Housing Complex

Big Developments Are Coming to D.C. in 2014. But Who Will Benefit?

A rendering of the development at Walter Reed.

A rendering of the development at Walter Reed

Nothing brings a grin to a mayor’s face quite like raising an oversize pair of scissors and cutting a ribbon. All the more so in an election year. While 2014 does portend some potential pitfalls for Vince Gray—look no further than the process to redraw school boundaries for the first time in more than 30 years—the completion of a number of major projects ought to give the mayor something to celebrate. The question then becomes whether and how the projects are making D.C. a better place to live, for both its wealthy and its not-so-wealthy residents. Here’s what we have to look forward to in development in 2014.

Mega-projects

A wave of multiblock development projects began to arrive in late 2013. The city’s largest supermarket opened at Shaw’s CityMarket at O; residents of the pricey apartments above it started to move in as the year came to a close. Likewise, the first tenants moved into their units at downtown’s posh CityCenterDC, as did the first retailer, upscale luggage store Tumi. But both projects will really take shape in 2014, when leasing begins for the remaining two buildings at CityMarket and the Cambria Suites hotel opens there, and the rest of CityCenter is completed and office tenants start to move in, as well as the rest of the retailers and residents of the multimillion-dollar condos. Only then will we know the extent to which the two projects have transformed their neighborhoods.

The new Giant at CityMarket at O

The new Giant at CityMarket at O

But they’re just the foaming tip of the wave. The bulk of it will continue to swell and tumble as even bigger projects start to form. In November, the city selected a development team to build on the 67-acre Walter Reed site between 16th Street NW and Georgia Avenue, where an expected federal-government approval early this year will allow real planning to start. Bigger yet is the 183-acre St. Elizabeths East Campus near Congress Heights, where the city plans to select an “academic anchor” (likely a college) this summer to kick off the development of the rest of the site. And the most controversial of all is the 25-acre former McMillan Sand Filtration Site along North Capitol Street, whose developer cleared a major preservation hurdle in late October; while several more approvals are necessary before construction can begin, this is the closest the long-dormant project has come to reality.

Yes, 2013 had its fair share of ribbon-cuttings. But as those projects become fully realized, and as even larger ones get underway, we’ll get a sense of whether the city’s really making the most of its valuable pieces of land.

Streetcar

Gray says to expect it by January; more realistically, we could see streetcar service on H Street NE by spring. But what’s a few months when D.C. hasn’t run streetcars since 1962? The big question isn’t when it’ll begin, but how it’ll be received. The streetcar will run along largely the same route as the X2 bus, and it’ll sometimes be slower than the X2, because it won’t be able to navigate around the inevitable improperly parked cars and delivery trucks. Until it’s in service, we won’t know if the streetcar will actually make H Street more accessible and spur new business and development, or if it’ll just be seen as a transit mode for yuppie types made skittish by the bus.

With 37 miles of streetcar lines planned for the District, will the inaugural H Street line herald a new era for D.C. transit? Or will it be to Gray 2014 what bike lanes were to Adrian Fenty in 2010, a code word for a perceived focus on the gentrifying elements of the city while neglecting those most in need?

Affordable housing

There’s no better way for a mayor or a city to demonstrate compassion for less fortunate residents than by providing more affordable housing. In November, Gray made a $187 million commitment to more than 40 affordable housing projects in the city, with a total of 3,200 units. In 2014, we’ll start to get a better sense of how those projects are actually coming along. The sprawling 20-building Parkway Overlook complex south of Anacostia, for instance, has been vacant since 2007; will we finally see steps toward returning it to productive use, at a time when the city’s housing supply is growing tighter and pricier? Also on the list is So Others Might Eat’s 202-unit affordable housing project on Benning Road NE, which could potentially help transform the struggling neighborhood around the Benning Road Metro station.

The Parkway Overlook

The Parkway Overlook

Meanwhile, the city took a big step this year toward a project that’s already inflamed local passions, the redevelopment of the Barry Farm public housing complex. In June, the D.C. Housing Authority selected Baltimore-based A&R Development to convert Barry Farm, just south of Anacostia, into a mixed-income community. It’s no easy task. The city was supposed to complete the redevelopment of the similarly troubled Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg across the Anacostia River by late 2013 after demolishing the public housing in the mid-2000s. It’s now 2014, and the replacement affordable units are nowhere near done—and that project’s economics were made easier by the arrival of Nationals Park and the U.S. Department of Transportation in the neighborhood. Barry Farm is likely to be tougher, and angry opposition to the redevelopment (albeit partly from nonresidents) has already shut down the one recent attempt at a public meeting on the project. People will look to the Barry Farm project, and its progress in 2014, in assessing whether the city’s equipped to undertake other public-housing redevelopments it’s been eyeing.

Of course, central to the issue of affordable housing is the basic question: How affordable is housing? At this time last year, realtor Terri Robinson of Long & Foster, who’s worked in D.C.-area real estate for 43 years, predicted that prices had passed their trough and would rapidly climb in 2013. She was right; the average sale price for a single-family house in the District is now more than $780,000. In 2014, Robinson says, we could see some relief from skyrocketing housing costs. “The prices have continued to rise, but I think that will slow down next year because the interest rates have started to increase,” she says.

Nonetheless, as long as the city’s population continues to boom, the housing crunch won’t let up. It’s a problem begotten by success. But it’s also one that requires action by the city to counteract, and it’s largely on the basis of that action or inaction that D.C.’s leaders will be judged come Election Day.

Rendering from Hines-Urban Atlantic; photos by Aaron Wiener and Darrow Montgomery

  • Chris hauser

    Plenty of free range redskin potatoes in every pot.

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  • http://povertyandpolicy.wordpress.com Kathryn Baer

    “Compassion for less fortunate residents” isn’t what I see in the (less than) 3,200 units the Mayor and his people announced. Of those the Department of Housing and Community Development can account for by income level, more than half will be for middle-class households. I’ve posted the whole breakout here: http://bit.ly/1cPVexD

  • Caira Morgen

    Redevelopment of McMillan will not only bring the community a huge park, community center and grocery - it will create hundreds of homes - many at market rate. This community - that is who will benefit from this development. Create McMillan Park!

  • Er.uh

    @kathryn Baer

    I am willing to bet that families of four with incomes of 40 to 52k in DC consider themselves less fortunate, and (if they are DC natives, POC, etc) "victims" of gentrification. Thanks for your breakout though.

    but I have to take issue with this:

    "There’s no better way for a mayor or a city to demonstrate compassion for less fortunate residents than by providing more affordable housing"

    Note well, I SUPPORT affordable housing progams, IZ, etc. But its not obvious to me that AH is the best way to demonstrate compassion. Is it better than funding/improving the schools? Training and other employment services? Teach a man to fish, and all that? That may well result in the folks who benefit moving to the suburbs - that has implications for diversity in DC, I don't deny that - but if you frame the issue as about compassion, I think privileging the housing issue may be a bit one sided.

    Note you are correct the problem with Capper-Carrolsburg needs to be addressed, to reduce resistance to the needed transformation of Barry Farms. A piece on what is holding up the replacement units for C-C would be helpful.

  • DCShadyBoots

    "Big Developments Are Coming to D.C. in 2014. But Who Will Benefit?"

    Well, lets see, considering that the maximum amount permitted on a FHA home purchase loan is being rolled back on Jan. 1, to $625,500 from the current ceiling of $729,750 the biggest beneficiaries will be D.C.'s 1% who will be the only ones able to fork out a 20% (vs. 3%) down payment in a city where the median home selling price is 800k. (Meaning, the average home will not qualify for an FHA loan).

    Starting New Years Day, DC begins its trek to becoming the city of 1%. The Mid Atlantic's newest Manhattan.

  • er,uh

    DC

    think. The 1% (or 10%, whatever) are already occupying the DC houses OVER 800k. So all of a sudden a 770k house, that used to be affordable to someone fairly affluent, with an FHWA loan, isnt any more. Does the number of rich people interested in living in DC suddenly increase to buy ALL the homes between 700 and 800K? Or do those home sit on the market, till the prices are lowered to, say, the high 600s where more people can make 20% down payments? With the result that not quite so nice houses, previously listed in the high 600s, have to cut prices - maybe back down into the FHWA zone.

  • gordon

    Gentrification

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Gentrification is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values, sometimes to the detriment of the poorer residents of the community.[1] Gentrification is typically the result of investment in a community by local government, community activists, or business groups, and can often spur economic development, attract business, deter crime, and have other benefits to a community. Despite these potential benefits, urban gentrification is often believed by pre-gentrification residents to result in population migration, with poorer residents displaced by wealthier newcomers. However, this may not be the case: separate studies by Lance Freeman (Columbia University) and Jacob Vigdor (Duke University) indicate that there is no more displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods compared to non-gentrifying neighborhoods.[2]
    In a community undergoing gentrification, the average income increases and average family size decreases. Poorer pre-gentrification residents who are unable to pay increased rents or property taxes may be driven out. Often old industrial buildings are converted to residences and shops. New businesses, which can afford increased commercial rent, cater to a more affluent base of consumers—further increasing the appeal to higher income migrants and decreasing the accessibility to the poor.[3][4]

  • whiteincongressheights

    ugh! what's with all the affordable housing being developed east of the river. NEWS FLASH - there is a ton of affordable housing already available. check the rent ads, and the sale ads - you can buy a condo or apartment for less than 100k and you don't have to be low income. Those prices are there already for everyone.
    So why build MORE "affordable housing"? Why would anyone want to live over here when there's nothing else?
    Shouldn't someone be doing something with St. Elizabeth's? It'd be great to have some restaurants, grocery stores, little shops - ANYTHING. Do you know that there's not even a Domino's that will deliver to 20032?!

    There are so many empty and available units right now - the thought of more housing is just... outrageous.

    UGH, UGH, UGH!!!

  • Asuka

    So what, exactly, is wrong with gentrification? Can someone offer a reasoned argument that isn't couched in class warfare rhetoric? You bien pensants don't even know why you hold the political positions you do, you just parrot what you've been told is the correct ideology. Let me save you all some time and effort: Your arguments will boil down to "gentrification is wrong because it's wrong," with something about 1%ers thrown in for good measure.

    You transplants have no idea what it was like to live in this city 20 years ago. Gentrification is the best thing to happen to DC in many, many generations.

  • http://chicago.localmart.com/apartments-for-rent/ Rachel

    There’s no better way for a mayor or a city to demonstrate compassion for less fortunate residents than by providing more affordable housing… more than 40 affordable housing projects in the city, with a total of 3,200 units. Will it be really affordable? Every year the prices on property continue rising. Housing isn't particularly affordable, especially in our capital cities, and low interest rates are just a temporary band-aid over that fact, not a low-cost housing solution. Rate mortgage payments that have become more affordable, not houses! The only way for ordinary people is to get mortgage, but mortgage payments are also subject to rapid change.

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