With project near H Street, Enterprise Community Partners offers vision for affordable housing


Bradley Fennell of W.C. Smith talks with David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. at a development on 21st Street in Northeast Washington. (Jeffrey MacMillan/The Washington Post)

The first apartments to be renovated in the square brick buildings off of Maryland Avenue NE have their own washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioning units and kitchen counters that, while not made of granite or marble, are made to look that way.

Renovation of Fairway Park, the 33-building cluster of apartments named for views of Langston Golf Course, aims to preserve 396 apartments at rental rates affordable to families making well below the area’s average. But for David Bowers, head of the local office of the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, the project is also another chance to demonstrate an evolving vision of what the term “affordable housing” means.

Now in its 30th year, Columbia-based Enterprise operates in dozens of communities nationwide and has grown its focus from just creating and preserving low-income housing to addressing transportation and energy costs for poor and working class residents.

Enterprise developed a certification program for building energy-efficient affordable housing similar to programs for commercial office buildings. In Washington — where real estate near Metro stations fetches a steep premium — Bowers has a goal of preserving 1,000 units within a half-mile walk of transit stations, giving residents easier and more affordable access to job centers. The organization has also begun acting as a development partner for churches that want to build housing on their properties.

Many of the new priorities are on display at Fairway Park, which William C. Smith & Co., an owner of thousands of affordable units in the city including the Jetu apartments across the street, bought last year. The Smith Co. began self-funding improvements and brought in Enterprise as a partner. “This particular section had really kept the neighborhood down a little bit,” said Brad Fennell, a senior vice president at William C. Smith.

Bowers just closed a $16 million financing deal using low-income housing tax credits and a Citibank loan toward the $52.4 million rehab. Despite the stained brick exteriors and drab sidewalks, the buildings are walkable to one of the area’s hottest real estate markets, H Street Northeast, where the District plans to open the first leg of a new streetcar line. “Obviously the market premiums around the H Street area are going to drive up rents in this neighborhood,” Bowers said.

The apartments will be fitted with irrigation and storm water retention systems. Construction will use locally sourced materials that limit chemical emissions but ward off pests. For the next 30 years, the units will be restricted to households making 60 percent or less of the area’s median income.

With housing prices on the rise again in the region, Enterprise has been aggressively locking up similar deals. In 2011, it provided $51 million in financing for the preservation of 1,200 units, and Bowers said he expects to close on $95 million in financing this year toward 1,400 units. He is developing new housing in partnership with churches in some of the poorest parts of Southeast D.C., including Matthews Memorial Baptist Church and Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal.

Bowers said the deals are a start, but that if the District wants to remain a place where low-income residents can remain, broader changes are needed.

“When it comes to our city leaders, there really needs to be a sense of urgency for funding changes, policy changes and more coordination when it comes to preserving affordability,” he said.

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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