says Mary Cuthbert, the self-proclaimed “queen of Congress Heights” and a 50-year neighborhood resident who chairs the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission. “When the other developers wouldn’t come near Ward 8, when they were slumlords and their buildings were falling down, William C. Smith fixed those buildings for people like me.” Read more Why Did Developer WC Smith Buy Up Most of Congress Heights?

The Suburban Poverty Shift


As protests over the shooting of an unarmed teenager continue to roil Ferguson, Mo., the Brookings Institution takes a look at the socioeconomic context of the town's social unrest. The unemployment rate in the St. Louis suburb increased from less than 5 percent in 2000 to more than 13 percent in 2010-2012. For residents who do have a job, real earnings declined by a third. The poverty rate doubled.

It's a trend, Brooking points out, that's common to suburbs around the country. In nearly every major metropolitan area, suburban poverty has increased over the past decade; it's also become more concentrated in high-poverty neighborhoods.

The D.C. area's no exception. Brookings recently published metro area-level data on urban and suburban poverty in an interactive feature that highlights the divergence between the District and its suburbs.

In the "primary cities" of the D.C. region—namely D.C., Arlington, and Alexandria—the population in poverty declined by 3.5 percent between 2000 and 2008-2012. Meanwhile, the percentage of poor people living in both census tracts with 20 percent or higher poverty and census tracts with 40 percent or higher poverty declined. In other words, poverty became less prevalent and less concentrated.

Compare that to the rest of the metro area. There, poverty shot up by more than 42 percent. And the percentage of poor people living in tracts with at least 20 percent poverty increased from 4.2 percent to 14 percent. (The share living in tracts with at least 40 percent poverty remained at zero.)

Read more The Suburban Poverty Shift

Morning Links

deanwoodKids: Does D.C. really need them? [Post]

Besides, it costs $342,552 to raise a child in D.C. [NerdWallet]

New FBI headquarters? Metro says bring it on. (Especially in Greenbelt.) [PlanItMetro]

Vacant house on P Street NW collapses. [WJLA]

In Honest Tea experiment, D.C. moves from least honest to most improved. [USA Today]

More than twice as many people born in D.C. move to Maryland than stay in D.C. [NYT]

Today on the market: Deanwood rental house—$270,000

D.C. Home Prices Jump at the Top and Bottom


So D.C.'s rental market is sharply divided, with plenty of apartments for well-paid professionals without families but few for residents of more modest means. But what about its home sale market? Here, the answer's a bit more complicated.

Home prices in the D.C. area have gone up across the board in the past five years, but according to an analysis by Redfin shared with Washington City Paper, the amount by which these prices have risen doesn't fall into a neat pattern. Instead, two groups of homes have seen the biggest price increase: the cheapest ones and the most expensive ones.

The top fifth, or quintile, of homes in the D.C. region—an area that includes 14 counties in Maryland and Virginia—have sold for almost exactly 10 times the bottom quintile, in both June 2009 and June 2014. Over those five years, the homes in the top quintile saw a price increase of 56.7 percent, while those in the bottom quintile grew 55.4 percent more expensive. Homes in the middle experienced smaller gains, with the most modest change occurring in the fourth quintile, a rise of 27.3 percent.



Nela Richardson, Redfin's chief economist, says the sharp gains in the first and fifth quintiles are taking place for different reasons. For the cheapest fifth of D.C.-area homes, the price spike has everything to do with the recession. "These are home that were hit hardest by the recession and now are rebounding," Richardson says. "The farther you fall, the more ground you have to regain." These homes also drew a lot of interest from investors, both personal and institutional, who saw the opportunity to snap up cheap housing at rock-bottom prices and have since refurbished and sold these properties for more money.

Read more D.C. Home Prices Jump at the Top and Bottom

Apartment Shortage in D.C.? Depends How Much You Make.

High-end apartments at new developments like CityCenterDC are out of most Washingtonians' budget.

High-end apartments at new developments like CityCenterDC are out of most Washingtonians' budget.

Two years removed from her Housing Complex gig, my predecessor Lydia DePillis decided to prove she's still got her D.C. real estate reporting chops. At the Washington Post's Storyline today, she has a great distillation of the central paradox confronting renters in the city: With cranes topping off new apartment buildings seemingly each week, why's it so hard to find an affordable place to live? The answer comes in the form of another question: affordable to whom?

For the District's high-earning young professionals without families to worry about, there's no shortage of available apartments. The supply of "class A" apartments—new buildings loaded up with amenities—grew more than 70 percent between the end of 2010 and this summer, DePillis reports. Sure, the city's population is growing, to the tune of 1,000 new residents a month, but high-end apartments are more than keeping pace.

The trouble is that not everyone can afford these apartments: The average class A rent in the Northwest quadrant is $2,648, according to Delta Associates. (The figure is for apartments of all sizes; studios and one-bedrooms are lower.) That actually represents a slight decrease from a year ago, given the expanding supply, but it doesn't really matter to the majority of D.C. residents, who wouldn't be able to afford these units even if prices dropped by 10 percent or more.

Then there are the "class B" apartments. These are older buildings with fewer amenities, and by definition their supply can't grow much. As a result, their vacancy rate is low—3 percent, compared to 4.5 percent for class A units—and their rents are rising. In other words, the portion of the District's housing supply that's supposed to be more affordable is growing less affordable, while the portion that's expanding is well out of the reach of the bulk of the populace.

Read more Apartment Shortage in D.C.? Depends How Much You Make.

Morning Links

trinidadBlagden Alley set to get 125 micro-units, with zero parking. [WBJ]

Here's the justification for the lack of parking. [UrbanTurf]

The strange bedfellows of NIMBYism [Dissent]

City selects firm to craft a master plan for RFK Stadium. [WBJ]

The dangers of becoming a "luxury city." [Post]

Developer plans to turn Shaw halfway house into apartments or condos. [WBJ]

D.C.: not a great city for first-time homebuyers. [WalletHub]

But there are still plenty of first-time homebuyers here. [UrbanTurf]

And fortunately D.C. isn't one of the places dominated by cash purchases. [CityLab]

Today on the market: Trinidad rowhouse—$559,900

Metro Picks Proposal With 280 Residences and Retail for Brookland Site

This site is slated for residential and retail development.

This site is slated for residential and retail development.

Heads up, Brookland: 280 residential units and 9,000 square feet of retail are coming your way.

Metro announced this afternoon that it had selected a partnership of MRP Realty and the CAS Riegler Cos. to develop two parcels of land just east of the Brookland Metro station. The development team will also provide a new kiss-and-ride facility to replace the existing kiss-and-ride lot on the site. Construction is expected to begin in 2016.

In its solicitation released last year, Metro had indicated it was seeking up to 250 residential units or a combination of fewer residences and office space. Ultimately, Metro opted for more residential density that it had anticipated. According to Michael Neibauer, the MRP/CAS Riegler proposal had more residences than the competing proposals from Donatelli Development, Four Points LLC, and a partnership of A&R Development and Urban Atlantic.

The development site will be configured slightly differently from its initial layout. The original solicitation included the green patch of land known as the Brookland Green, but amid protests from neighbors and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, Metro agreed to a land swap with the city to preserve that space from development.

The Brookland Metro development will continue a process of rapid change for the neighborhood. The massive Monroe Street Market development, spanning three residential complexes that are technically on the Edgewood side of the railroad tracks, was rolled out starting last summer. In addition to apartments, it includes a Barnes & Noble bookstore, artist studios, a tool lending library, and several eateries.

Read more Metro Picks Proposal With 280 Residences and Retail for Brookland Site

Morning Links

columbia heightsMuriel Bowser doesn't plan to undo Vince Gray's tech incentives. [Post]

New rules would protect bike lanes, access at construction sites. [WBJ]

HR-57 plans one-story building a block and a half from the Shaw Metro. [Arts Desk]

Silver Line boosts Tysons office market. [Post]

And Tysons finally starts to feel urban. [GGW]

A comparison of the new supermarkets near downtown. [Post]

Today on the market: Columbia Heights 2BR condo—$489,000

Morning Links

brightwood parkWhere D.C. residents come from (not D.C., mostly). [NYT, City Desk]

Get ready for real-time Metro and bus information in many more D.C.-area buildings. [Post]

Before statehood, D.C. needs a plan to pay for its justice system. [Roll Call]

Metro takes an accidental journey around the world. [City Desk]

After canceling solicitation for St. Elizabeths infrastructure, city reissues it. [WBJ]

One of the biggest problems of homelessness is sleeplessness. [CityLab]

Today on the market: Brightwood Park rowhouse in need of an upgrade—$457,000