Parkway Overlook, located at 2841 Robinson Place SE
Parkway Overlook, located at 2841 Robinson Place SE Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The District plans to revitalize a long-abandoned housing complex near the Congress Heights Metro Station and the St. Elizabeths East Campus into more than 200 affordable apartments—many sized for families—preserving below-market rents in an area of the city poised for significant changes with new development.

On Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that officials have closed on the financing for the $82 million redevelopment of Parkway Overlook, a property consisting of 20 vacant buildings totaling 266 units along Robinson Place SE, a dead-end street. Battered by crime, former tenants of Parkway Overlook left in waves more than a decade ago, after the federal government failed the property multiple times on inspections and withdrew subsidies. The ex-owner defaulted, and the D.C. Housing Finance Agency, which issues bonds that underwrite affordable housing projects across the city, took possession of the derelict complex.

Efforts to transfer Parkway Overlook to a private development team didn’t succeed. But now, according to Bowser’s office, the D.C. Housing Authority, which manages more than 8,000 units of public housing and distributes rental vouchers to low-income households, will “self-develop” the property into 220 affordable apartments. The apartments will be set aside for households who earn up to 50 percent of the area median income, or about $55,000 a year for a family of four.

Just under half of the units will be two-bedrooms and a little over a quarter will be three-bedrooms, which are increasingly rare in new D.C. developments. The remainder will be one-bedrooms, and all the two- and three-bedrooms will get two bathrooms, the mayor’s office says in a release. Workforce development, financial literacy, and after-school activity programs are anticipated as additional supports for families, and 11 units will be permanent supportive housing.

A part of the Parkway Overlook project entails installing solar panels to help the future tenants save on their energy costs through D.C.’s “Solar for All” program.

The project will be a boon to low- and middle-income families in Ward 8, where the District is also advancing the massive redevelopment of the St. Elizabeths East Campus with a new practice facility for the Wizards, hundreds of units of housing, and commercial spaces. After years of divestment, there’s evidence that private and public capital has started to flow further into the city’s poorest ward, where the median family income is approximately $30,000 a year.

“We have residents constantly asking us when are they going to open it back up,” Rufaro Jenkins, the Parkway Overlook tenant association president, told City Paper in 2016. “Being part of the poverty gives us every right to be part of the prosperity.” Jenkins used to reside in a three-bedroom apartment at the property.

The Parkway Overlook redevelopment also represents a major investment of taxpayer dollars from D.C.’s main affordable housing fund, the Housing Production Trust Fund. For the past few years, the District government has ensured that $100 million annually goes into the fund—which is in large part bankrolled by deed and recordation taxes, and which took a hit during the economic recession. Bowser’s office says more than $20 million in HPTF money, via the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, will help finance the project as well as more than $38 million in DCHFA bonds and almost $30 million in equity through tax credits.

The HPTF has received criticism for mismanagement and lack of oversight, particularly after a 2017 audit by the D.C. Auditor that, among other issues, found missing affordable units and unenforced income requirements. Bowser, however, has signaled that she intends to maintain the $100 million annual infusion this year, and some progressive advocates are pushing for even more. The mayor is expected to submit her budget request for the D.C. Council to review in April.