Residents Remain Skeptical as Greenleaf Plans Move Forward

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Greenleaf Gardens. File Photo.

The Board of the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) voted to approve the Greenleaf Reviatlization Plan. In response to community outcry, the resolution included an amendment supporting ‘build first’ as part of the plan, meaning that current residents would not be displaced by the renovation.

However, residents remained skeptical, even as the vote was taken. Greenleaf Senior Tenant Council President Patricia Bishop was asked if she’d support the plan if a commitment to build first is was made explicit.  Bishop said that she wanted to see the commitment in the plans prior to supporting them. “I would like to see it in black and white,” she said. ”Until we get everything in black and white there should be no moving forward in Greenleaf.”

Both Bishop and other residents at Greenleaf said they were having hard time trusting the process, citing miscommunication. Bishop said that many members of the committee convened by DCHA to discuss the plan with residents did not live on site. She also said the text of the resolution was distributed to residents only the night before, precluding effective comment.

Incorporating A Specific Commitment 

The original resolution before the DCHA Board of Commissioners at their Mar. 9 meeting did not include the words “build first,” although it did state the planned redevelopment “minimizes resident moves and provides a plan for zero resident displacement.”

The community expressed their immediate concern. Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) wrote a letter expressing strong support for a commitment to Build First, noting that it was a community expectation. “The promises made to the Council, ANC 6D and most importantly to the residents of Greenleaf Public Housing must be honored and kept,” he wrote. Commissioners from Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), which represents the area, met with DCHA Monday to voice their support for the commitment.

DCHA Director Brenda Donald said objections to the resolution based on a need for language around build first were not warranted. She said that commitment was already included in the Greenleaf plan. “We do not have an extra parcel to build outside the property, but we have committed to building on the property,” Donald said. “No one will be displaced.”

Asked to define build first, Donald said it means that “we [DCHA] will build a replacement unit before someone has to move if we’re doing a redevelopment.”

The DCHA Director said she welcomed an amendment to include that language explicitly, which was moved by DCHA Commissioner LeJuan Strickland: ”Whereas DCHA shall insure no residents on the site shall be displaced, there will be a build first option for each household at every phase of the revitalization plan.”

Five Phases of Development

The Greenleaf complex stretches along Delaware Avenue SW, beginning on I Street SW and ending at Greenleaf Senior at 1200 Delaware Avenue and consists of 493 units. The plan is to redevelop these into 1,410 new units including townhouses, some of which will be offered at market rate. The redevelopment team includes Pennrose Properties, EYA, and Paramount Development.

The plan before the DCHA Board contained specifics only for the first of five expected phases of redevelopment. Expected to begin in 2023, Phase I includes rehabilitation of Greenleaf Senior and supposed to create at least 211 units and potentially creates additional new units. The development of two high rise buildings in Phase II is slated for 2025. Phase III, including town homes and multi-family buildings is slated for 2028 and 2030, and the final phase, additional town homes and multi-family buildings is expected to begin ten years from now.

But residents don’t believe they will be around to enjoy the renovations and said they wanted more information.

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While the resolution as passed includes a commitment to build first, Donald noted that there was no extra parcel to build outside the property, but said DCHA has committed to building on the Greenleaf property itself. But the first part of the plan calls for renovations to the 215-unit Greenleaf Senior building, currently only partially occupied. DCHA has proposed moving seniors into unoccupied units during the renovation; DCHA officials assured the meeting their were sufficient units to do so. But residents are unclear about where they will live while the renovation is undertaken.

”You guys are asking us to move forward and you’re telling us you’re moving forward,” said Joan Williams, a resident at the Greenleaf Senior Building. “However, what are we moving forward to? We don’t know.” The uncertainty, Williams told the board, is causing mental stress for the residents and exasperating existing health conditions.

More Details Requested

Residents were not alone in expressing a desire for specifics. ANC 6D05 Commissioner Rikki Kramer appeared at the meeting to ask that DCHA include a commitment to build first in the resolution. On Behalf of the ANC, she also asked that DCHA supply specifics on how build first will work at Greenleaf,  including precise sequencing. “We want to see where each household and unit will be moved and when,” Kramer said, also asking for the rules for who could occupy the new units.

Some DCHA Commissioners remained skeptical about the financials behind the plans. Commissioner Bill Slover noted that a DCHA resolution passed in January 2019 was supposed to address the absence of detail needed for the board to make decision. Slover said the board was being asked to approve a revitalization plan with no data or information as basis. He said he had asked for copies of the response to the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the site, but has not seen the 16 months later when he has been asked to approve them.

“What we do time and time again is we put in a $100 million piece of land and get no consideration,” Slover said. “And to understand what offer was made that was so compelling that we went with this team, and 16 months later, we still don’t have that info. Two years from now, when we’re asked to approve the next phase, we won’t have a choice,” he finished.

DCHA Commissioner Hoffman agreed. She asked why Bozzuto withdrew from the development team and if the plans were still feasible with one member less. DCHA officials said Bozzuto explained that “they felt the economics have changed and didn’t want to be part of it,” Mayoral Appointee Jose Arnaldo Ortiz Gould said. (Bozzuto did not return a request for comment).

Work Ahead

The resolution was necessary to move forward with the Master Development Agreement (MDA), said Gould. That’s where details will be worked out. The DCHA Board of Commissioners will have at least two additional opportunities to vote on the plan, he said.

After the meeting, Councilmember Allen noting that the community’s work to ensure the DCHA commitment to build first would continue. “This has been the expectation from Day one,” he wrote in a Tweet, “and we’ll fight together to make sure it happens!”

But some residents expressed fatigue with that work. “We’ve been told so many different things,” said Greenleaf resident Williams; “our seniors don’t have 10-20 years to wait for you guys to decide what you all are going to do.”