City Paper is not for tourists
A dormant, dead-end street tucked behind the St. Elizabeths’ East Campus that features 20 empty buildings and once served as home to 1,000 low-income residents could finally become active again after an eight-year hiatus.
The apartment complex is called Parkway Overlook and sits abandoned on Robinson Place SE. Just a few years ago, some $5 million in vacant property taxes were owed on the site, one of the highest negative balances in the District. Violent crime plagued the area as the group of buildings deteriorated and as tenants abandoned its 266 units, more than 85 percent of which were two- and three-bedrooms appropriately sized for families. The question of what to do with Parkway Overlook, which fell under the auspices of the District government in 2007, remained.
Now, there’s an answer. On Wednesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced 13 affordable housing projects, totaling over 1,200 rental units, to be supported by public loans, tax credits, and private money this coming year, including Parkway Overlook. The D.C. Housing Authority filed a request for $18 million from the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund for a gut renovation of the buildings on Robinson Place, which was approved. Advocates—among them the complex’s tenant association and the Washington Interfaith Network—had pushed for reinvestment.
“We have residents constantly asking us when are they going to open it back up,” says Rufaro Jenkins, 45, who serves as president of the Parkway Overlook Tenant Association and lived in a three-bedroom apartment with her children for 15 years before becoming a homeowner.
“Being part of the poverty gives us every right to be part of the prosperity,” the Ward 8 resident adds.
According to Jenkins, the complex’s former tenants “scattered all over”: Some rented, cycling through landlords, while others died or became homeless. Those who could make it have gathered annually at Parkway Overlook reunions that WIN helped organize. Former residents have been promised the right to return by D.C. following background checks. A WIN spokeswoman says ensuring that right is “the next campaign.”
The renovation will create roughly 220 units, a lower count than what exists at the site now due to necessary infrastructure improvements such as new plumbing, electrical, and laundry equipment. Fifty-nine of the units will be affordable three-bedrooms that are “especially needed in the market,” WIN says in a release. “The eight-year struggle was not simply a waiting game, but instead an active fight for the right to housing waged by residents and congregations,” the citywide organization of almost 50 multi-faith congregations continues.
The number of former residents who relocate to Parkway Overlook and the time frame for completing the project are yet to be determined, but advocates hope that pre-development work will begin next year. “It was like a village and everyone looked out for each other,” Jenkins recalls.
Parkway Overlook wasn’t the only affordable housing project in Southeast announced Wednesday. Next door, a new development is planned for St. Elizabeths East as part of the overall campus redevelopment, and W.C. Smith will build its City View project at 2850 Douglass Place SE.