Housing Authority Says Rebuilding Capper Senior Center Will Take 2.5 Years
By Larry Janezich
Tuesday night, Kerry L Smyser, Senior Deputy Director of the DC Housing Authority (DCHA), told ANC6B’s Planning and Zoning Committee that rebuilding the Arthur Capper Senior Center at 900 5th Street, SE, will take 2.5 years. A demolition contractor has been selected, and demolition will begin in “the next week or so,” according to Smyser. The building had a wooden frame; consequently no part of the structure except the concrete can be salvaged. The intent is to rebuild the exact building.
The building was destroyed by fire on September 19 leaving 160 residents homeless. Some personal possessions of residents were saved, but much was lost to fire and water damage. DCHA has issued vouchers for temporary housing for the former residents in the interim. The vouchers gives the residents the option to live in the community of their choice in a rental unit in any privately owned property in the city, as long as it meets Fair Market Rent standards established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Tenants pay 30 percent of their household income for housing – DCHA pays the rest directly to the landlord.
Smyser said A Wider Circle – a (501(3) charitable nonprofit organization http://awidercircle.org/ – has engaged with residents to provide furniture, and churches have stepped up to adopt some seniors and provide clothing.
The conversation about Capper evolved out of an appearance by Smyser before ANC6B to enlist its support for a five year extension of a vacant square in ANC6D for use as a parking lot, pending on-going planning for its eventual development into market rate, public, and affordable housing. The agency has been using the lot for parking for the baseball stadium and for commercial parking for the past ten years, using the revenue for pre-planning for new housing on the site.
ANC6B commissioner and Planning and Zoning Committee chair Nick Burger, pressed Smyser on why DCHA couldn’t move faster to develop affordable housing in the face of the housing “I don’t want to say crisis, but…” The lot has been used for parking for ten years while plans are developed for the housing project. Smyser explained the complicated relationship between the DCHA – an independent agency of the city government – and the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, difficulty in getting financing, the scarcity of pre-development funds, tenuous support from other DC agencies, the ongoing redoing of 13 of DCHA’s 56 public housing properties, and the desire of DCRA to maintain control over any housing developments rather than sell land to a developer – all of which work to slow progress on development of vacant land owned by DCRA.
The committee voted 10 – 0 to support continuation of the use of the lot for parking for another five years with the hope that this would be the last request for an extension. The letter will go to the full ANC6B for final action at its December meeting next Tuesday.
The District of Columbia Housing Authority is an independent government agency whose purpose is to provide affordable housing to extremely low-to moderate-income households. It is one of DC’s largest landlords, providing some 50,000 low-income residents with affordable housing, tenant- and project-based housing vouchers, and mixed-income properties.