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By most accounts, the development of the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has been a resounding success: The once-struggling area around the Navy Yard now features lovely parks, major employers like the U.S. Department of Transportation, buzzy restaurants and bars, and a mix of attractive townhouses and shiny apartment buildings. But in one category, it’s lagged behind. The rebirth of the neighborhood began with a federal Hope VI grant to turn the troubled Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg public housing complex into a new mixed-income community, with a one-to-one replacement of all the low-income units. That process was supposed to be complete by the end of 2013.
It’s now 2014, and only 515 replacement units have been built, of the 707 that were demolished in the mid-2000s. The D.C. Housing Authority blames the recession and the general difficulty of undertaking a housing project of this scope for the delay that’s left some former residents stranded. But the agency sees an opportunity in the neighborhood’s rapid rise to jump-start the production of more of those replacement units, albeit at the expense of the initial goal of the neighborhood’s redevelopment: mixing residents of different incomes.
A host of upscale retail is coming to the neighborhood, including a planned Whole Foods store in a residential building just south of the Southeast Freeway. And so the Housing Authority hopes to use the area’s increasing desirability to sell a newly valuable parcel of land and use the proceeds to speed up the development of affordable housing. The idea is to sell nearly 100,000 square feet of land just a block from the future Whole Foods to a private developer to construct market-rate condominiums, and then to use that money to help build an all-affordable apartment building, with 48 units, on an adjacent parcel.
“The real estate dynamics have changed,” says Housing Authority spokesman Rick White, “which has allowed us to leverage the land and sell it to use the proceeds of the sale to build affordable apartments in the community.”
The plan would speed up the construction of the delayed replacement units, for which funding has been a sticking point. But it would also mean separating the affordable and market-rate units into separate buildings, which some neighbors see as a violation of the spirit of the Hope VI redevelopment, which has seen low-income and market-rate units blended together throughout the neighborhood.
“It’s a pretty big change from people’s expectations,” says local advisory neighborhood commissioner David Garber. “People like that the affordable units have been pretty indistinguishable from the units that have been selling for a million dollars.”
Garber also feels that the Housing Authority hasn’t sought community input into the plans; he only learned about the changes when his ANC colleague happened to notice an item on the agenda for a Housing Authority board meeting about a parcel in the neighborhood. “It feels like the attitude from them is, we’ll plan it, then we’ll present it to the community, and there’ll be minimum opportunity for any community input,” Garber says.
But White says the plans are still preliminary, and there’ll be chances for the community to weigh in later. All that’s happened so far, White says, is that the Housing Authority has asked its board for permission to explore the possibility of selling the parcel.
As for the segregation of affordable and market-rate housing, White says the change will allow the affordable housing to be built more quickly, and that neighbors should welcome the switch to ownership market-rate housing. “Homeownership is something that should be embraced by everyone,” he says.
Map from the D.C. Housing Authority