Cathedral Heights apartments in Ward 3 (Courtesy photo)
Cathedral Heights apartments in Ward 3 (Courtesy photo)

Ward 3 resident Kevin Bryan has come to appreciate the benefits of living in Cathedral Heights, a relatively secluded community in Ward 3 that’s not only known for its proximity to the National Cathedral, but a bevy of grocery stores and amenities within walking distance of residents’ homes. 

More than a decade ago, Bryan moved to Ward 3 when he entered a lease for an apartment on Connecticut Avenue, not too far from where he worked as a policy consultant in Dupont Circle. 

Long before a friend helped him secure that apartment at a price below market rate, Bryan, an alumnus of Howard University, lived in the Shaw neighborhood and later Fairfax Village in Southeast. Bryan said that hookup paved the way for the purchase of a condo that he currently shares with his wife.  

That’s why, amid ongoing discussions about increasing the District’s affordable housing stock, Bryan, a Black D.C. resident, counts among the chorus of voices in favor of expanding affordable housing to the affluent communities located west of Rock Creek Park. 

He called it a matter of addressing the elephant in the room. 

“In a heterogeneous society, concentration of poverty is not good.” Bryan said. “So much of the polarization in our country is race driven, and that’s because our country is, more often than not, segregated in housing. D.C. is not that much different. We like to think we are but we’re not. Race and class are inextricably linked. You can’t talk about one and not the other, and not talking about either impacts our ability to relate to each other.”  

Advocating for the Affordable Housing Property Acquisition Fund

Ward 3, also known as Rock Creek West, has 1 percent of the District’s dedicated affordable housing, compared to the 30 percent located in the Southern portions of the District. In a survey conducted by the Bowser administration two years ago, 60 percent of respondents identified Ward 3 as the ideal location for affordable housing because of accessible transportation, quality schools and access to employment opportunities. 

In late 2021, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) set a goal for more than 1,900 new affordable housing units in Ward 3 by 2025. There have since been questions of how that goal–  part of the Bowser administration’s vision for 36,000 new homes and more racially diverse and inclusive communities — will come to fruition.  

For years, affiliates of the Ward 3 Housing Justice Working Group have suggested that the District purchase and convert the former Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Woodley Park to affordable housing. The Bowser administration decided against that, opting instead to allow a developer to construct 900 units, 72 of which would be set aside as affordable housing. 

Bowser revealed a similar move in February with the redevelopment of the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home on Western Avenue, which will produce 93 units of affordable senior housing. 

However, such arrangements don’t suffice for the Ward 3 Housing Justice Working Group, a coalition composed of Empower DC members, the Wardman Hotel Strategy Group and the Northwest Opportunity Partners Community Development Corporation. 

During a virtual Ward 3 budget forum in January, Ward 3 Councilmember Matt Frumin (D) said he would encourage his colleagues on the D.C. Council’s Committee on Housing to pursue a $100 million allocation in Bowser’s FY 2024 budget toward the Affordable Housing Property Acquisition Fund. 

During the budget forum, Deirdre Brown, a one-time Ward 3 D.C. Council candidate, implored Frumin to support the Affordable Housing Property Acquisition Fund, through which the funds would be used to purchase property that could be converted into affordable housing. 

Though Frumin described the $100 million investment as the quickest way to meet Ward 3’s affordable housing goals, he acknowledged the District chief financial officer’s recently released revised revenue estimate might complicate efforts to secure those funds for the upcoming fiscal year. 

Despite that being the case, Frumin said he will continue to advocate for those funds. 

“One of the big barriers to building affordable housing in Ward 3 is the value of the land, which is based on higher economic yield. It makes it difficult to pencil out affordable housing,” Frumin said. “If the city stepped in and purchased that property and did an RFP (request for proposal) that had requirements for different levels of affordable housing, workforce housing and market-rate housing. It could be an available tool by taking some of the cost of the land out of the equation.” 

The Limits of Inclusionary Zoning Seen in Real Time 

In Friendship Heights, Federal Realty Investment Trust is currently in the throes of a redevelopment project that will turn Friendship Center into a building that has 350 residential units sitting above retail space. 

Northwest Opportunity Partners Community Development Corporation, in collaboration with ANC Commissioner Ali Gianinno, made headway in securing a planned use development, or PUD, that supports the inclusion of Black-and-brown-owned businesses in Friendship Place in the retail space. 

In terms of the residential space, 15 percent of the units had been set aside for tenants making up to 60 percent of the median family income. When Federal Realty Investment Trust appealed to the D.C. Zoning Commission for zoning relief last year, the Ward 3 Housing Justice Working Group demanded that the developer increase the percentage of affordable units in Friendship Center to 20 percent and lower the threshold to 40 percent of the median family income.  

At the beginning of this year, the D.C. Zoning Commission approved Federal Realty Investment Trust’s request for zoning relief by a 4-0-1 vote. During their deliberation, the zoning board members said they found the amount of affordable housing provided via the inclusionary zoning program to be sufficient, despite the Ward 3 Housing Justice Working Group’s objections. 

They also expressed apprehension about using Inclusionary Zoning-plus, a new program that facilitates the expansion of affordable housing when developers request map amendments. 

For Meg Maguire of the Ward 3 Housing Justice Working Group, this particular situation further highlights the need for the $100 million investment in the Affordable Housing Property Acquisition Fund, what she described as the only way to enable developers who are committed to expanding affordable housing in Ward 3 to fulfill their mission. 

“The potential is huge [for] the redevelopment of upper Wisconsin Avenue,” Maguire said. “The question is whether the development will include affordable housing at the level attractive and affordable for people working in Ward 3. That’s the big question to be determined, in part, by whether we are able to get significant funding in the budget for land acquisition for affordable housing. We can’t rely on inclusionary zoning.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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