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Pledging “new hope and a fresh start for veterans in Washington, D.C.,” U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro took part in the groundbreaking this morning for the District’s first permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans, a day before Veterans Day.
The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence at 1005 North Capitol St. NE is expected to be completed in December 2015, in time to help meet the city and federal pledges to end veteran homelessness by the end of next year. The distinctive design from Sorg Architects will feature four multi-story blocks stacked at oblique angles, comprising 14 floors. The building’s 124 apartments will include 60 units of permanent supportive housing for veterans; the remainder will be restricted to low-income tenants, with 17 reserved for households earning less than 30 percent of area median income.
In a city in which the symbolism of being mere blocks from the Capitol is never lost, the symbolism of being mere blocks from the Capitol was not lost on this morning’s speakers, either. Laura Zeilinger, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, invoked last week’s elections for new representatives to serve in the Capitol, visible down North Capitol Street, to argue that while Democrats and Republicans might disagree on many things these days, “ensuring that veterans have a safe and stable place to call home is not one of them.”
The project has been a long time in the making, with 11 government agencies involved in bringing it about. The plans had to overcome bureaucratic hurdles, such as obtaining a zoning variance to exempt it from the costly requirement to build 31 off-street parking spaces—-despite the highly transit-accessible location and the low-income status of all the future residents.
The complexity of navigating these challenges led Mayor Vince Gray to joke, “We ought to have a Harvard School of Government study on this, on how to bring different government agencies together.”
According to HUD’s point-in-time count released last week, 406 veterans were homeless in D.C. on the night when the count took place, in January. The figure has fallen 22 percent since 2010; national veteran homelessness has declined by a third in the same time period. The North Capitol project won’t come close to solving the problem, but it should reduce it by about 15 percent.
Rendering via the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; photos by Aaron Wiener