An affordable housing project near Howard University got a major boost recently when the development team acquired the rights to a block of storefronts and empty lots along Georgia Avenue NW.
The Park Morton public housing complex, built in 1960, has been pegged for redevelopment since 2005, when then-Mayor Anthony Williams began the New Communities program, aimed at turning blighted public housing into mixed-income neighborhoods.
The development team, led by Linthicum-based Landex Cos., stayed with the project through the housing bust, and recently completed the first phase — an 83-unit apartment building called The Avenue, in which 27 of the units are dedicated for public housing residents.
Landex is a major player in affordable housing, having built thousands of units over more than 20 years. But its much smaller, District-based partner — the Warrenton Group — has made connections along Georgia Avenue NW that have expanded the scope of the Park Morton project.
Warren Williams Jr., the company’s founder, is a former nightclub owner and local political figure whose feud with D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) ultimately led to Graham being reprimanded for ethical lapses last week.
Williams has been using his history and connections in the city to lock up deals with longtime landowners and build relationships with larger, more experienced developers, such as Landex. He inked a deal with a nonprofit group to acquire the land needed for The Avenue, and on Feb. 14, after years of trying, he signed an agreement with the owner of the Georgia Avenue properties between Park and Morton streets, including a Small Smiles dental clinic, tire store and parking lot.
In the deal, Landex and Warrenton would lease the land at no cost from owner Andrew J. Richeson, develop a mix of new housing and retail for Park Morton, and then grant the new retail space back to Richeson at no cost. Richeson was not immediately available for comment.
The agreement pleased D.C. officials because it connects the project to Georgia Avenue and creates more space for future housing units. “Any additional land that the developer can incorporate into the project can help us create a true mixed-use environment and improve the walkability on Georgia Avenue,” said Senthil Sankaran, D.C. director of development.
“This will help bring the site out to Georgia Avenue,” said Steve Green, director of the office of capital programs for the D.C. Housing Authority. “Which I think will be good for the site and will be good for Georgia Avenue.”
Warrenton and Landex are now partnering on work in Montgomery County, as well. “This is one of the examples of how real [joint ventures] work,” Williams said. “We are really working in lock step. They’re doing their part. I’m doing my part. It’s been beautiful.”