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D.C. announces first affordable housing project in Ward 3 backed by housing production trust

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser holds a news conference on affordable housing at the Spring Flats housing complex on May 24, 2021. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Wednesday the creation of nearly 800 units of affordable housing as part of the District’s historic investment in the production of homes for low-income residents.

The 10 projects selected by the Department of Housing and Community Development will receive more than $135 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) — the city’s primary tool for financing affordable housing amid a persistent and dire Districtwide shortage — along with tax breaks and the promise of vouchers to ensure some of the new affordable housing is available to the District’s poorest residents, D.C. officials said.

Among the 10 projects is the first affordable housing development in Ward 3 to be backed by the HPTF. The development will add 93 units to a Friendship Heights senior living facility known as the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home that will accommodate District residents “at a range of income levels,” according to D.C. officials.

Though the Lisner Home project makes up only a fraction of the new housing announced Wednesday, Council Member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she hopes the senior facility opening its doors will kick off a wave of new affordable housing options in neighborhoods like Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase and Tenleytown where affordable housing stock remains low.

Cheh said “there is considerable support for increasing the availability of affordable housing in the ward” and that a number of her constituents see the issue as a “moral obligation.”

A group of citizens known as Ward 3 Housing Justice have for months lobbied Cheh and other city officials to support the transformation of the old Wardman Park hotel site into more than 100 affordable housing units for low-income residents. The hotel site, owned by developer Carmel Partners, is slated for redevelopment into market-rate housing.

Cheh said she is hopeful that the Wardman may be on the path to opening the door to more affordable housing than the minimum 8 percent required by zoning regulations. She also cited other sites — parking lots, declining shopping malls — as places the District might consider funding low-income housing developments.

“We are trying to use our influence from the government’s perspective to get as much affordable housing as we can,” she said. “It’s going to start to add up. This is a good start.”

But grass-roots organizers with Ward 3 for Housing Justice said the District needs to be more aggressive in its pursuit of affordable housing opportunities in upper Northwest, especially for families at the lowest income levels. The plan for the Wardman falls short of what housing justice activists have proposed and organizers said talks with the developer have stalled.

“The traditional tools are not getting us where we need to go,” said Margaret Dwyer, a Friendship Heights resident and convener of the Ward 3 for Housing Justice group. “There are a million miles between aspiration and reality. We need public partners to say it’s time for the rubber to meet the road here, and we’re not just going to have aspirations, we’re going to start implementing a very clear, step-by-step plan to fight the segregation that has been maintained for decades in this area. It is time to break that cycle.”

The mayor’s office said additional affordable housing projects will be selected and announced later this year.

Last year, Bowser announced plans to invest $400 million into the HPTF, a record-setting amount that her office said will help developers build an additional 2,700 subsidized housing units over the next several years.

The mayor has placed at least $100 million into the housing fund each year since 2015. She said the $400 million would expedite her goal of building 36,000 housing units by 2025, 12,000 of them affordable to targeted income groups.

In October, a report from the Office of the Inspector General found that D.C. misspent nearly $82 million of affordable-housing funds earmarked for extremely low-income residents in fiscal 2020.

The report stated that residents from the lowest income bracket in the District — those who earn less than 30 percent of the area’s median family income (about $39,000 for a family of four) — were often overlooked while the majority of affordable housing created in the District instead went to households considered to be very low income (50 percent of the median family income or $64,500 for a family of four) or low income (80 percent of the median family income or $103,200 for a family of four).

Bowser’s office and officials from the Department of Housing and Community Development said in a statement that the round of funding announced Wednesday would prioritize projects that include housing for the city’s poorest and focus on “shovel-ready projects” in seven of the District’s eight wards.

“Our priority focus on high opportunity areas, to build … new units targeting extremely low-income households, has allowed us to bring projects into the pipeline that more directly reflect our push to make the District a more equitable, inclusive city,” Drew Hubbard, interim director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, said in a statement.