By Fredrica Kramer, ANC 6D05 and Vice Chair, ANC 6D
At its June 14, 2021 Business Meeting, ANC 6D voted to submit to the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to review the principal documents that describe the Greenleaf redevelopment proposal. The FOIA request grows out of an increasing concern with the vague and shifting descriptions of key components of the Greenleaf redevelopment plan, one of the largest, and perhaps most important demolition and rebuilding projects in the residential heart of Southwest.
Redevelopment concerns are first about the fate of the residents of the 493 units in Greenleaf, and ensuring that they are successfully integrated into the new development, but also about replacing Greenleaf’s 15 acres and 23 buildings with a complex that supports diversity across age, race, income, and family size, as reflected in the principles of the Southwest Small Area Plan.
ANC 6D is especially concerned about DCHA’s ability to implement the community’s commitment to so-called “Build First” – one-for-one replacement of all 493 units, and building the new units first so that residents move once, from current to new unit within Southwest. Build First means that no Greenleaf residents would be displaced out of the community, or forced to move multiple times, including out of the neighborhood with the uncertain ability to return. The last point is crucial since other redevelopment plans for public housing have also included a build first component, but many families have been forced to move out of the community, with offers to return taking years and making it impractical to uproot again to return to their old neighborhood. For example, redevelopment of Arthur Capper Carrollsburg, now Capitol Quarter in Southeast, began in 2001, and while some residents have resettled in new Navy Yard units, others are still waiting for over 200 replacement units of the original 707 public housing units to be delivered.
Although ANC 6D has been following the emergence of the Greenleaf redevelopment plan closely, with Commissioners Hamilton, Collins, and Kramer sitting on DCHA’s Greenleaf Advisory Group (also referred to as Committee or Council), neither ANC 6D nor the residents have ever seen, apart from a single drawing of building layout, the actual plan guiding DCHA’s negotiations with the co-developers. That calls into question how Build First will be realized, but also what kind of housing the entire project will deliver and for whom.
The Advisory Group and residents got a general introduction to the four finalist development teams in December 2019 but gleaned little meaningful content about their proposals, and then heard nothing until the DCHA Board of Commissioners (BOC) met in October 2020 and rejected then Director Garrett’s request for authorization to begin negotiations with his chosen winner, Pennrose, EYA and Bozzuto Development.
DCHA received the authorization from the BOC in November 2020 with a commitment to meet at least monthly with the residents and quarterly with the Advisory Group in order to correct the prior lack of communication with the community.
In a handful of meetings with DCHA and the co-developer beginning in December 2020, it has become clear that the plan for Build First is uncertain, twisting, at times entirely unrealistic, and now entangled in the Westminster redevelopment project, potentially compromising both projects’ objectives.
The first Build First options presented were the Capitol Park Plaza and Twins properties for temporary relocation in units in the existing towers and the sale and potential redevelopment of their rear parking lot, and using the 123 unit senior building proposed as part of the Westminster redevelopment project.
ANC 6D has been adamantly and publicly opposed to losing the 123 Westminster senior units to any other purpose than that originally proposed. Southwest has been eagerly awaiting these 123 affordable units, subsidized for a range of income levels with a portion up to 60% of Medium Family Income (MFI), though none deeply affordable, since the idea was introduced several years ago and is now part of Westminster’s application to the Zoning Commission for its redevelopment project. While ANC 6D has remained committed to the successful relocation of the Greenleaf seniors, losing the additional Westminster senior units would reduce the total of 313 senior units from the two projects to only the 190 Greenleaf replacements.
In an April 5, 2021 letter to the Zoning Commission, ANC 6D reiterated its commitment to both ensuring that current Southwest residents can age in place and contribute to the iconic diversity that has made the community unique, and to ensuring that none of its public housing residents are displaced, and reaffirming that the projects served different needs and neither should be compromised.
By the April 8 meeting of the Advisory Group, in response to the ANC’s objection, it was learned that the 123 unit Westminster senior building would not be used for Greenleaf replacement, but the 99 units in Westminster’s market rate condo building would be used instead. This was the first mention of using the 99 units in the market rate building of the Westminster project, which is particularly problematic given that these units had always been portrayed as necessary to pay for the project’s wholly subsidized senior units.
Since then, the proposal for Build First has variously dropped a Capitol Park option, added a “Make Ready” option of rehabilitating the worst 48 units in Greenleaf and James Creek for Build First relocations, as well as renovating (and preserving) the current Greenleaf Senior Building. It has been noted that unless Greenleaf is not redeveloped, the “Make Ready” renovated units proposed will be irrelevant once Greenleaf is razed.
In other words, we are approaching two years of on and off discussions, head-spinning variations for Build First options and no clear idea of what was promised and what is practicable.
What is clear is that the co-developer proposal does not appear to have any firm plan for Build First replacement units. Without knowing what was actually proposed, the community’s efforts to protect its interests in the Greenleaf redevelopment, and to work with DCHA to realize a successful redevelopment, is largely unachievable.
Thus, ANC 6D’s decision to file a FOIA request to review the proposals.