The District plans to award $25 million in local and federal funds for 27 projects across the city that will provide more than 1,850 low-priced housing units and a variety of community-based facilities, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) announced yesterday.
The money is intended to help preserve existing affordable apartments in some rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, to fund construction of new apartments and townhouses for low-earning families, to rehabilitate vacant, blighted residential buildings, to create small group homes for mentally disabled adults now in institutions or on the street, and to build senior citizen housing and community centers for the elderly and the poor. Together, city officials said, the projects will cost about $170 million.
"For too long, our city has been sorely lacking in affordable housing," Williams said. "A safe affordable home is a cornerstone of our community. It's a cornerstone of a stable neighborhood. It's a cornerstone of everything we're trying to do."
The projects were selected from 59 proposals submitted after the mayor and D.C. Council earmarked $20 million in city revenue for a housing program that had gone unfunded for decades and combined it with $5 million from federal and other sources.
The process of amassing funds and soliciting proposals -- while routine in other jurisdictions -- had not been followed for decades in the District, largely because the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the process, was performing poorly and with a revolving door in the leadership, city officials have said.
So the announcement yesterday took on a tone of celebration and redemption, as affordable housing advocates and government leaders took turns praising each other for commitment and dedication.
"It was not until the Williams administration" that money was put into the Housing Production Trust Fund, said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who led council efforts to double the revenue the mayor earmarked for the fund. Fenty said the large number of proposals was proof that even more funding was needed. "Our work is not ended. It's really just begun," he said. "If people want to build affordable housing, we have to find a way."
The Rev. Jim Dickerson, chairman of the nonprofit housing developer, Manna Inc., praised Williams's decision 18 months ago to appoint a new director at Housing and Community Development -- the 20th, Dickerson said, in the 20 years since he founded Manna. "I had questions. I voiced those questions" about Stanley Jackson, the new Housing and Community Development director who oversaw the process, Dickerson said. "But I want to say . . . he's proven to be exactly the right person."
Manna leads three of the winning projects: the conversion of three vacant buildings on Holbrook Terrace NE in Trinidad into 30 directors, low-priced condominium units; and two tenant purchases, one of a building on Fairmont Street NW and the other on Spring Road NW in Columbia Heights, both of which will become affordable co-ops. Manna is also a secondary partner in several of the other projects.
The announcement was made at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, at North Capitol Street and Riggs Road NE. The church, also a winner, will receive city funds to help build 69 senior citizen apartments across Riggs Road. The empty parcel there had been slated to become a gas station and convenience store until church members objected nine years ago.
"Before it was vacant, it had abandoned buildings on it," said the Rev. Graylan Ellis-Hagler, Plymouth's pastor. "Now it will have something well appointed, that . . . will be a symbol of what we stand for."
Nine of the winning projects are in Ward 8, east of the Anacostia River and the city's poorest ward. Four are in Ward 7, also east of the Anacostia. Six are in Ward 1, at the center of the city, where affluent professionals are flooding into newly renovated townhouses and condominiums, driving up housing costs.
"The gentrification battles are ongoing. It is a kind of war" to retain affordable housing for current residents, said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1). "These are the kinds of major reinforcements that we need."