Housing Complex

Once a Foe of New Ward 8 Apartments, Barry Seeks Special Approval of Anacostia Project

A rendering of the early plans for the Big K site.

A rendering of the early plans for the Big K site.

Over the past few days, I've received nearly two dozen emails bearing a subject line that's some variant of "NO to Councilman Barry's 'EMERGENCY' Legislation!!!" What's the fuss all about? It concerns legislation by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry that the D.C. Council will consider today. The bill—actually a set of three related bills—would allow the biggest proposed development project in Anacostia to go forward. And clearly some neighbors are not thrilled at the prospect.

The project in question is known by the moniker "Big K," after the defunct liquor store that's part of the site where the new development would rise. Chapman Development proposed a six-story building with affordable apartments and retail, which neighbors criticized and the Historic Preservation Review Board unanimously rejected as out of scale with Historic Anacostia's lower profile. (At the same meeting where community members expressed their displeasure, Barry praised developer Tim Chapman, stated his support for the project, and said it would "transform Martin Luther King [Avenue SE] into a grand boulevard, at no one's expense.") Chapman revised his proposal and shaved a story off the building, but the HPRB once again rejected it, maintaining that it was still "too tall."

Chapman appealed to Mayor's Agent J. Peter Byrne, who can decide that the project has special merit that outweighs any historic preservation concerns. But Barry is trying to circumvent that process with his legislation and approve the development directly.

On March 31, Barry sent a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson notifying him of his intent to introduce the legislation. "At the present, the project is in limbo as the Historic Preservation Review Board ('HPRB'), which has previously allowed the relocation of contributing historic structures, has denied the relocation of two existing vacant houses," Barry explained in the letter, referring to two historic properties that would have to be moved to make way for the development. "An appeal to the Mayor’s Agent, which is in process, along with further review by the HPRB, which has already added substantial cost to this critical city-proposed project, will take several months and by that time the rising interest rates on construction financing and increased construction costs could risk making the project economically infeasible."

Barry continued with his rationale for the project's merit. "The District of Columbia, and especially Ward 8, is in dire need of new work-force/affordable housing for its residents," he wrote. "Ward 8 is also in dire need of the investment and retail development that this project provides.  Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, S.E. has not seen the new construction of residential buildings in over 40 years.  Thus, this project is critical to the redevelopment of Anacostia."

There's certainly logic to this argument—Anacostia hasn't seen the kind of development befitting a Metro-accessible, riverfront neighborhood, and a project of this sort could provide a real boost—but it's not logic Barry usually employs. The former mayor has consistently spoken out against the construction of any new rental and affordable housing in Ward 8, saying the area already has enough of it and should focus on market-rate and ownership housing.

Indeed, Barry's standard line is the one a group of neighbors employed in a letter to the Council last week. "Ward 8 is an oasis of affordable housing," wrote local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Greta Fuller and two other signatories. "We are not against affordable housing. We are against economic segregation."

The signatories stated that they were "confused" by Barry's position, given that he once introduced (failed) legislation that would have placed a moratorium on the construction of new apartment buildings in his ward. "This about face makes it clear Councilmember Barry does not have a clear vision for Ward 8," they wrote. "Please do not indulge Councilmember Barry's latest fancy by approving his emergency legislation."

It bears noting that Chapman has made the maximum $500 donation to Barry's re-election campaigns three times since 2008. He's also made a number of other political donations, including the maximum $2,000 contribution to Muriel Bowser's 2014 mayoral campaign.

A Barry spokeswoman did not return a call for comment.

Rendering courtesy of PGN Architects

  • DCShadyBoots

    Anacostia needs affordable housing,but young professionals are looking for something other than apartment living.

  • anon7

    Of the writers that cover our community, I find you to be the least biased. Thanks for covering this.

  • Dizzy

    I mean... "affordable housing" is kind of a broad and inexact term. If this building was completely set aside for people making 80% AMI, that would be considered "affordable housing," but those residents may well raise the average income level of the neighborhood.

    Given the large amount of subsidized housing and very low new development in Ward 8, I think one would be hard-pressed to calculate what "market rate" would even be at this point in time. I suspect it wouldn't fall too far from what this building would end up charging anyway.

  • Anonymous

    @Dizzy --This project is slated to be 60% AMI. A single person making a fraction over 45k would not qualify to live there -- they would be over the income limit. Two people making 30k each couldn't qualify to live there --- they would be over the income limit.

    So you have people -- working people at a modest income level mind you -- who may want to live in this place but that can't. So who does that leave? Someone who earns less than the income caps but earns above the rent formula to afford the apartment? What does that leave? Housing vouchers.

    I think that is what the community is worried about. With the income cap set so low at 60% for ALL OF THE UNITS that they are just going to get more of the same kind of tenants -- low income that can't support much needed retail and businesses that will hopefully bring much needed jobs.

    Kudos to the residents of Anacostia for not falling for the okey doke. West of the river has an affordable housing problem, east of the river has an economic development problem. You can't solve the latter's problem with the former's need.

  • Anonymous

    And here are the 2012 rates according to the DHCD website: http://dhcd.dc.gov/service/home-cdbg-nsp-lihtc-income-limits

    60% AMI for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (Effective 12/1/11) based on household size

    1 person

    2 person

    3 person

    4 person

    5 person

    6 person

    7 person

    8 person

  • Oxman

    My guess would be that the former mayor-for-life persuaded the developer to make a generous contribution to the, uh,"community."

  • Dizzy

    Those are fair points, Anonymous. Still, from the original Housing Complex article on this development:

    But the median household incomes in the two census tracts that make up Historic Anacostia are $30,313 and $19,519, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. These “affordable” apartments, then, are available to families making considerably more than the neighborhood average.

    Chapman says one-bedroom apartments will be renting for between $1,149 and $1,189, while two-bedrooms will fall in the $1,300 range. No Anacostia residents I spoke with could think of any apartments in the neighborhood that are that expensive. (Several people mentioned Sheridan Station, the new development near the Anacostia Metro, where the upscale apartments are all rented out. But one-bedrooms there rent for as little as $750, and no more than $1,025.)

    So even at 60% AMI, we're looking at an increase in terms of wealth over existing conditions. Is the fear really that, instead of folks pulling down meager but livable paychecks (40-60% AMI), the building will really just be filled with housing voucher users with very little in the way of actual income?

  • Anna Costia

    Housing vouchers and little to no discretionary income. I love the point made earlier by Anonymous:

    West of the river has an affordable housing problem, east of the river has an economic development problem. You can't solve the latter's problem with the former's need.

    I have to cross a bridge or hop on the highway almost every time I want or need something. My money's either going West or OUT OF DC to MD or VA.

  • RFH_MD

    What was the result of today's city council meeting? Did the council vote for the "emergency legislation"?

  • anon7

    Barry removed the bill from consideration before it could come to a vote.

    Really weird and awkward as it happened right when it was time to come to the floor.

    But straight to the Mayor's Agent I guess.

  • Linda Davis

    Kim Jong-Un is in Annacostia.................

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  • StringsAttached

    First, I'm glad the bill didn't hit the floor. Second, I'm really getting weary of "affordable housing". The individuals that these new buildings target ALREADY live somewhere...let them continue to live there. We need regular housing stock to hit the market so it attracts the individuals that will actually WORK for a living to the community.

    I mean this in the nicest way I can possibly say it...I can't wait for Barry's tenure to end...whether he steps down or the good Lord calls him home. I have no problems with the man but my goodness, he is an ineffective representative of the Ward 8.

  • Steve G

    Anacostia residents are correct in being against these low income units. The community needs middle income and above to support retail growth. Anacostia does not need more low-income units on a street they hope to revitalize as it will only DETRACT future developement. Shame on Barry and good for Greta.

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