A number of neighborhood groups have been working for months on how to implement a “build first” strategy for Greenleaf, so existing residents are not displaced from Southwest while the public housing complex is redeveloped over the next several years. “Build First” was first made popular by former Ward 6 councilmember and current director of the DC’s Department of Energy & Environment, Tommy Wells. In previous cases across the city where public housing complexes were redeveloped, current residents were given vouchers or moved to other areas of the city while redevelopment occurred. Once the new housing was built, some of the residents who met eligibility standards were allowed to return. In the case of Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg in Navy Yard, which was redeveloped through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Hope VI program, it has been about a decade since the old buildings were demolished and many former residents remain displaced, thanks to extended construction timelines of replacement housing and eligibility limitations. In contrast, a “build first” model allows vacant areas of a public housing complex or other parcels in the vicinity to be redeveloped first so residents can stay in the community during the redevelopment process. Many believe “build first” is the only way to avoid permanent displacement, but it is typically difficult to implement because there usually isn’t enough land available or the political will to do it. “Build first” can be implemented at Greenleaf because there is sufficient land available and, because of community activism, this is the first time public officials have put themselves on record in support of seeing it realized.

There Is Plenty of Land in Southwest

Greenleaf stretches 15 acres across several city blocks on either side of M Street and includes 493 public housing units in 23 buildings. The majority of the units are two-bedroom apartments, a minority of units in new housing developed recently in Southwest, and the mix ranges from one-bedroom up to six-bedroom units. One of the components of Greenleaf is a seniors building on Delaware Avenue and M Street, and displacement would be even more of a hardship for this population, so the focus of the Community Benefits Coordination Council (CBCC) has been to find one or more sites for a mixed-income seniors building. Unity Health Care’s Southwest Health Center at Delaware Avenue and I Street has been identified as a potential location for such a complex, combining health services and mixed-income seniors housing. Although the three-story building is a historic landmark, there is the potential to build residential units above and on land adjacent to the clinic.

Unity leases the building from the DC government and does not have the funds to maintain the building. The elevator no longer works and the cost to repair it is too expensive for Unity, so they have decided to do a minor renovation of the facility by moving all services to the first floor. As a result, the Southwest Health Center will lose dental services once renovations are complete in 2016.  If the Unity site is redeveloped as a health center/mixed-income seniors housing complex as a part of Greenleaf’s redevelopment, funds would be available to fully renovate the building, and allow dental services to return to the clinic, as well as the potential for additional services. This is a proposal that has been introduced and supported by the CBCC in order to avoid displacement of Greenleaf residents, including the seniors as a result of redevelopment. As CBCC Vice Chair Fredrica Kramer said, “Having easy access—health services by elevator—to a greatly expanded clientele would be a mutual win for the [DC] Housing Authority [DCHA], the community’s larger-than-city-average senior population, and the current primary health care provider.”

Political Support

The ANC voted unanimously in October on a resolution, sponsored by 6D-03 Commissioner Rachel Reilly Carroll, called “Resolution in Support of Avoiding the Displacement of Public Housing Residents During the Redevelopment of Public Housing Buildings in the Southwest Neighborhood,” which supports a “build first” model for Greenleaf’s eventual redevelopment. The resolution urges DCHA, the DC City Council, and the Office of the Mayor to form an Interagency Working Group within the next 30 days to evaluate the feasibility of executing a “build first” strategy utilizing one or more of the 21 publicly owned parcels in Southwest identified during the Office of Planning’s recent Southwest Neighborhood Plan process. In addition, the ANC would like at least one commissioner to serve on the Interagency Working Group and to report on its progress and findings at least once a month to the Greenleaf Neighborhood Advisory Group until redevelopment commences.

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen has also expressed strong support. Allen introduced a Sense of the Council Resolution in October supporting a “build first” model for Greenleaf. The resolution states in part:

“The Greenleaf and surrounding Southwest community share significant concerns regarding potential displacement of current Greenleaf public housing residents as part of the DCHA future redevelopment. The Office of Planning, as part of its extensive small area plan process, recognized these concerns and included recommendations in its Southwest Neighborhood Plan, which was approved by the Council of the District of Columbia on July 14, 2015.”

Greenleaf Redevelopment Plan

A public meeting was held on Oct. 24 by DCHA, master planner Perkins Eastman, and consultant HR&A Advisors to discuss the redevelopment of Greenleaf. More than 100 people attended the meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church, including a large number of Greenleaf residents, other residents of the Southwest community, and public officials. Many of the attendees expressed their desire for DCHA to implement a “build first” model for Greenleaf. At the meeting, there were five design principles discussed that will be used in the redevelopment of Greenleaf:

  1. Utilize a mix of tall and low buildings;
  2. Create a well-defined public green space;
  3. Use trees to beautify, help make place, and create a healthier living environment;
  4. Connect the new Greenleaf to other areas of the city;
  5. All new construction must first and foremost be exemplary urban architecture.

The October meeting was the first chance for the greater Southwest community to get involved in the redevelopment process, but Greenleaf residents have been engaged over the past year or so. According to the HR&A consultants’ presentation, the redevelopment plan will be created over the next six to nine months with two additional community meetings planned in the interim. The final plan is expected to be completed sometime in mid-2016. After that, an request for proposal will be released, and it will take another six to nine months to receive responses, get community input, and select a winning developer. Then, developer negotiations will take a year to 18 months to complete, but design and permitting can be done concurrently. After that, construction can begin on the first phases, which can take two to three years to complete. Other phases will be completed depending on market conditions.

A Model for the District

The redevelopment of Greenleaf as a mixed income community should be possible without displacing current residents. Implementing a “build first” model, starting with a health center/mixed-income seniors housing complex at the Unity site would be a win-win for the community—expanded health services in a modern facility and seniors of all income levels can “age in place” with easy access to medical care. This can serve as a model for the district, and perhaps the nation, as aging public housing complexes are razed in favor of mixed-income communities.

By: William Rich

CBCC Board Member

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