Here’s the lesson of Gibson Plaza, the 10-story Shaw behemoth housing mostly Section 8 tenants: If you suffer through bad conditions long enough, you might just be there when a fantastic upgrade comes around.
The 217-unit building hadn’t had a major renovation since it was built, back in 1974, by the development arm of First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Management tried five times to get financing for a rehab, but again and again banks turned down their applications, in part—according to Deacon Harold Gilliard—because of the property’s nonprofit ownership. Finally, the Department of Housing and Urban Development committed $22 million, the D.C. Housing Authority kicked in another $6.8 million, and the District Department of the Environment gave $1 million for green upgrades.
The process began back in July, and re-skinning of the outside is moving quickly. But the biggest changes are inside, where every unit is getting being completely redone, from floors to appliances to lighting to internal systems like HVAC and electricity. They’re installing trash chutes and water on each floor—before, maintenance staff had to go down to the basement and bring water upstairs to mop. A third elevator will serve 33 units newly outfitted for handicapped use; many residents have been there since the building opened nearly 40 years ago, and now may continue to age in place.
Construction is moving from the top floors down. The basement, though, represents quite a bit of gained space. They’ll add a fitness room and more storage units, as well as a computer-equipped learning center that management hopes will teach Chinese, Spanish, and English language classes (the resident population is 64 percent African American, 34 percent Asian, and 4 percent Hispanic).
Residents have had to move around the building during the renovations, while some have lived with relatives elsewhere and others have stayed in hotels paid for by management. But everyone will have the ability to return, Gilliard promises, and won’t
pay higher rents when they do: Energy efficiency retrofits make the building less expensive to run.
All in all, a nice reward for sticking around.