City Administrator Robert C. Bobb yesterday warned developers angling for a piece of the Sursum Corda housing cooperative not to count on generous buyouts to clear the property of its low-income residents, because the District is committed to maintaining affordable housing on the site for years.
"Those residents who currently reside here will remain here" if they choose, Bobb said at a news conference on Sursum Corda's playground. "We're committed to staying with the residents for the long term and to ensure that we have very low-income housing" on the site.
Bobb joined community leaders in calling on residents to scrutinize offers from two competing teams seeking to redevelop their property, which lies in a rapidly gentrifying area just north of Union Station. Bobb said he is concerned that many of Sursum Corda's 169 families will be tempted to take the buyouts on offer -- as much as $100,000 per household -- instead of staying to participate in the city's efforts to remake the larger neighborhood into a vital, mixed-income community under Mayor Anthony A. Williams's New Communities Initiative.
"This is some of the most valuable real estate in the District of Columbia. That's why you have $50,000 on the table. That's why you have $100,000 on the table. And who knows what else you might have on the table before this is over," Bobb said. But, he added, "The mayor has taken a stance to ward off gentrification in this neighborhood."
Sursum Corda residents occupy one of the nation's few subsidized housing complexes that is owned and managed by its residents. They have until Oct. 30 to decide between the two development proposals, both of which call for razing the 5.8-acre complex.
KSI Services Inc., one of the region's largest residential developers, proposes to replace the complex with more than 500 units, which would be offered to people of various income levels. Sursum families would be guaranteed $50,000 apiece, which they could take and leave or use to buy a new home on the site at a reduced price. KSI also promises to give Sursum residents a small share of profits on homes sold to people who are more affluent.
The other offer is from the nonprofit developer Manna Inc. and a group of individual developers. They propose to give Sursum's land to the city for its New Communities Initiative in exchange for clear title to new condominiums worth as much as $235,000 each. Sursum families could keep the homes or sell them -- or opt out of the arrangement for a guaranteed payment of $100,000 each.
Yesterday, Bobb chastised Manna's offer as "presumptuous," saying it identifies "what the city will do without having one conversation with the District." Bobb said KSI's offer comes closer to meeting the goals of the New Communities program.
Other than that, Bobb said, "I don't see any problem with either of the proposals, as long as everyone understands exactly what they are."
Alverta Munlyn, a former Sursum resident who chairs a neighborhood council, questioned whether Sursum residents understand what is happening to their homes.
Munlyn, who supports the New Communities effort, called on the developers to "put these offers on the table in language that everyone can understand."
These "developers have inspired us to separate . . . to look at the selfish needs of individuals that want to load up their pockets" instead of considering the greater good of the community, Munlyn said.
But resident Lorraine Rooker told Munlyn that Sursum Corda families are quite capable of sorting things out.
"We can make our own deal," Rooker said. "We can care for ourselves."