Housing Complex

Maine Avenue Fish Market Tenants File Preliminary Injunction Against Wharf Developers


Two weeks after they issued a formal complaint against the developers of The Wharf—the $2 billion urban renewal project slated for the Southwest Waterfront—lawyers for some tenants of the Maine Avenue Fish Market have filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the developers’ alleged violations of lease terms and attempts to evict them.

The motion, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for D.C. on behalf of The Wharf, Inc., Captain White Seafood City, and Salt Water Seafood, Inc., says an injunction “is necessary in order to protect Plaintiffs’ rights during the pendency of this litigation.” It adds that developer Hoffman-Madison Waterfront—a joint venture between developers PN Hoffman and Madison-Marquette—could “force Plaintiffs out-of-business before this Court can adjudicate this case.”

HMW sent eviction notices to the local businesses on June 25 of this year, claiming it could not find signed copies of lease agreements and that Salt Water had breached its own lease “with minor construction behind one of its barges.” The market tenants filed their formal complaint three days before the July 31 eviction deadline.

Read more Maine Avenue Fish Market Tenants File Preliminary Injunction Against Wharf Developers

Report: 46 Percent of D.C. Area Renters Burdened by High Housing Costs

Screen shot 2015-07-31 at 3.02.53 PM

You surely know the rent in D.C. is too damn high, but just how much are people paying for it?

An annual report released last month by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies—The State of the Nation’s Housing—finds that a record number of American renters feel burdened by high housing costs: a whopping 20.7 million households, or 49 percent of all renters. The report defines a “cost-burdened household” as any whose residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Of those 20.7 million households, 11.2 million (26.5 percent of renters) have “severe cost burdens,” meaning their residents pay more than half of their incomes for housing.

In the D.C. metropolitan area (which includes the areas surrounding the District, Arlington, and Alexandria), housing costs are particularly acute: 46 percent of renters are cost-burdened, while 22.4 percent of renters have severe cost burdens. Those stats translate to 368,900 cost-burdened households in the region.

Screen shot 2015-07-31 at 3.02.31 PM

If that sounds bad, a look at the report’s breakdown of renter-households by income shows that housing costs in the D.C. metropolitan area are, frankly, regressive: 81.2 percent of households that make less than $15,000 a year are cost burdened, while only 9.2 percent of households that make more than $75,000 a year are cost burdened. (An average 70.1 percent of households making between $15,000 and $75,000 a year are cost burdened.)

Among homeowners in the area, the numbers are less severe:  A quarter of homeowners have housing cost burdens, and 10 percent have severe housing cost burdens. The median income for this group is $112,000, or roughly double that of renters in the region. Housing costs are regressive for them, too: 93.3 percent of owner households making under $15,000 a year spend more than 30 percent of their income on homes, whereas 11 percent do so among $75,000-and-up-ers.

Bottom line: Living in the D.C. region is increasingly hard to afford. As the report states, “cost-burdened households are forced to cut back on food, healthcare, and other critical expenses.”

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Screenshot from JCHS

Fish Market Tenants Say D.C., Waterfront Developer Are Trying to Destroy Their Businesses

seafood-3As work on The Wharf continues, tenants of the adjacent Maine Avenue Fish Market are claiming they're being forced out.

Last Thursday, a complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C. regarding the $2 billion redevelopment plan for the Southwest Waterfront. Two tenants of the Maine Avenue Fish Market are claiming that the District government and developers of The Wharf—a mixed-use project that will run along the Washington Channel for roughly one mile—“entered into a conspiracy to run the Plaintiffs’ [sic] out of the fish market by destroying Plaintiffs’ businesses.”

Those plaintiffs are Captain White Seafood City and Salt Water Seafood, operators of open-air fish markets and a seafood deli, respectively. They're asking for "just compensation" for the purported damages to their business as well as a declaratory judgment from the court that the developers respect the terms of their leases.

Founded in 1805, the Maine Avenue Fish Market is the oldest continuously operating fish market in the U.S.

Read more Fish Market Tenants Say D.C., Waterfront Developer Are Trying to Destroy Their Businesses

A Man, a Plan, a Canard: Panacea

1500 Block of I Street NW, February 3

In my two and a half years covering housing and development at Washington City Paper, I’ve been (mostly) constrained by the limits of reality. Now that I’m departing, I no longer feel so bound. Here, in my final Housing Complex column, are a few not-so-modest proposals for how to make D.C. better.

Build new Metro lines
The city is growing, physically and demographically, but there are few Metro-accessible areas left to develop. As a result, D.C. is losing people to the suburbs and to more isolated parts of town where they’re reliant on cars, which further clog our roads. Meanwhile, developers are resorting to dirty tricks to kick out low-income tenants in high-demand parts of the District and build more lucrative properties. It’s not sustainable.

Read more A Man, a Plan, a Canard: Panacea

A Note to My Readers

This naive 27-year-old thought he could cover D.C. housing policy.

This naive 27-year-old thought he could cover D.C. housing policy.

Thirty-two months ago to the day, I entered the old Washington City Paper office in Adams Morgan and was handed the proverbial keys to this blog. It was a daunting prospect, as people were not shy about pointing out: When I met then-Councilmember Jim Graham during my first week on the job, he asked me pointedly why I agreed to take this job, given that I couldn't possibly fill the big shoes left by my prodigious predecessor, Lydia DePillis.

Plenty of friendly people offered to help ease me into the challenge. Within a few days of starting at the paper, I'd had coffee with multiple sources who generously shared their wisdom via a blur of acronyms that I dutifully jotted down before returning to the office and looking them up to try to piece together what the hell they'd been talking about. ("The trouble with IZ is that the 80 percent AMI units aren't exactly helping TANF or SSDI recipients...")

Thirty-two months later, I know as much about IZ and AMI as the bounds of human sanity will allow, if not more. I've covered an expansive beat that extended well beyond what the Housing Complex name suggests—development, transportation, education, poverty, demography, and more—before settling back into a focus on housing itself, arguably D.C.'s most pressing issue.

And now, finally, it's time to move on. Today is my final day at City Paper; later this week, I'll be starting a new job as senior editor at Mother Jones magazine. I won't be going far: Mother Jones' D.C. bureau is all of three-and-a-half blocks away from City Paper headquarters. And I do hope to stick with some of the topics I've covered here, so please continue to keep the tips coming.

But before I go, I'd like to offer up some heartfelt thanks to my greatest asset during my time at City Paper: you. Without the constant input from my readers, I couldn't have done a fraction of the work I've undertaken. Thank you for sharing the goings-on in your neighborhoods and at your work. Thanks for all of your persistent pestering, via email and phone and Twitter. Thanks for not letting me get away with a wrong neighborhood name or an incomplete historical context or a sloppy construction. Thanks for the steady stream of story ideas that I struggled every day to keep up with. Thanks even for the vitriolic, name-calling comments, which were so much better informed and more insightful than vitriolic, name-calling comments I've seen anywhere else.

Read more A Note to My Readers

DCPS’ Biggest Challenge, in One Chart


In recent years, some of D.C.'s once-struggling elementary schools have seen a boom in enrollment and prestige. Take Powell Elementary School in Petworth, whose enrollment has climbed from barely 200 in 2009 to 446 this year, prompting a massive expansion of the school building that's currently underway. Similar scenes have played out elsewhere in the city, particularly in Capitol Hill.

But as those students approach middle school, the numbers start to change. Some Capitol Hill elementary schools have fifth-grade populations that are a fraction of the size of their kindergarten and first-grade counterparts. Why? Because families that have bought into the city's elementary schools still don't trust the neighborhood middle schools, so many switch to charters or other options as middle school approaches.

Read more DCPS’ Biggest Challenge, in One Chart

Morning Links

admoOffice-dominated downtown areas like Golden Triangle and L'Enfant need residents. [Post]

Georgetown Day School expansion will include 340 residences. [UrbanTurf]

Developer buys up Georgia Avenue NW block across from Walter Reed. [WBJ]

Six American cities are better than D.C. for cyclists. [Post]

D.C.'s bag fee is working. [GGW]

X2 passengers tussle after knife attack. [Hill Now]

Fool tries to sell Capital Bikeshare bike on Craigslist. [Post]

Today on the market: Adams Morgan 2BR—$595,000

With Crises Looming, New Housing Chief Lays Out Her Strategy

Polly Donaldson and then-Mayor Vince Gray encourage a formerly homeless woman to share her experience with rapid rehousing last April.

Polly Donaldson and then-Mayor Vince Gray encourage a formerly homeless woman to share her story last April.

Of all the crises facing the incoming administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser this year, the direst was homelessness. The spike in family homelessness that took the city by surprise in the winter of 2013-2014 grew even worse this past winter, spurred largely by the vanishing supply of affordable housing in the District. Bowser has won early praise from housing and homeless advocates for her appointment of seasoned deputies to lead the relevant city agencies. Laura Zeilinger, now in charge of the Department of Human Services, was formerly executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. And Polly Donaldson, tapped to head the Department of Housing and Community Development, most recently led the nonprofit Transitional Housing Corporation, which provides housing and services to hundreds of homeless families each year.

DHCD isn't directly responsible for serving homeless residents. But with its affordable-housing duties and Donaldson's homeless-services background, the agency is clearly orienting itself toward tackling the homeless crisis. Two months after she was confirmed as DHCD director by the D.C. Council, I sat down with Donaldson to discuss her strategies for improving D.C.'s housing landscape. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

You’ve made a big deal of the $100 million that the mayor allocated in her budget proposal for the Housing Production Trust Fund [which funds the creation and preservation of affordable housing]. What do expect that $100 million to accomplish?

I think that’s going to enable us to do both production—meeting the production goals that are outlined in the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force work, which we’re probably going to actually up, because I think the investments in the last few years have helped us; we’ve got 3,400 units in the pipeline right now—and preservation. We need to have a specific target on preservation and the ability to move swiftly and nimbly to meet upcoming preservation issues. Not just doing it when crisis hits, but in a proactive way two or three years out.

Most of the money from the Trust Fund goes to creating and preserving housing for people making under half of area median income. But because those apartments are more expensive to subsidize, most of the units being created through the Trust Fund are actually for people who aren't very poor, those making more than half of AMI.

Right, only a portion of them are at the 30 percent [AMI level]. But what I’m saying is that without the Trust Fund, they wouldn’t be produced at all. And so the more we put in, the more we’ll be able to reach the extremely low-income and very low-income. And that will dovetail with other parts of our public policy. Our resource deceisions have to follow public policy, and they will under this administration.

Read more With Crises Looming, New Housing Chief Lays Out Her Strategy

Morning Links

eastAAA tries to get on cyclists' good side with roadside service. [WBJ]

MARC train hits a person north of Union Station, suspending some service. [AP]

And CSX train hits a person by the Anacostia River. [Post]

New hybrid Circulator buses will have USB ports. [Express]

Metro's finances are now slightly less dire. [Post]

D.C. has better preschool access than any state. [Washington Times]

An FBI headquarters in Greenbelt could make the Anacostia River cleaner. [Post]

Why cities built destructive urban freeways. [Vox]

Today on the market: House in D.C.'s far eastern corner—$375,000

Morning Links

lanieMetro ridership patterns, in interactive form. [PlanItMetro]

D.C. tries to lure confused tourists with a #WeGotThis hashtag. [DCist]

Millennials confound stereotypers, live places other than downtown. [Post]

Council committee urges Housing Finance Agency to leave hideous but valuable headquarters. [WBJ]

Last month saw a record number of million-dollar homes hit the D.C.-area market. [UrbanTurf]

Panoramic views from atop the building that spawned the Height Act. [GGW]

Truxton Circle stables project gets tweaked. [UrbanTurf]

Today on the market: Lanier Heights studio—$160,000