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Here’s a good point-counterpoint on residential development near the Petworth Metro station. The point came on Tuesday night, as residents of Columbia Heights and Petworth debated the future of the former Hebrew Home for the Aged at 1125 Spring Road NW. The vacant building and an adjacent one will become housing; the question is what type of housing. The majority of the neighbors present expressed a desire for a substantial amount of affordable housing at the site, while others pressed for mostly market-rate apartments, and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who convened the meeting and chairs the committee that will review the city’s plans for the property, said she wants a mix of housing types.
The counterpoint came last night, at a meeting in nearby Park View, where developers presented their plans to convert an old industrial space on Lamont Street NW into residences. The site, a short walk from the Hebrew Home, was once home to Linens of the Week and now houses textile firm Alsco. But the Holladay Corporation, with prolific architect Eric Colbert, plans to transform the site into 225 residences.
The two sites have a couple of things in common: proximate locations, similar sizes (the Hebrew Home will likely have close to 200 units). But there’s one central difference. The Hebrew Home is owned by the city; the Alsco site is privately owned.
“We definitely are going to provide some affordable units,” says Colbert of the Alsco project. Then again, they have to: Under the city’s inclusionary zoning law, new residential developments are required to set aside at least 8 percent of their units for low-income residents. Colbert says the development team will meet the IZ requirements and perhaps exceed them, providing some units for people making under 60 percent of area median income and some for people making under 80 percent.
D.C. could use all the affordable housing it can get, and this project will help. But it could wind up contributing fewer than 20 affordable units, and none for truly poor residents making under 30 percent of area median income. That’s through no fault of the developers’, of course: They’re doing what the city requires—-and possibly more—-but still want to turn a profit.
Instead, it’s a reminder of the value of publicly owned land. There aren’t all that many publicly owned tracts left in rapidly gentrifying parts of the city. Neighbors may ultimately advocate for, and city officials may grant, a mix of incomes at the Hebrew Home, with perhaps 40 or 50 affordable units. But as neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth continue to grow more expensive and push out longtime residents, and as private developments produce only small numbers of low-income apartments, the city may come to regret a decision not to get as much affordable housing as possible out of a rare large District-owned site.
Renderings of the Alsco project courtesy of Eric Colbert & Associates