Housing Complex

Housing Authority Proposes Separating Affordable and Market Housing in Capitol Riverfront

A map of the Capper/Carrollsburg redevelopment plan, with the intended completion dates. The parcel in question is circled.

A map of the Capper/Carrollsburg redevelopment plan, with the parcel under discussion circled.

By most accounts, the development of the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has been a resounding success: The once-struggling area around the Navy Yard now features lovely parks, major employers like the U.S. Department of Transportation, buzzy restaurants and bars, and a mix of attractive townhouses and shiny apartment buildings. But in one category, it's lagged behind. The rebirth of the neighborhood began with a federal Hope VI grant to turn the troubled Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg public housing complex into a new mixed-income community, with a one-to-one replacement of all the low-income units. That process was supposed to be complete by the end of 2013.

It's now 2014, and only 515 replacement units have been built, of the 707 that were demolished in the mid-2000s. The D.C. Housing Authority blames the recession and the general difficulty of undertaking a housing project of this scope for the delay that's left some former residents stranded. But the agency sees an opportunity in the neighborhood's rapid rise to jump-start the production of more of those replacement units, albeit at the expense of the initial goal of the neighborhood's redevelopment: mixing residents of different incomes.

A host of upscale retail is coming to the neighborhood, including a planned Whole Foods store in a residential building just south of the Southeast Freeway. And so the Housing Authority hopes to use the area's increasing desirability to sell a newly valuable parcel of land and use the proceeds to speed up the development of affordable housing. The idea is to sell nearly 100,000 square feet of land just a block from the future Whole Foods to a private developer to construct market-rate condominiums, and then to use that money to help build an all-affordable apartment building, with 48 units, on an adjacent parcel.

"The real estate dynamics have changed," says Housing Authority spokesman Rick White, "which has allowed us to leverage the land and sell it to use the proceeds of the sale to build affordable apartments in the community."

The plan would speed up the construction of the delayed replacement units, for which funding has been a sticking point. But it would also mean separating the affordable and market-rate units into separate buildings, which some neighbors see as a violation of the spirit of the Hope VI redevelopment, which has seen low-income and market-rate units blended together throughout the neighborhood.

"It's a pretty big change from people’s expectations," says local advisory neighborhood commissioner David Garber. "People like that the affordable units have been pretty indistinguishable from the units that have been selling for a million dollars."

Garber also feels that the Housing Authority hasn't sought community input into the plans; he only learned about the changes when his ANC colleague happened to notice an item on the agenda for a Housing Authority board meeting about a parcel in the neighborhood. "It feels like the attitude from them is, we’ll plan it, then we’ll present it to the community, and there’ll be minimum opportunity for any community input," Garber says.

But White says the plans are still preliminary, and there'll be chances for the community to weigh in later. All that's happened so far, White says, is that the Housing Authority has asked its board for permission to explore the possibility of selling the parcel.

As for the segregation of affordable and market-rate housing, White says the change will allow the affordable housing to be built more quickly, and that neighbors should welcome the switch to ownership market-rate housing. "Homeownership is something that should be embraced by everyone," he says.

Map from the D.C. Housing Authority

  • Are We Surprised?

    Isn't this the way this usually goes? The city makes promises but then sells out the plan once everyone's attention is diverted? Hopefully someone holds them to their word. If this property really just became this valuable, there must be other options available too.

  • Er uh

    While generally its better to mix the affordable units in the same building with the market rate housing, this is only a 48 unit building - not some giant neighborhood destroying housing complex. And the lot, right next to the highway, will not be attractive for market rate housing. I think this is a reasonable solution, and completing the promise of replacing the units is very desirable (esp as there will be more such redevelopments)

  • But Then Again

    If the lot the city is looking to surrender to gentrification/non-mixed income is truly a "newly valuable parcel of land" as the article states, then it should actually have more leverage over the developers to demand that they follow through with the mixed income plans. If you keep pushing the low-income tenants to the less desirable lots, it completely defeats the purpose of trying to keep the entire neighborhood mixed-income. The city sold one vision but is ready to surrender it pretty easily. The idea of mixing the housing was the very thing that was promised, not just the construction of new housing.

  • mm hm

    The lot is exactly the same distance away from the highway as all the market rate housing in Capital Quarter.

  • http://www.davidgarber.com David Garber

    Important to also note that DCHA is currently trying to expedite permits on the planned community center --- the sad part: they haven't approached the community in almost 10 YEARS about what the community even wants in a "community" center.

    DCHA: mediocracy might be easier for you, but not seeking community input on any of this is a really bad look.

  • http://www.davidgarber.com David Garber

    ^correction: mediocrity.

  • er uh

    looking at the map it appears that that lot IS closer to the highway than the other lots. Are you referring to the hi rises west of NJ avenue?

    Whether that defeats the purpose of mixing incomes in the NEIGHBORHOOD is not clear to me. It might help if we reviewed what that purpose originally was. Anyone care to restate it?

  • Sarah

    This reminds me of the big development project in upper NW, Cathedral Commons. The developer made lots of pious promises about affordable housing to get extra bonus density and PUD approval, then put in the bare minimum that the statute requires for matter of right zoning. And, to top it off, the affordable units are all near the HVAC towers and next to the grocery store loading dock, not scattered throughout the complex.

  • http://www.dchousing.org Richard A. White, Director of the Office of Public Affairs & Communications

    Providing additional clarifying facts to the discussion about the multi-family property:

    The Capper/Carrollsburg redevelopment’s footprint is and will remain Mixed-Income. There is no change nor retreat from that strategy.

    The parcel reported on above has always been designated for multi-family/apartment style units and not townhome style units given its location and the desire to maximize density near transit rich areas. The only addition to this parcel is instead of being 100% rental; we are planning to introduce a homeownership component. This is why the homeownership building and the rental building are separated from each other. We believe additional homeownership options will be good for the community and allow DCHA to keep to its commitment to build back the replacement units.

  • Beth

    Thank you for the response, Richard. Can you explain why a condo building and an apartment building would need to be separate from each other? I guess I don't understand how the same units that would have been market rate rental can't be sold instead? Many condo building have a mix of owners and renters.

  • http://www.davidgarber.com David Garber

    Fact of the matter is this: DCHA is under the impression that it's okay to move forward with major community projects (community center) and changes to long-held plans (mixed-income in same or separate buildings) without interacting with the community itself. Sad.

  • http://www.absolute-offices.com.au Larry Brown

    The affordable housing options offers many of good and beneficial property investment options so that real estate sector begins to develop there at fast pace of rate

  • 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.

  • DC Native

    ***Asuka*** You are absolutely right! I have lived in DC since the 1970s and I second that notion. Gentrification, since about the year 2000, has been wonderful for DC. Many of the bad elements of DC have left and been replaced with real taxpaying, educated citizens that care about their neighborhood and their city. It has been great! Alas, we still have the holdouts who aren't upwardly mobile and continue to eek out an existence by mooching off the government, and the apologists that will make every excuse in the world for their bad behavior. Anyone who says gentrification is bad didn't live here in the 1980's and is simply making an emotional argument that they think sounds like it stands up for the "less privileged." In reality, the "less privileged" have been getting free handouts in this city for 40 years and look where it got us. Crack, Marion Barry, The Murder Capital, The Inmates Running the Asylum, and a city collapsing on its own dead weight.

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  • Mike not Ike

    Can we call this area by it's correct name, Navy Yard? Lets not be propogandists for the BID.

  • 7r3y3r

    @Asuka - did you just have an entire conversation with yourself?

  • Capitol Quarter Resident

    Changing the parcel from 1 mixed-income apartment building to 2 separate buildings (affordable apartments/for sale condos) is better for the community (as long as the affordable apartments are mixed income, and not just low income). Anyone familiar with the area knows that there are a whole lot of apartment units (with a LOT more coming in the next 3 years). The area desperately needs more home ownership units. With a brand new elementary school opening in 2015, the demand is definitely there for families and others to buy into the Capitol Riverfront. My hope is that this 2 building solution works out well for the neighborhood, so maybe this sort of arrangement could be worked out for the remaining parcels that still haven't been developed.

  • SEis4ME

    @7r3y, well you happen to be absolutely right. But FYI, Asuka tends to introduce topics and debate them against him/herself.

    Such is the case here!

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  • wylie coyote

    "So what, exactly, is wrong with gentrification?"

    The same thing that's wrong with hyperinflation. It rapidly increases the cost of a needed good, specifically housing (although other goods and services are known to increase in price as surrounding retail changes, but that takes longer). There is something to be said for planning change in communities that does not price out the majority of the residents in the city from the majority of the available housing stock. There are also unintended consequences, such as when poor families move out en masse and suddenly schools in certain neighborhoods have such low enrollment they close, far more rapidly than they would from normal attrition (since a great deal of funding for schools comes from federal dollars, which are tied to how many students are enrolled in a given school, in addition to other categories, such as how many reduced or free lunch students are in the student body).

    This isn't a matter of abandoned buildings versus shiny new condos. It's far more complicated than that.

  • Asuka


    Predicting response to questions is "having a conversation" with myself?




    "It rapidly increases the cost of a needed good." So? The housing market is regionally elastic. Those who want to live in DC do not HAVE to live in DC. If they can't afford to live in DC, they can move to Maryland or Virginia.

    "There is something to be said for planning change in communities that does not prove out the majority of the residents." It doesn't "price out the majority of the residents." If that were true, there would be a surplus of houses. The market is responding exactly to the demand. Those who can't afford it leave and those who can move in.

    "There are unintended consequences." Again, so? The city will respond to the consequences by adjusting resources appropriately. That's what good governing bodies do.

    "This isn't a matter of abandoned buildings versus shiny new condos. It's far more complicated than that." It's only "far more complicated" because people like you want to interfere in the efficiency of the market.

    Your arguments are nothing more than a dressed up version of, "gentrification is bad because it's bad." You haven't made anything that resembles a rational rebuttal.

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  • chris lee

    Is there anyone on this site that doesn't believe there are significant social and practical differences amongst demographic "types", if one has the means, is there anything wrong with preferring a certain class of neighbor?

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

    The idea is to sell nearly 100,000 square feet of land just a block from the future Whole Foods to a private developer to construct market-rate condominiums, and then to use that money to help build an all-affordable apartment building, with 48 units, on an adjacent parcel?? To my mind it’s just promises that will never be done. The last commenter is right, if this property really just became this valuable, there must be other options available too. Make promises and sell out the plan is not a way out.

  • Bruce

    The plan is a good one and its great to see more ownership and affordable homes in the area. After all this time, its nice to see these lots finally moving forward.
    DCHA has met with a group to discuss all of these projects and they have been very open.

  • Marcus

    Knowing that there may be a 40% increase in the number of low-income units around here makes me seriously reconsider my plans to purchase. I've lived in Navy Yard for four years now, but the increase in low-income residents in that time has been highly noticeable. Having some grimey dude ask you for money in the park really kills the ambiance, y'know?