There’s nothing to kick an administration into gear like the impending end of that administration. In the past week and a half, Mayor Vince Gray has announced major developments that will allow two of the city’s most anticipated mixed-use projects to move forward: the Walmart-anchored Skyland Town Center and the St. Elizabeths redevelopment near Congress Heights. On Monday, Gray cut 17 ribbons on new and recently opened businesses in Shaw, making sure to take credit for all he can before Muriel Bowser takes over on Jan. 2. And this afternoon, Gray announced the team that will develop the historic Grimke School site on U Street NW.
Also this afternoon, his administration announced that it had resolved an affordable-housing impasse that had threatened to displace dozens of low-income families. Late last year, low-income residents of the Mount Vernon Plaza apartments at 930 M St. NW were informed that they’d have to start paying substantially more rent or move out. The reason, the owners said, was that the affordability requirements, arranged through a government-loan deal, had expired, so the owners were no longer required to offer the lower rents.
But the affordability terms were murky, and in October the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development ordered the owners, the Williamsburg, Va.-based Bush Companies, to cease and desist from sending out any more rent-increase letters or taking steps to increase the rents.
Today, DHCD announced that it had negotiated an agreement with Bush to preserve 63 affordable housing units at Mount Vernon Plaza for the next seven years. Tenants who were forced to leave Mount Vernon Plaza by the recent rent increase will be allowed to return under the deal. The affordable units will be available to households making less than half of area median income.
DHCD’s announcement did not specify whether or how much the city is paying to preserve the affordability of these units, and a DHCD spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.
In the scheme of the city’s struggle to maintain an affordable housing stock in the face of rising rents and home prices, 63 units won’t make a very big impact. But the building had become a symbol of the city’s failure to anticipate expiring affordability covenants and take steps to preserve those affordable units. In the waning hours of his administration, Gray has at least sent the message that these concerns are finally being addressed.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery