By Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC)
Since Nov. 12, when the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) Board of Commissioners authorized Director Tyrone Garrett to begin negotiations with Greenleaf co-developers Pennrose, EYA, and Bozzuto, community leaders have been focused on making sure Greenleaf residents will enjoy vastly improved housing as a result of the redevelopment. They also want to ensure that residents are protected from multiple moves in or out of Southwest as they await places in the new development.
The Board of the Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC) met on Dec. 12 and identified several issues that remain to be clarified for the Greenleaf residents, for the community, and for the prospective negotiations. The Greenleaf Advisory Council, four of whom also sit on the CBCC Board, met with DCHA and the co-developers on Dec. 21 and learned that most of these questions remain unanswered and negotiable.
First among them, “Build First,” as understood by the community and memorialized by a City Council resolution, requires one-for-one replacement in Southwest of all 493 units in the new mixed income development. Where and when those units will be built is not yet known. As Greenleaf Advisory Council and CBCC Board member Deb Frazier recalled, one-for-one replacement was also promised to former residents of Arthur Capper Carrollsburg in SE when replacement began in 2007, but of the 707 units to be replaced, 243 are yet to be delivered.
Furthermore, Greenleaf currently includes 149 large units with three to five bedrooms. How many large units will be recreated in the new development, or what rules will govern who occupies larger units is not known. This could be critical for large families and multi-generational households, including residents who may have temporarily relocated during the pandemic but will need to reconnect and reestablish their households in the new development.
Second, “Build First” means that the new unit must be built before any resident is moved. The goal is only one move, from the current unit to the new one, thus negating any temporary moves in or out of Southwest, with the right to return. But according to DCHA’s description, “Build First” will only “minimize” resident moves, not prevent them.
More than an inconvenience, housing instability has been shown to be a major contributor to the variety of other domestic challenges that make steady work, success in school, and connections to needed services problematic. The properties the co-developer is considering for the first replacement units, which might ensure one move for Greenleaf residents, have not been built and their future availability must still be negotiated.
This lack of a specificity raises additional concerns. The intention of Build First is to keep current residents in their Southwest community and maintain critical social bonds and connections to services, as well as preserve Southwest’s iconic social diversity – a first principle in Southwest’s Small Area Plan. If future properties that would have been otherwise used to contribute to the overall profile of demographic diversity, instead of social diversity, it would be a net loss for Southwest. The possible use of vouchers in Southwest or elsewhere raises other concerns. Vouchers are a scarce resource and landlords who accept them are similarly scarce. Greenleaf residents should not compete with others who need subsidized housing but have fewer options.
Third, details about ownership and management of the new development will determine who will be eligible for replacement units immediately and over time. DCHA has indicated that it is not relinquishing ownership, but what that means is not clear. What remains unclear is: what role DCHA will have in overseeing public housing/public subsidy renters over time and in properties not currently in the DCHA portfolio; what tenant rights will accrue to former public housing residents and other low-income renters over time; and whether residents will be allowed to participate in policy development and have a continued role in the new mixed-income development. All of this, in part, will be determined by who controls the new properties.
Finally, what is the timing and sequence of Greenleaf demolition and replacement construction? In order to avoid a repeat of the Arthur Capper Carrollsburg experience and ensure that the Southwest community is not in an unending state of flux, as well as attending to Greenleaf residents who currently live in intolerable conditions, this project, as complex as it is, needs a clear and reasonable beginning, middle, and end.
Although the details are critical to understanding what will be negotiated and toward what end, the DCHA Commissioners had not reviewed the co-developer’s proposal at the time of their November meeting, nor has the Greenleaf Advisory Council to date. The CBCC Board has not taken a position in support of the proposal, but the four CBCC Board members, who are also members of the Greenleaf Advisory Council, have written to DCHA expressing their concerns.
Stakeholders are grateful that communication with DCHA has opened up, however. DCHA had its first of a promised monthly meeting with Greenleaf residents on Dec. 10, and the next of promised quarterly meetings with the Greenleaf Advisory Council will be in March 2021. CBCC/Advisory Council members asked to be notified of the monthly resident meetings and hoped to attend as observers. What the continuing role for the Greenleaf Advisory Council will be is not clear. What is clear, though, is there are critical questions that should underlie the current negotiation with the co-developer and that Greenleaf residents and community stakeholders will want answers before the final decision is made.