Housing Complex

City Seeks Builder for Pedestrian Bridge From Parkside to Deanwood


Time for some traffic across Minnesota Avenue NE. Pedestrian traffic, that is.

No, this isn't a Chris Christie vendetta. The District Department of Transportation plans to build a new 400-foot pedestrian bridge connecting the Minnesota Avenue Metro station with the adjacent neighborhoods of Mayfair and Deanwood, and is seeking a contractor to complete the task.

The Parkside Pedestrian Bridge will span from the planned Parkside development on the east bank of the Anacostia River to Mayfair to the Metro station to Deanwood, crossing Interstate 295 and seven sets of railroad tracks. Currently, the area is one of the least pedestrian-friendly in the city. But with increasing development clustering around the Minnesota Avenue Metro station—just one stop across the Anacostia River from the eastern reaches of Capitol Hill on the Orange Line—the city has decided to take corrective action.

Today, DDOT advertised for contractor bids for the project. Bids are due by May 12. The bridge is expected to cost $16 million, with construction beginning this summer and lasting 18 to 20 months. CityInterests, the developer of the Parkside residential project, is contributing as much as $3 million of the cost.

Read more City Seeks Builder for Pedestrian Bridge From Parkside to Deanwood

Morning Links

bpOffice building with ground-floor parking is coming near Brookland Metro. [Elevation]

A new bookstore is opening in Petworth. No, really. [Arts Desk]

Hill East neighbors not enthused about five-story condo building, allowed by zoning, amid rowhouses. [Post]

D.C. population could near 900,000 by 2040. [GGW]

Suburbs like Chevy Chase and Potomac are losing their young people. [NYT]

Next week is Architecture Week in D.C. [AIA]

Today on the market: A house that stands out in Brightwood Park—$650,000

Sale of Supplier Could Throw Capital Bikeshare Expansion Plans Into Disarray

bikeshare3Call it the butterfly effect of bike sharing: A bankruptcy and sale in Montreal could mean no new Capital Bikeshare bikes for a while here in D.C.

In January, the Public Bike System Company, known as Bixi, filed for bankruptcy. Bixi supplies bikes for bike-sharing systems in 15 cities, including the District. On April 12, the Washington Post reported that the bankruptcy had halted purchases of new bikes and docking stations that could have expanded the Capital Bikeshare system in the District and into College Park.

The system's limbo was left unresolved on Tuesday, when a court approved the formal transfer of debt-plagued Bixi to the city of Montreal. Meanwhile, Bixi's international arm was sold to Canadian furniture mogul Bruno Rodi. But the Montreal Gazette reports:

Most of Bixi’s contracts with other cities will be cancelled. Rodi will only retain two contracts with cities that have yet to receive bikes.

One, worth about $500,000, is for a small system in Dubai. The other, in Guadalajara, Mexico, is for 1,200 bikes and is worth about $5.5 million.

Read more Sale of Supplier Could Throw Capital Bikeshare Expansion Plans Into Disarray

For Some Homeless Residents, Cold Weather Is Good News. For Others, It’s Deadly.

homelessOn Tuesday, as temperatures plunged and the city government issued a hypothermia alert, I wrote that cold weather could perversely be good news for the District's homeless residents. The city is required by law to provide shelter to all homeless residents in need when hypothermia conditions exist—when temperatures with windchill drop below freezing. As the number of homeless families jumped this winter, their fortunes seesawed with the temperature: When it was cold out, they got a bed; when it was warmer, they had to fend for themselves, sleeping in apartment-building hallways or laundromats, or borrowing money from friends to stay at cheap motels. This week's cold snap meant shelter for families who may have lacked it for the past few weeks.

But then there's the harsher side of hypothermia, when it can be very, very bad news for the city's homeless residents. Not all of them have the means to check the weather forecast and duck into the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center for placement in shelter. For those who aren't in the know, the cold can be deadly.

The bodies of two dead men were found yesterday morning by the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Interstate 295, in a homeless encampment. As Patricia Fugere, director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, told the Washington Post, “That frigid weather really came out of nowhere, and I’m sure it caught folks off guard. I was talking to a fellow yesterday afternoon who sleeps outdoors, and he had no idea the temps were going to go below freezing.”

Read more For Some Homeless Residents, Cold Weather Is Good News. For Others, It’s Deadly.

Gray Kicks Off Rapid Rehousing Outreach, but Questions Remain

Mayor Vince Gray and Transitional Housing Corporation Executive Director Polly Donaldson encourage Chioma Nwadigo as she begins to share her story.

Mayor Vince Gray and Transitional Housing Corporation Executive Director Polly Donaldson encourage Chioma Nwadigo as she begins to share her story.

Chioma Nwadigo is not accustomed to public speaking. Until recently, she and her three-year-old autistic son were homeless, until the city helped place them into housing through a program called rapid rehousing. Under the program, the city subsidizes participating families' rents for a period of four months to a year, or sometimes longer, after which the families pay their own way.

Nwadigo's case worker walked her to the lectern this morning at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, the city's intake center for homeless families. It took her several moments to work up the courage to speak. She looked to Mayor Vince Gray for support, and he squeezed her hand. Finally, and softly, she began her address.

"I'm very grateful to be a part of THC," she said, referring to the Transitional Housing Corporation, a housing provider for rapid rehousing. "They helped us come a long way."

The city is hoping that there will soon be many more families like Nwadigo's. We're now 18 days into Gray's effort to place 500 homeless families into housing within 100 days. Department of Human Services Director David Berns hopes that timeframe will not only see all of the families staying in motels on the city's dime moved into real housing, but will also put a dent into the maxed-out D.C. General family shelter, which has been full since before the winter began. This morning's event represented the belated kickoff of the 500 Families, 100 Days initiative—an outreach to landlords that Gray said he hoped would "demonstrate that the District of Columbia is a compassionate place."

But for every Nwadigo, there's a Nkechi Feaster. She's also a rapid rehousing participant, but she's coming to the end of her subsidy, which will expire on May 1. After that, she's not sure if she'll be able to keep paying the rent.

It's an existential question for the rapid rehousing program, as I outlined in my column in today's paper. Berns is hoping to triple the number of placements into rapid rehousing, to 150 per month. But between October 2012 and February 2014—nearly a year and a half—only 72 families exited rapid rehousing, and only a fraction of those went on to stay in their apartment and pay their rent independently. In a city with skyrocketing housing costs and limited job opportunities for residents without college degrees, it's debatable whether it's realistic to expect single mothers of two or three children to be able to afford market rent, particularly when they're only a year or so removed from homelessness.

Read more Gray Kicks Off Rapid Rehousing Outreach, but Questions Remain

Morning Links

brightwoodFlipping homes in the D.C. area is so 2013. [Post]

Metro CFO resigns after audit found financial mismanagement. [WAMU]

Sex in D.C. restaurant bathrooms is surprisingly widespread. [Y&H]

Perspectives on the challenges faced by lady cyclists. [Atlantic Cities]

You can now order groceries from Yes! and Safeway by phone app. [DCist]

The peak bike-theft months are ahead of us. [Atlantic Cities]

Today on the market: Potential multi-unit conversion in Brightwood—$575,000


White House Honors D.C. Solar Leader Anya Schoolman

schoolmanWhat started out for Anya Schoolman as a quixotic project with her son will take her to the White House today, where she'll be honored as a "Champion of Change" for her solar-power advocacy work in D.C.

In 2007, Schoolman and her son Walter had the idea of adding solar power to their home, but discovered it was "too complicated and too expensive," she says. So she got some neighbors together, hoping that by pooling their resources, they could simplify the process and reduce its cost.

That effort became the Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop. In 2009, Schoolman helped 45 houses in Mount Pleasant go solar. Now, she estimates, she's personally assisted around 250 households in going solar. Her work has gone from neighborhood-level to citywide to national. The Mt. Pleasant Solar Coop and the other neighborhood solar groups she helped form banded together to found DC Solar United Neighborhoods, or DC SUN. Schoolman also started the nonprofit Community Power Network, which lends expertise to solar projects around the country.

The Champions of Change program honors community leaders in a variety of fields; past winners include veterans, education and technology advocates, and social justice activists. The ten honorees today all work on expanding solar power.

But Schoolman's mostly in the dark when it comes to exactly what she's being honored for. "I have no idea," she says. "They told me nothing. They said congratulations, and I said, 'Well, what does it mean?' And they said, 'Show up tomorrow.'" You can watch the ceremony, which is closed to the press, on the White House's live stream here at 9 a.m.

Read more White House Honors D.C. Solar Leader Anya Schoolman

The Home Stretch

Can D.C. Make Rapid Rehousing Work?

Nkechi Feaster’s story begins like those of so many other victims of the Great Recession. After she was laid off from her job at a law firm in 2007, work became increasingly difficult to come by. Three times over the next four years, she was hired, and three times she was laid off. Then the hiring stopped altogether. Even the temp jobs dried up.

“Everything just stopped, basically,” she says. “The interviewing was really sporadic. The hiring wasn’t happening.”

Feaster fell behind on her rent, was evicted from her apartment, and landed, with her teenage son, at the family shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital. They spent 11 months there, during which time her son graduated from high school and was admitted to Michigan State University. Then the city tossed her a lifeline.

The city’s primary tool for placing homeless families into homes is a program called rapid rehousing. Rather than becoming permanent recipients of subsidy vouchers, rapid rehousing participants receive rental assistance for just a short period of time: a guaranteed four months, with possible extensions for up to a year or more. After that, the subsidy stops, and the family continues to pay rent on its own. Instead of a crutch, the family gets a leg up to help it support itself.

But for Feaster and many other rapid rehousing participants, self-sufficiency at a time of increasingly unaffordable housing is a longshot. When Feaster was placed into an apartment through the program in 2012—her son had just left for college—she had been unemployed for three years and was doubtful she’d be able to pay her own way when the city cut off her subsidy.

“I did not want rapid rehousing, because that was my longest layoff,” Feaster says. “And I was thinking, if I’ve been laid off this long, what am I going to find in four months before I have to pay market-rate rent again?”

Feaster did receive an extension of her rapid rehousing subsidy, but since she found a job at a nonprofit, the city determined that she could support herself and set a May 1 end date for her subsidy. The trouble is that her part-time job is on a contract basis. Her initial six-month contract was extended, but her current contract expires on the same day as her subsidy. After that, she has no idea if she’ll have any source of income. If she’s out of work, she’ll file for unemployment, but she doubts it’ll be enough to cover her $950-a-month rent and other expenses.

“That’s the part I don’t get,” Feaster says. “When you get a little bit of money, they say fine, you’re OK, you’re on your own.”

Read more The Home Stretch

Zoning Rewrite Public Comment Extended by a Year and a Half? Not Quite.

The zoning update would allow for more new buildings with limited parking, if not quite the zero parking spaces planned for this Tenleytown building.

The zoning update would allow for more new buildings with limited parking, if not quite the zero parking spaces planned for this Tenleytown building.

One short press release, and the Twitterverse went nuts. Mayor Vince Gray's office just sent out an email to reporters announcing that the Zoning Committee had voted to extend until Sept. 15, 2015 the deadline for public input into the city's first comprehensive rewriting of its zoning code since 1958. "I want to thank Chairman Anthony J. Hood and the members of the Zoning Commission for agreeing to my request to extend the period for the District’s residents to provide input on this enormously important overhaul of our city’s zoning regulations,” Gray said in the release.

The public reaction wasn't quite so thankful. Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis:

Smart-growther Dan Malouff:

Even my editor chimed in:

But all of you can relax, especially you, Madden: It appears the date was a simple typo.

Ellen McCarthy, who took the helm of the Office of Planning—which oversees the city's zoning boards—this week, says it's her understanding the comment period has been extended from late April to Sept. 15, 2014, not 2015. Read more Zoning Rewrite Public Comment Extended by a Year and a Half? Not Quite.

Renewed Lease at One Franklin Square Shouldn’t Prevent Post Move


The law firm Reed Smith announced today that it will be sticking around its current office building at 1301 K St. NW through 2027. Why should we care? Because 1301 K St. is One Franklin Square, where the Washington Post recently signed a letter of intent to relocate. In breaking the news of the Post's likely move earlier this month, the Washington Business Journal suggested that the newspaper could displace Reed Smith.

So does Reed Smith's new lease mean the Post won't be coming? Almost certainly not. Reed Smith will be keeping its offices on the 11th and 12th floors of the building, and moving its seventh-floor offices up to the 10th floor. The net change, according to firm spokesman Tom "Hersh" Hershenson, is a negligible gain of about 140 square feet. The seventh-floor space the company is vacating is around 25,000 square feet.

The Post is looking for about 300,000 square feet. But according to the Business Journal, the nearly 600,000-square-foot One Franklin Square is already set to be 45 percent vacant by the end of the year, and that's before the relocation of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers' tax practice from the building to Metro Center. If anything, the Reed Smith move could allow the Post to occupy a consolidated section of One Franklin Square, including the vacated seventh floor.

Read more Renewed Lease at One Franklin Square Shouldn’t Prevent Post Move