On March 9, the Board of Commissioners (The Board) for the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) voted to approve the Greenleaf Revitalization Plan (“the Plan”). The Plan provides for the replacement of all 493 public housing units with a mix of 1,410 affordable and market rate apartments and townhomes.
The Board’s resolution included an amendment pledging to “Build First,” which is a commitment to house existing residents onsite during the redevelopment project.
But many were skeptical of such a promise and wanted guarantees. DCHA Commissioners asked Greenleaf Senior Tenant Council President Patricia Bishop if she’d support the plan if a commitment to build first was made explicit. Bishop said she wanted reassurance.
“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.”
The DCHA Board recently approved a new redevelopment team for the project. Bozzuto, a former project partner, has bowed out of the deal, which is now being pursued by Pennrose Properties, EYA and Paramount Development.
DCHA manages more than 8,000 affordable housing units on 56 federally-owned parcels of land in the District. 20,000 DC residents call DCHA their landlord. An independent federal agency funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), it is governed by an 11-member Board of Commissioners. Five commissioners are nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by the DC Council. The Metropolitan Central Labor Council and the Consortium of Legal Services Providers each appoint one commissioner. The remaining four are elected by members of the public housing community. The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development also serves on the board in an ex-officio capacity.
The Greenleaf public housing complex stretches along Delaware Ave. SW, beginning on I Street SW and ending with Greenleaf Senior at 1200 Delaware Ave. It is a mix of high-rise, midrise and garden apartments, dating from 1959. It is a community primarily of families whose average median income is roughly $30,000. According to the DCHA website for Greenleaf, children make up 21 percent of residents. Only 15 percent of those living at Greenleaf are single.
Greenleaf Gardens on N Street SW, the largest component, contains 208 units, a majority of which are 77 two- and 77 three-bedroom apartments. There are also another 50 four- and five-bedroom units, whose size distinguishes Greenleaf from other public housing complexes. DCHA claims to have invested $19.9 million in repairs to the Greenleaf complex since 1996.
“Due to the age of the Greenleaf units and their advanced state of obsolescence,” DCHA wrote in a 2017 presentation, “partnership with the private sector to leverage the strong real-estate market in the Southwest neighborhood is a unique opportunity for DCHA to preserve 493 units of aging public housing and to realize the value of the underlying land.”
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton (6D06) has represented Greenleaf Senior and Greenleaf Midrise for 15 years. Over that time, Hamilton has observed the complex’s decrepit state of repair. There are residents who live with mold, rodents, bugs, asbestos contamination, fallen ceilings, flood and water damage and many other issues that impact their health negatively, she said. These largely stem from unmet critical repairs. “No residents should be exposed to lead and forced to live in deteriorating housing,” Hamilton states.
Greenleaf badly needs to be renovated. But plans for redevelopment raise issues of trust between residents and DCHA.
While the original resolution before the DCHA Board of Commissioners at their March 9 meeting did not include the words “Build First,” it did state that its planned redevelopment “minimizes resident moves and provides a plan for zero resident displacement.”
DCHA Director Brenda Donald characterized objections to the Board’s resolution as “unwarranted.” A commitment to Build First was already included in the Greenleaf plan, she stated. “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, “we [DCHA] will build a replacement unit before someone has to move if we’re doing a redevelopment.”
The plan contained specifics only for the first of five expected phases of redevelopment. Commencing in 2023, Phase One foresees the rehabilitation of Greenleaf Senior Building, creating at least 211 renovated apartments. Senior residents of the building would be shifted to unoccupied apartments while their building is renovated, avoiding their displacement.
Phase Two, slated for 2025, envisions construction of two high rise buildings. Phase Three, planned between 2028 and 2030, includes a mix of privately-owned and rental townhomes and multi-family rental buildings. Phase Five, expected to begin in 2032, includes additional town homes and multi-family buildings. The deal is based on a ground lease, DCHA said via email. “The only sale portion would be the individual parcels for each purchasing (townhome) homeowner.”
”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.
Residents were not alone in expressing a desire for specifics. ANC Commissioner Rikki Kramer (6D05) asked DCHA at its March meeting to supply her Advisory Neighborhood Commission with the specifics of the precise sequencing to implement Build First. “We want to see where each household and unit will be moved and when,” Kramer said. She also requested a copy the rules determining who could occupy the new units.
Now that the plan for the senior building has been approved in theory, DCHA will need to negotiate the specifics. The agency must negotiate a Master Development Agreement (MDA), outlining the ownership and deal structure for each phase with the developers. Then, developers must file an application for Planned Unit Development (PUD) with the DC Zoning Commission to change the density on the Greenleaf property, which is primarily zoned for garden apartments. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D (ANC 6D) will deliberate on the PUD and provide a recommendation that the Zoning Commission must accord “great weight.”
In addition to the zoning process, DCHA must apply for a Section 18 demolition and disposition for each project phase with HUD. This process enables DCHA to secure federal housing vouchers for those Greenleaf residents who request them.
The DCHA Board of Commissioners will hold two more votes on the plan’s First Phase. DCHA also pledged to make public the designs for each building prior to construction at its board meetings, meetings with Greenleaf residents and wider community meetings as well as make appearances before ANC 6D.
After the March 9th vote, Councilmember Allen said 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 to 20 years to wait for you guys to decide what you all are going to do.”