Housing Complex

Delta Sisters Try Again For Second Senior Building on H Street NE

Delta Towers was one of the early high-rise apartment buildings on the eastern end of H Street NE, at Florida Avenue and Bladensburg. The sisters of Delta Sigma Theta bought the land from the District in the late 1970s, and got funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for a 138-unit senior housing complex, built out of prefabricated units put together floor by floor, which stands to this day.

They only developed half the land, though; the rest is just a parking lot. Back in 2009, Delta tried to build on the second half, proposing a 100-unit, eight-story, mixed-income project that would've cost about $37 million, to be financed through low income housing tax credits. It didn't pan out—and not because of financing, says Katrina Jones, president of the board of Delta Housing Corporation.

"I wish that was the case," she says ruefully, declining to go into details. "I don't know if we had the right team together at that time..Let's just say that we've regrouped, and I think that we have a good chance of everything coming to fruition now."

The team then included former banker and D.C. government official Russell Simmons as a development consultant. Delta dumped him for the Bundy Development Corporation, and may or may not keep on the original architect Bryant Mitchell Associates, who are responsible for very of-their-time projects like Dunbar High School and the University of the District of Columbia. (Simmons didn't respond to requests for comment, and Melvin Mitchell hadn't heard that the project was moving forward again).

Over the years, they've been approached by several developers—including JBG, said a Delta representative at a recent community meeting—but want to maintain control of the site. The next challenge is financing. Jones is putting together an application for the current round of low income housing tax credits issued by the District's Department of Housing and Community Development, so if that works out, they're in business.

  • Hillman

    Prime example of misuse of funds.

    The real value in that parcel is the land.

    The Sisters would be much wiser to sell that land for outrageous sums of money, and use that money to create two or three times as much senior housing on less expensive land.

    But no. I suspect the political statement of keeping senior housing in that location is more important to them.

    Which is a shame. As the real people being hurt by such a decision are the very seniors they are trying to help.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Hillman: You make the same comment again and again when it comes to housing. I respect that you stick to your guns, but it gets somewhat stale. There are seniors who live in Trinidad and Rosedale who want to stay in the neighborhood. Just because the sorority could make a couple more bucks by offering pricier housing to myopic little twits doesn't mean they automatically should.

    Sometimes the almighty dollar isn't the only consideration some people use to make decisions. This is one of those cases.

  • Hillman

    Depends on your point of view, IMGoph.

    If their goal is to use their resources wisely, then they are failing.

    If their goal is to preserve senior housing for a select few in a specific gentrifying neighborhood, then they are succeeding.

    I admit I beat this topic to death.

    But that pales in comparison with the constant refrain I am subjected to, of how affordable housing is disappearing and I must support it with my tax dollars.

    So since it's my tax dollars being taken by the affordable housing lobby, I have a vested interest here.

    True, the Sisters may not be directly advocating that my tax dollars be taken.

    But the affordable housing industry absolutely is advocating that.

    While they don't pressure groups like the Sisters to actually use existing resources wisely.

    Do I bore even myself on this topic? Yes.

    But then it's my tax dollars being discussed here. Albeit indirectly, in this particular instance. Although I bet at least some sort of tax subsidy is being given the Sisters for this development...

  • Mrs. D

    Hillman, you have to also look at other aspects of a decision as to building location. You argue that they should build on less expensive land. In DC, that's pretty much so code for land that is near few resources (shopping, dining, entertainment, services - like doctors, dentists, dry cleaners, etc.) and most importantly far from TRANSIT.

    You know what else your tax dollars support? The massively bloated budget of Metro Access, whose costs are increasing exponentially each year. Keeping seniors in dense communities with lots of service and good access to traditional transit (of course the street car isn't running yet, but there are a lot of bus lines that cross that intersection, as well) makes a lot of sense in terms of keeping the long-term costs of assisting those seniors down.

  • Hillman

    Mrs. D:

    You raise valid points.

    But why does it have to be in DC? There's a lot of metro-accessible land in Maryland that is FAR cheaper. And arguably has better access to medical facilities that you mention.

    How many medical facilities for the elderly are there on H Street? Dang few that I'm aware of.

  • H Street Landlord

    Great posts ImGoph and Ms. D. I think the location is perfect for more senior housing, especially since it is on the same lot.

  • Hillman


    What specifically makes it a perfect location?

  • Robert Foster

    I live in the H Street neighborhood and pay what I feel is a lot of DC and federal income tax. I'd like my money to be used efficiently. However, I also like the idea of different types of people living together, so there are baby carriages on the sidewalk as well as joggers, wheelchairs and walkers. The most ruthless and efficient allocation of resources would result in homogenous neighborhoods - older people living far from employment centers, poor people living only on the cheapest land, etc. H Street and Bladensburg Road is not quite Wisconsin and M Street in terms of value, so I won't be upset if this deal moves ahead.

  • H Man

    I live nearby and it does seem like a poor use of this land if it is just senior-only dedicated housing. Perhaps something better would be a building with some percent senior housing, plus market rate-apts, and ground floor retail opportunities. That would be more financially sustainable. I prefer my tax $ be used more efficiently than just doling out dollars for another subsidized housing project.

  • dave b

    If you are going to build affordable housing in this location, at least build it for working people who would take more advantage of the proximity to jobs daily.

    Relative to the working poor, elderly people can live almost anywhere. They just need a grocery store, pharmacy, and to get to the doctor every now and then. I agree with Hillman, that the Delta Sisters could use the proceeds of this land to help even more elderly people or help the same amount of elderly people even better. The benefits of this location are largely lost on the elderly. Their demographic won't support new/struggling businesses as much as non elderly people will.

    Everybody can get what more of what they want out of this if they think about it a little more closely.

  • dave b

    As far elderly wanting to stay in the neighborhood, they probably want to stay in their house more. Once you get them out of their house, it won't matter if they are a few more miles away



  • michaeliceman

    As I have said many time before, it always makes me chuckle when folks come up with all of these ideas for somebody else’s money and property.

    Frankly, these are the types of projects that I want my tax dollars used for. I am ok that my money is being used to subsidize a mission based project by a mission based developer. I think that is a much more morally palatable use then subsidizing (through tax abatements, etc.) a for profit developer for a market rate project in NOMA, for example.

    As for the Deltas selling the land and doing the project somewhere else – not the same thing. The Deltas were founded in DC and there is rich history for them here. So…this project in this location also fulfills a symbolic mission. Building this project in PG County or, heck, in Houston or Detroit would not have the same significance for them. Sometimes, "value" is relative.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Hillman: Let's say those seniors are gay. Moving them to a state with less-friendly laws towards same-sex couples would be rather cruel.

    Sure, that's a hypothetical, but so is everything else brought up here, so why the hell not.

    H Man: I was at the meeting where this was presented. They're planning to have the ground floor be space that can be leased for commercial when the market demand is there.

  • Hillman


    Interesting point.

    There are plenty of other locations in DC that are FAR cheaper land-wise and have the same gay rights protections as that particular corner does.

    And as of right now MD has the same gay rights as DC. Although that of course may change.

  • Hillman

    "The Deltas were founded in DC and there is rich history for them here. So…this project in this location also fulfills a symbolic mission. "

    That's great, if they are using just their own money.

    But they aren't.

    They are using everyone's money.

    We are being asked to subsidize someone else's symbolism.

    Actually, no. We aren't being asked. We are being told.

  • H St Neighborhood Resident Tired of Newcomers

    This property was obtained in the late 1970's, probably before majority of you all moved and became "interested" in living near and investing in H street.

    What they are doing is admirable and why should the elderly residents be required to be displaced to Maryland?

    There is not a mismanagement of funds. Not everyone has the desire to sell their soul to the highest bidder. I for one support the use of my tax dollars towards this project. Really, is there no limit to the gentrification mentality...why don't you move to Maryland?

  • H Street Landlord

    @ Hillman - I think the location is perfect because they already have a large building there. If they moved the second location elsewhere, they might save some on land costs, but their ongoing costs (maintenance, staff, etc) would likely increase due to loss of efficiencies. The cost of building would be the same in the cheaper location, and they would have to pay money to RE brokers etc.

    Good post HSTNRTofNewcomers.

  • H Man

    @ HSTNRTofNewcomers - Well, I'm tired of old timers with a chip on their shoulder. New, old everyone should have the same say in these things. If Delta wants do it with their own money that is their call. If they want redevelop it with public tax money, then the public should have input as to the best use of the land and the money. I don't support using my tax money for it - that is my 2 cents. I don't understand why don't they just sell the parking lot and upgrade the existing facility anyhow.

  • dave b

    Once you are out of your house you are already displaced. I'm sure all the seniors will love walking down H St past their old haunts like RnR Hotel and reminiscing about the grand times they had there. Aside from street names, the neighborhood is largely unrecognizable

    Another question: Who decides who gets to live there? It seems like there is a shortage of this type of housing and it is in high demand. Do you have to have friends in high places? Does he who lives closest get to live there?

    I think there is some over-romanticising of what this offers to some old people. In reality, it is just a cheap place to live.

    What government agency approves and gives out these funds?

  • Hillman


    You raise an interesting point about economies of scale. But I would argue that's actuall another reason to move.

    I've never been in that building.

    But I would assume it's in need of pretty extensive updating. I could be wrong about that.

    And I assume technology and ideas about senior housing have progressed considerably since that tower was built.

    In all likelihood a new building could be designed from scratch with much better amenities.

    I would suggest that the entire parcel be sold (including the existing building), and the entire operation be relocated as a whole.

  • michaeliceman

    @Hillman Our tax dollars, abatements and credits fund developers' agendas all the time and I think that it is disingenuous to draw that "I am a taxpayer blah blah" line in the sand on THIS project. This is a proposed tax credit deal and you would be amazed at some of the developers in this town who have gotten abatements and tax credits ...just to guarantee a certain profit margin. So what's worse? Using tax credits to fund a mission based development for an underserved population or using tax abatements to help a for profit developer pay his own developer fee? Not judging...I'm just saying. If you are going to push that "I'm a taxpayer" line, you gotta be consistent.

    Although I do not totally agree with HSTNRTofNewcomers, there are some valid points. These are people who have, in most cases, invested in the District by putting down roots here and building lives here. Now the market has changed, and these are the people being priced out (through property taxes and everything else). And those renters in the NoMA building that we are subsidizing will likely be moving to MoCo or Arlington as soon as they have families.

  • Hillman


    No one is priced out of DC through tax increases.

    DC has a host of programs to make sure you can stay in your house literally until you die, regardless of your tax bill.

    As for other developments getting tax breaks, you raise a valid point.

    But usually those for-profit developers are trading tax abatements for a large development that will bring in sizeable tax for the city that in theory more than offsets the tax abatement (though this is likely subject to abuse and misrepresentation).

    I suspect the Delta tower doesn't really bring in that tax revenue. In fact, not to be too crass, but it's probably a tax drain overall. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. We need to provide for our elderly. I'm just saying that it's not the same as a developer who gets abatements for inclusionary housing.

  • M

    Wait, why should I have to pay extra taxes so that someone else can live in a more ideal location than I do? I struggle to pay rent in a less transit accessible part of NE DC, and I do it without government assistance. I'm willing to pay more in taxes to ensure that everyone has a place to live, but I don't see why I should have to pay for them to have a better place than I do.

  • lovessoldier

    Hillman, if funding is not a concern to the Delta's and they already have the land, why try and get them to move to MD? Development will cost the same.

  • ModerateonHousing

    "Once you are out of your house you are already displaced. I'm sure all the seniors will love walking down H St past their old haunts like RnR Hotel and reminiscing about the grand times they had there. Aside from street names, the neighborhood is largely unrecognizable"

    often people want to stay near their old houses of worship, which are often among the last institutions to depart a changing community. Some may have friends and relations in houses who do not yet need to move to a senior community. In this instance they may have friends who live in the existing tower (as Hilman says, you could just move those folks out as well, but I think then you ARE talking about incremental displacement)

    I'm also not sure why its assumed this will not be mixed income, since apparently the earlier proposal was for mixed income with retail.

  • Mrs. D

    Just to address your earlier point, Hillman. While I don't know of *a lot* of geriatric specialists in that area, I have an emergency dentist about a block from that location who takes Medicaid, there are other physicians in that same building. There's a pharmacy across the street, and two grocery stores (one of them "budget") within a few blocks. The street car will run through here connecting the corner with the rest of the city. The X1, 2, and 3 bus lines go right past here, bringing seniors to most parts of the city. So I'd say this corner is particularly well-served with the things that seniors need most.

  • Hillman


    I'm not sure I understand your point.

    The point I'm making is that the funding is coming at least in part from taxpayers.

    If it was just Delta's funding alone, and they weren't getting any taxpayer funds or freebies (which of course aren't actually free), then I'd say more power to them, they can do whatever they want.

    But that's not the case.

    The original tower was built with federal and local tax money.

    And the new one almost certainly will be as well, at least in part.

    So it really is a taxpayer project. It's just that it's controlled by Delta, with taxpayer funds.

    Last, development would almost certainly be cheaper in MD. Ask any developer. It's very expensive and time consuming to develop in DC (I"m talking about the actual construction and delay costs, not the land value). Considerably cheaper and faster in MD.

  • Hillman

    Mrs. D.

    The streetcar connects very little. And may never go beyon H. And its Union Station connection isnt exactly elderly friendly.

    The bus line connections you mention are duplicated in numerous locations in DC and Maryland.

    As are pharmacies.

    You have a bit of a point about grocery. But Peapod delivers regionwide, and there are grocery options elswehere, albeit not always across the street.

  • wylie coyote


    You are mixing up in your points. In one post, you argue the Sisters should sell the property and move the seniors to Maryland (where they will pay MD sales tax, pay any state tax on their income, etc, to the loss of DC), then you state the difference b/t senior housing being tax incentive financed and for-profit development projects being tax incentive financed is that the latter provides more tax benefit. Which side of the fence are you on? Why would you ship a building full of residents who have some benefit to the tax base to Maryland (adding to MD's share of federal funds due to the population boost when the next Census gets done and creating a population loss in DC of the same)? The more you post, the more you undermine your own points.

    Keeping seniors in a central location has numerous benefits: they will patronize area businesses (sales tax revenue), they are engaged in the civic process (see voter turnout stats), they often provide services that have no measurable value (providing guidance to family members, being a day care of last resort for working mothers), etc. I don't think you've done a cost-benefit analysis in any thoughtful way here, your entire argument appears very knee jerk...

  • H Man

    @Wylie - Um...not sure I see your logic. Using that land for market-rate apts or condos would certainly provide more to DC's tax base than subsidized public housing for seniors. Those new residents would pay more in DC income taxes and spend more at local establishments while at the same time using less in taxpayer funded social services.

  • Hillman


    It's my understanding that the current building is exclusively low income seniors.

    Not to be harsh, but they are almost certainly consuming far more services than they are providing taxes.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that. We will all be old some day. And as a society we have a duty to care for the elderly in a decent and reasonable manner.

    But if you are looking at it strictly from a tax perspective a mixed use development there with half million dollar taxable condos and people making a ton of $$ is going to generate WAY more taxable income than a senior center for low income seniors.

    In fact, according to the DC Tax Office Delta pays NOTHING in real estate taxes on that property now, as they are considered a charitable organization.

    So by definition any taxable use there would be a gain.

    And the outlay in terms of tax dollars for social services will be way less.

    As for patronizing local businesses.... Again, the people in a half million dollar condo are FAR more likely to spend at local restaurants, shops, etc.

    As for the other benefits you mention, those are nice and all but I don't think they are worth my tax dollars being spent to artificially keep them at that exact location.

    Particularly when all of those services (daycare, 'guidance' to family members) can be duplicated with ease at another location.

  • Mrs. D

    You know why I don't use Peapod, Hillman? Because for a smallish order, the fees are OUTRAGEOUS. Sure, it's a great service, but it's still more expensive than being able to walk a block or two to the grocery stores. For a single, low-to-moderate-income senior, it's not a fiscally responsible solution. And it doesn't provide them with the prescriptions they can get while shopping or by walking across the street.

    I guess in the end I agree with the other commenters that "spending" tax money on credits for mixed-income, mixed-use senior housing is > giving tax credits to fancy, expensive, market-rate housing developments. Sure, seniors might not spend as much, but they spend locally. They're good neighbors, don't cause trouble with noise and other forms of blight. Yeah, they might be a little "get off my lawn," but when the S hits the fan, they're not putting up with problems. And, I reiterate, I'd rather spend a little bit of money keeping them in accessible communities (streetcar aside, that intersection is not that hard to get to from almost anywhere in the city if you've got the time to deal with the bus) than perpetually spend a lot more money putting them in Metro Access vans. Plus, in your free-market world, their homes in the greater community would then be available for new residents to buy, giving the new residents a nice place to live, raise a family, etc., and the seniors some money to spread around the community from the sale.

    If we plan right, we can fit all these needs into our communities. We don't need to be so either/or. I WISH the community my bordering-on-elderly mother lived in could provide her with a way to live in an accessible community. As it stands, she'll be uprooting herself and moving 400 miles from the only town she's ever lived in to come live in my rental unit when she can no longer drive (hopefully they'll be enough notice on this that I don't have to spend a ton of time and energy evicting a tenant), because then she'll have access to a grocery store and pharmacy within a safe walking area and public transit to get elsewhere. Cities are GREAT for seniors, we shouldn't throw them out like rubbish.

  • Hillman

    Mrs. D:

    Peapod delivery fees are at most $10.

    If you shop once a week that's an extra $10 a week.

    And you can easily find other locations with pharmacy access.

    And it's not 'spending a little more' to keep this facility here.

    It's spending millions more.

    At least a million in real estate tax per year. Plus all kinds of other tax.

    All because of the unique location at the epicenter of a trendy restaurant/entertainment strip.

    No one is suggesting we 'throw the elderly out like rubbish'. That sort of statement just adds hyperbole to your otherwise calm argument.

    I'm simply saying we need to use our resources wisely.

    And this isn't wise use.

  • wylie coyote


    Again, if your concern is acting in the highest benefit to the tax base, your earlier suggestion that all of these residents be moved to MD makes no sense at all, which is why I asked "which side of the fence are you on?". Why would you suggest moving roughly 200 residents who do provide *some* benefit to the local tax base to another jurisdiction where they will then provide *zero* benefit to the local tax base?

    @H Man, unless you are Hillman's alter ego, I don't see how you can provide any enlightenment regarding Hillman's thought process.

  • wylie coyote


    An additonal point: the income of the seniors is not dispositive of their benefit to the local tax base. Why are you acting like low income people don't pay sales tax? Additionally, some benefits and retirement income generally are taxable as well.

  • Hillman


    I never said these seniors don't contribute some sort of taxes.

    But it's a TINY fraction of the taxes that would be generated from redevelopment of these properties.

    I already covered this topic in detail.

  • The Wise One


    I know who you are! You are the developer that has been trying to get that land and has failed. Why don't you take your own advise and find land in the suburbs that is "cheaper" to develop your overpriced project. Better still, why don't you just go back to where you came from----as it is obvious that you are not from DC and care nothing about the community, its history or keeping a sense of community. You are pathetic!

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