City Meets with Hill East Residents on Plan to Increase Low Income Housing on Res 13

More than 50 Hill Easters turned out for a meeting at Eastern High School to hear about the plan to put additional low income housing on Reservation 13.  Laura Zeilinger, Director of the DC Department of Human Services is at far left.

City Meets with Hill East Residents on Plan to Increase Low Income Housing on Res 13

By Larry Janezich

Laura Zeilinger Director of the Department of Human Services met with more than 50 Hill East residents Wednesday night to discuss the city’s plan for putting additional low income housing on Reservation 13. Also present were reps from the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Planning and Economic Development and Donatelli Development.  The plan – unveiled on November 1 via tweet by the editor of the real estate blog Curbed DC – caught Hill East residents by surprise.

Hill East residents and ANCs 6B and 7F are calling foul saying the plan to increase the number of low income housing was kept under wraps by the city and the developer and discovered only days before a scheduled November 5th vote in the City Council where the $45 million contract with Donatelli Development had been marked for expedited passage without debate.

Objections by Hill East residents and ANC commissioners prompted CM Charles Allen to pull the bill off the agenda and reschedule it for November 19th.

Donatelli is developing two mixed use buildings on Res 13 near the Stadium Armory Metro in Hill East.  The original plan called for a larger south building (currently under construction) with a 31  affordable units plus 131 market rate units, and a smaller north building with 91 units – 38 for households with 0% to 30% of Area Median Income (deeply affordable), 37 for households of 31% to 60% of AMI (affordable), and 16 market rate units.

That plan has changed under the radar of Hill East and Ward 7 residents (Reservation 13 is actually in Ward 7).  The city has reached an agreement with the developer on a $45 million contract providing for the yet to-be-constructed north building to be 100% “deeply affordable” single bedroom units intended for those with 0 – 30% of Area Median Income.

Zeilinger explained that the 100 ow income unit will be Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) units.  PSH provides a rent subsidy and services – 24 hour security, on-site case management, and clinical staff available 24/7.  There is no time limit on residents – it depends on the needs of the person.  The difference between the old plan and the new is 100 units at 0 – 30% Area Median Income vs. 38 units at 0 – 30%..  She said PSH is necessary because the city has difficulty placing the homeless using tenant-based vouchers which go directly to the landlord, because potential tenants are competing with better qualified tenants.

Hill East activist Andre Speaks spoke for many Hill Easters when he expressed concern about whether the project would actually be a homeless shelter and cited their resentment that Hill East is continuing to be the go-to site for a place to deal with the city’s problems. He is not against affordable housing, he said, but asked, “why this building and why now?  It won’t be ready in 2022, and there are already buildings in Southwest which could be used now.”

Zeilinger said that the difference between PSH and a homeless shelter is that the leaseholders have a stake in the property – they have their own keys – they agree to rules when they move in – they have sense of control over their environment. In a homeless shelter residents have no choice about who comes and who goes – they face hyper-vigilance and violence – and In their own space, people get well.

She offered to facilitate tours of other PSH buildings in the city so people can judge for themselves.  Operators of the facilities are selected by competitive bid.  One such building and operator is Conway Residences on North Capitol and operator Todd Chapman.  Chapman was on hand to relate his ten years of work in supportive housing and vouch for the success of PSH buildings..  He says he operates Conway like an apartment building, and noted that project received the endorsement of ANC6C.

Aside from the fact of the increase in deeply affordable units, Hill Easters expressed resentment about being blind-sided by the process and being presented with a fait accompli.  Community Activist Maurice Cook said that the community was not consulted and now “we have been presented with a plan that is totally different than the proposed two mixed income project.”

Zeilinger said the city had reached out to ANC commissioners “but had received no response” – a claim that elicited scoffs from the audience.  She acknowledged that “it is clear we need to do some repair work with the community.  The process failed – we can’t change it.  We will move forward and work with you on an informed process.”

ANC6B Commissioner Denise Krepp has requested DC Inspector General Daniel Lucas to investigate the proposed contract for the PSH building on Reservation 13, charging that the awarding of the contract was not consistent with current policies.

And last Tuesday, ANC6B sent two letters to city officials.  The first requested a further delay in Council consideration of the contract until December 3.  The second requested representatives of city agencies to appear at a November 188h Hill East Task Force Meeting hosted by Commissioner Krepp, at 6:30pm at St. Coletta, to discuss the project.

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