Federal funds to jump-start stalled D.C. housing project

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Webster Gardens, the District's oldest garden-style apartment complex, will be renovated into affordable housing, using federal money to help local and state agencies fund projects stalled during the recession, city officials announced Monday.

The District's Housing Finance Agency said it is one of the first such agencies in the country to close on a deal under the U.S. Treasury Department's New Issue Bond Program, and Webster Gardens, which was built in 1921, is the first housing development in the city to take advantage of the funds.

Work on the 52-unit complex is to begin next week.

Harry D. Sewell, executive director of the D.C. agency, said it entered "uncharted water" working on the transaction.

"It took a great deal of creativity, persistence and even a little prayer to get this done," Sewell said in a statement.

According to the agency, Webster Gardens is one of three multifamily rental properties that will benefit from the bond program, creating or preserving a total of 232 units of affordable housing.

The District is in dire need of affordable housing. A report released earlier this year by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute found that rents had increased more in the city than in most other major cities and that two in five households spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

David Bowers, vice president of Enterprise Community Partners, which has helped build more than 257,ooo affordable homes across the country, said he was pleased that his company was chosen to help move forward on a project that fell victim to the sluggish economy.

"This development is a critical part of the preservation and anti-displacement in the city," Bowers said. "When you have units that are affordable, you have to keep them, and you have to prevent the displacement of the residents that are there."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company