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D.C. has received an international award to build sustainable affordable housing in Deanwood, but the project to refurbish a vacant site in that neighborhood won’t be completed for some time.
The mayor’s office announced the award—given by the International Living Future Institute, an environmental nonprofit headquartered in Seattle—in a press release last Thursday. The ILFI runs the “Living Building Challenge,” a pilot focused on equipping affordable housing with green technology. The D.C. Department of Energy & Environment and the Department of Housing and Community Development will oversee the Deanwood project to build ten to 15 townhouses at 58th and Dix streets NE. Six other cities are participating in the pilot, including Chicago, Oakland, and Anchorage. D.C. was the only city on the East Coast that the IFLI selected through a competitive application process.
“This initiative will position the District to become a model for green affordable housing, providing low- and moderate-income residents with the opportunity to own their own sustainable homes and save money on their utility bills,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement. “The District will continue to lead by example, providing residents from every corner of the city with housing options that are affordable and environmentally responsible.”
The program requires that the Deanwood site be “net-positive,” meaning that it will create more renewable energy than it uses. Solar panels and smart-design features will help achieve this goal, says Molly Simpson, a program analyst at DOEE. While the award did not entail direct funding, the ILFI will provide technical assistance and expertise for free. The site measures over 32,000 square feet, and is located about half a mile from the Capitol Heights Metro station. It’s currently zoned C-2-A, which permits a maximum lot occupancy of 60 percent for residential units.
DHCD identified the Deanwood site from a portfolio of 160 properties, and chose it based on its small and contained size, explains Bill Updike, DOEE’s interim director of Urban Sustainability Administration. Green technology will help cut utility costs for future occupants. “We have a moral responsibility to serve the folks that need this kind of healthy and efficient housing, to make it happen,” he says.
Allison Ladd, DHCD’s chief of staff, says the Deanwood site will allow the District to make a blighted space livable and affordable. She estimates that the project might take between 18 months and two years to finish, from the design phase to community engagement and reviewing best practices from other IFLI-selected cities. DHCD hasn’t yet determined how it will choose the site’s residents, Ladd says, but adds that D.C. applied for the award only this spring. After completion, the development must operate for one year before it can receive green certification under the Living Building Challenge.
“I would really harp on the fact that this is super conceptual at this stage,” Simpson says. “The District is interested in making sure we can deliver the highest quality affordable housing that is energy efficient as well as healthy, and we’re making sure we can do so in a high-costs market.”
The ILFI award follows last month’s announcement of a major wind-power deal under which Iberdrola Renewables will supply 35 percent of the District government’s electricity for the next two decades. The agreement is expected save taxpayers $40 million, and to remove 100,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere over that period. The deal set a fixed-contract price through 2036, effective Aug. 1 of this year. D.C. hopes to half its greenhouse-gas emissions by 2032.