D.C. Archdiocese opens affordable-housing complex on NE site of former St. Martin's Convent

By Nathan Rott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 25, 2010; 6:53 PM

District officials, private groups, community members and the Archdiocese of Washington joined Monday morning for the opening of a 178-unit mixed-income apartment complex in the Eckington area.

The $43 million complex , the Summit at St. Martin's in Northeast Washington, which was funded and built by a partnership of government, private and church resources, addresses "what is so fundamentally challenging in this city," said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray. "That is affordable housing."

Citing a growing population, the recession and historic unemployment rates, Gray, the presumptive mayor-elect, said creating affordable housing is crucial to the District's growth.

"We need more of this in the District of Columbia," he said from one of the complex's two courtyards, gesturing to the surrounding apartments and assembled crowd.

Of the building's 178 units, 128 are two-bedroom apartments that will be rented to working families and individuals who earn up to 60 percent of the area's median income, which is about $62,000 a year for a family of four, said Ed Orzechowski, president and chief executive of Catholic Charities, the project's developer. The other 50 units will be reserved for people who earn up to 30 percent of the area 's median income, or about $21,000, Orzechowski said.

The expected criteria for those 50 units also will favor formally homeless people who have been in transitional housing or single-room occupancy units - criteria that was proposed to uphold the site's history.

For nearly two decades, St. Martin's Convent, which was in the path of the project, provided permanent housing for up to 17 men who had come from transitional housing. When the surrounding neighborhood caught wind of the proposed mixed-income building in 2005, several residents pushed to get the convent designated as a historic site, with hopes of shrinking or stopping the project. Instead, developers adapted the complex's plans, moving the massive, three-story brick structure 200 feet and incorporating it into the southeast corner of the building. The move cost an extra $1.5 million.

The site at North Capitol and T Streets NE was a 35-car parking lot before the construction, Orzechowski said. Speaking from one of the complex's two grassy courtyards, Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl told the assembled group that the building proves "we can take any property and make it something wonderful."

"Everybody involved offered what they had, and what happened?" Wuerl said. "We have a miracle."

For Jay Brown, a 39-year old personal trainer who works in the city, it was just that. Brown moved to Alexandria from the District years ago with his 10-year old daughter because as a single father, he couldn't afford housing in Washington.

Two weeks ago, he applied for an apartment - one of 75 applications that have been received - and he has been accepted, he said. The apartment is far nicer than where he lives now, he said, and closer to work.

As a D.C. native, he's excited about the opportunity to come back. His daughter, he said, is "excited about the Internet cafe."

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