City Paper is not for tourists
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White has asked Jack Evans, Ward 2 Councilmember and chairman of the Council’s finance and revenue committee, not to mark up a bill that would divert some $60 million in tax increment bond financing to a proposed (mammoth) apartment, hotel, office, and retail space in Anacostia. Evans was initially scheduled to hold a committee vote, or markup, on the bill during a finance committee meeting on Wednesday afternoon, one of the committee’s last before the Council’s legislative session ends.
Mayor Muriel Bowser initially introduced the bill, the Reunion Square TIF Act of 2018, in early October. At the time, she said the project “will bring jobs, housing, and opportunity to Ward 8.” Greta Fuller, a neighbor of the site and the advisory neighborhood commissioner of district 8A06, testified in mid-November that the project “will serve as a much-needed catalyst for positive change and help spur the economic investment needed to bring a better quality of life to those in our community, putting an end to decades of neglect.” Its introduction followed months of negotiations between neighbors of the site and Four Points, the developer.
If passed by Evans’ committee and twice by the full Council, the bill would have cleared a path for the District to finance about 560,000 square feet of a total planned 1.5 million square-foot development by borrowing against future tax receipts the project would generate. The development would sit adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, Shannon Place SE, Railroad Avenue SE, and V and W streets SE in Anacostia. The mayor’s office has previously said that Four Points will forge ahead with the first phase of development, an office building on Shannon Place SE, but that the development of subsequent phases––like the hotel and apartment building––is predicated on TIF funding.
Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Brian Kenner tells City Paper that on a walk of Historic Anacostia this week with Bowser, advisory neighborhood commissioners representing the area “reiterated the importance of the Reunion Square project, and how many neighbors are anticipating the amenities” it would provide. City Paper asked Kenner whether his office plans on developing an alternative financing plan for the project. “We have submitted that legislation and continue to be supportive of it,” Kenner says.
White tells City Paper that he has a number of concerns about the project as-is, including too few affordable units, too few guaranteed jobs for Ward 8 residents, and too few commitments to involve local businesses in the planned retail space. “Why don’t we have three or four bedroom [units planned] on the property? Why is it only 12 units out of 130 that are affordable? With that you have to make $70,000 just to get in. That’s not affordable,” White says. (The apartment building has 133 planned units, 20 percent of which would be considered affordable for those making 60 percent of the area’s median family income or less. That figure is about $60,000 annually for a family of four.)
White has also criticized the District’s redevelopment plan for Barry Farm, a sprawling public housing complex in Ward 8, for including too few apartment units with multiple bedrooms. White and other housing advocates say that new apartment complexes should reflect the diverse needs of low-income families in D.C.
Some Anacostia residents pushed back against this line of thinking. “There are other communities in line for this TIF and if this money gets reallocated to another community, it would be sad. I understand the Councilmember’s concerns but this is what happens when he does not communicate with his constituency, if he did [the community benefits agreement] would be stronger,” Anacostia resident LaTasha Gunnels wrote on Twitter. Kenner also tells City Paper that he and Bowser’s administration “encourage the development team and [White] to talk about” White’s concerns.
But White makes one thing clear: “I’m not against development. It’s about responsible development,” he tells City Paper, arguing that the Ward 8 residents in support of the project are merely “20 or 30 people trying to speak for 11,000, [like] the guys on the corner, the grandmas, the people who have been here for 20 or 30 years––not just four [years]. The whole premise behind a TIF is that the property taxes will go up in value around the property. If we aren’t helping people with education, economic opportunities, and careers, then people won’t be able to afford to live there when the property values go up. There’s no use to there being a hotel if people can’t afford to stay there.”