DC Council is set to vote Tuesday, Nov. 19 on a contract that would provide 100 Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units on Reservation 13. The contract with developers Donatelli and Blue Skye includes subsidies of $3.1 million a year for 15 years to provide housing and supportive services for residents.
Residents were initially surprised by the contract, which had been placed on the consent agenda for the Nov. 5th DC Council meeting, meaning it required neither discussion nor debate. In response to community feedback, Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) had the vote delayed two weeks to allow for greater outreach.
Intended to Keep Community Together
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is part of the housing-first model that provides subsidized housing together with 24-hour supportive services such as security, medical or employment services on-site. The model is designed to provide residents with housing and the support to stay housed.
Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Laura Zeilinger said the PSH Project at Reservation 13 was designed with the community of women currently living at the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter (1900 Massachusetts Ave. SE) in mind. Many of these women have been living in the shelter or the system for decades, reluctant to accept housing solutions that will take them out of the neighborhood or separate them from the community they have built together.
“People talk all the time about how important it is that people not be pushed out of the neighborhood, and these people have a right to be included,” Zeilinger said.
Residents are selected for PSH by the DC Housing Authority through a standardized system that assesses applicants in the DHS system and prioritizes their access in order to best meet their housing needs. That this location will match their key needs means that the women currently living in Harriet Tubman will likely be the first clients matched to the Reservation 13 housing, but they will not be the only candidates for the housing. Anyone whose needs are best matched by these units will also receive an offer, Zeilinger said.
More Affordable Units
With this contract, all of the units in Donatelli development on the F1 parcel will now be PSH. That project was originally to include 75 affordable units intended for families with incomes between 0 and 60 percent AMI. The PSH contract adds nine units, all deeply affordable and all one-bedroom. “We are actually getting more affordable housing out of this deal then is required,” Zeilinger said. The appearance of the F1 development is not expected to change and the G1 development is unaffected.
Zeilinger said she is aware of concerns about Donatelli. “We are aware of the concern from Park 7 tenants,” she said. Residents have complained of cockroaches and poor maintenance at the building, located at 4200 Minnesota Ave. NE. “We are also aware of efforts to remedy it.”
She said that considering that original planning for the Donatelli development had begun in June 2013 she is surprised that concerns about Donatelli as a landlord are being raised at this moment. “I wasn’t hearing anything about it until now, and that was a long time ago,” she said.
Zeilinger said that in a PSH project where the city is present the agencies can enforce city standards. “In a project like this it is much easier to do because we are on-site,” she said. “They’re can’t be a delay of process because there are no cracks to fall through.”
It is important to move fast on the contract, Zeilinger said. While financing was in place for the development as previously planned, in order for the investor to build the PSH units, there needs to be surety that DHS will take on the debt. “Every time it gets delayed, we risk demonstrating that there is not the political will to do this,” she said.
Just attended a #hilleast meeting on the fate of new apartments on #reservation13. Many residents VERY frustrated by the lack of community involvement, even while supporting affordable/PS housing proposal overall. @CMCharlesAllen or @mayorvincegray did not bother to attend 1/ pic.twitter.com/d2kL5eAjBF
— John Ten Hoeve (@John10Hoeve) November 5, 2019
What’s Going on With Reservation 13?
But Hill East residents say that the sudden change to the contract is typical of the sudden changes to plans for Reservation 13. There has been discussion about development on Reservation 13 for more than fifteen years. A full plan for the area was produced together with the community in 2008.
Hill East resident John Ten Hoeve said that part of the problem is that neighbors have no idea what the city really plans to do with Reservation 13 overall. He points to the other apparently spur-of-the-moment District action in regard to Reservation 13: the city’s offers of the spot for the Olympics, to Amazon, as a potential site for an NFL Stadium.
Ten Hoeve said these, together with the 2017 designation of the area as an Economic Opportunity Zone makes him question the city’s plans for the entire area. “It would be easier for residents to really evaluate the proposal if it was situated in the context of plans for the entire Reservation 13 space,” he said. “Personally, I’m not against Permanent Supportive Housing,” said Hill East resident John Ten Hoeve. “I’m not even against PSH in this location. What I take issue with is the process by which it has been handled.”
He said he has attended meetings about the development of Reservation 13 for years. He said the rush to vote makes it impossible for community members to read the contract and raise concerns, or for the concerns to be addressed before the city signs a contract. “I’m concerned the city is not really interested in getting community input on changes,” he said.
Councilmember Charles Allen agreed that the DHS decision not to reach out prior to the DCHA meeting was a mistake, saying in a letter shared to neighborhood social media that the Mayor’s team ‘dropped the ball’ in working with his office and with neighbors. Allen said that neither he or Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray were informed about potential changes at Reservation 13 until the proposed contract was circulated to Council Oct. 31. “They also seemed unaware that for Hill East neighbors, Reservation 13 is emblematic of the city’s broken promises,” he wrote.
The Hill Rag has reached out to Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray (D) for comment.
‘A Mistake on My Part’
DHS Director Zeilinger acknowledged that the agency did not realize the full extent of community concern with development in the area. She said that DHS had been advocating over the summer for a PSH deal in Hill East. When the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) notified DHS that they were able to work with Donatelli to modify their plans to include PSH, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to move quickly.
Zeilinger acknowledged that it was a mistake not to have conducted community outreach until the week after Oct. 9, when the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) had voted to allocate local subsidies to fund the housing. “That was a mistake on my part,” she said of the delay in speaking to neighbors. “I and my team didn’t understand the dynamics and how it would be perceived overall.”
“Clearly, they felt blindsided, and the notice felt really short. We should have made a different call. That should have happened differently.” Zeilinger acknowledges that the agency still has work to do and says they are willing to do it. “We have trust to build, and we’re not going away.”
ANC 6B held a meeting on the contract on Nov. 4, shortly after it was shared by local reporter Andrew Giambrone on Twitter. Zeilinger acknowledged that the agency did not provide an adequate response to residents at that meeting. “We didn’t have all the peope that we should have had there,” she said. “We were unprepared.” Together with other agencies, DHS appeared on Nov. 13 at a meeting announced by the city two days earlier, as well as at a meeting organized by ANC 7F on Nov. 14. At press time, DHS had not confirmed attendance at a Nov. 18 meeting organized by ANC 6B, leading commissioners to cancel the meeting.
Despite the passions on the issue, Zeilinger said that engagement has been positive. “What surprised me most about [the Nov. 13 meeting] was that while it was kind of hostile at first and people felt strongly about it. Still, afterwards they came up to me and said, ‘you know, I feel really good about this now’.”
Washington, DC is experiencing some of the most extreme gentrification in the nation. Many residents are being priced out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for generations. This modern day housing crisis has mostly affect some of our most vulnerable residents. #endhomelessness pic.twitter.com/OKY1vVr5e5
— Tyrell M. Holcomb (@tmholcomb) November 16, 2019
Different Views of ANCs
Reservation 13 is located in ANC 7F, which is chaired by Tyrell Holcomb (7F01), who was a resident of the Park 7 Apartments as recently as August. Together with Holcomb ANC 7F voted in support of the PSH contract. In a statement released after the vote, Holcomb said that to do otherwise would be to ‘reject the most vulnerable people in Ward 7.’ (The Hill Rag unsuccessfully attempted to contact Commissioner Holcomb to comment for this story).
“Donatelli Development owns the land in question and rejected this resolution would mean the potential displacement of more Ward 7 residents. If the commission does not endorse permanent supportive housing; high-cost units will be built.” The ANC 7F resolution also stipulates that Donatelli will select a management company and provide a security plan.
While Reservation 13 is technically located in ANC 7F, it is located beside the Hill East residential neighborhoods of ANC 6B. At their November meeting, ANC 6B voted to send a letter to DC Council asking them to delay a vote on the contract until Dec. 5.
ANC Commissioner Denise Krepp (6B10) said that the neighborhood supports affordable housing. “We need affordable housing in this city, for teachers, fire fighters and individuals who are homeless. We are fully on board with that. That’s what the original contract was for. The neighborhood supported it,” she said.
What the neighborhood doesn’t understand, she said, is why Donatelli is being awarded a $45 million contract, given concerns with other buildings they manage in the District. She said she is frustrated that the delay in the vote hasn’t led to more conversations.
“When we asked them to take the contract off the consent calendar, we expected that they would provide a briefing, but also adapt the contract to neighborhood concerns,” she said. “It has been made very clear that they will vote on the same contract.”
Zeilinger said that DHS will continue to build relationships in Hill East, adding that often the neighbors who have the most concerns about housing later become the biggest supporters. She said that for DHS, the priority is finding housing for homeless neighbors.“For us, we can’t move fast enough when it is about the needs of people we can’t house.”