Community

Brookland Manor Coalition Remains Skeptical About RIA Development

After losing a battle in an appeals court against a real estate developer, residents at Brookland Manor Apartments wonder if they’ll be able to return to live in their community upon completion of the Rhode Island Avenue (RIA) development project.

Though MidCity Financial Corp. denies the prospect of displacement, some residents, like Cheryl Brunson, voice disappointment in the support it has received from the District’s government, specifically a $47 million tax increment financing the D.C. Council approved three years ago.

“We’ve been fighting all the officials on this matter but everyone comes up a winner except the residents,” said Brunson, a Brookland Manor resident of nearly 30 years.

Brunson, who lives in a four-bedroom apartment with her children and grandchildren, said she fears that the new apartments will be out of her family’s price range.

She recounted to The Informer similar situations throughout the District where development in other affordable housing communities either forced multigenerational families to break up or pushed them to other District neighborhoods and the suburbs.

“They’re disrupting people’s livelihood, taking our roofs from over our heads and breaking up generations of families,” said Brunson. “Family means a lot to African Americans. It’s [about] the structure of good living and how to do certain things.”

Solution Remains Elusive

On Sept. 11, the Brookland Manor Coalition, the group at the forefront of a nearly eight-year fight against MidCity, hosted a health fair. Organizers said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had been scheduled to attend and listen to the concerns about displacement from community members.

Bowser, who memorialized the 9/11 attacks at DCFD Engine Co. 16 earlier that day, didn’t attend the community event. Instead, members of her Ward 5 constituent services team spent time with residents and other visitors who converged on the property to receive information about various resources.

To the chagrin of some Brookland Manor residents, MidCity has not released information about the current composition of the more than 500 apartments, specifically the number of one-bedroom units and those with two, three, four and five bedrooms.

Such information, members of the Brookland Manor Coalition said, provides a reference point for the RIA development project. It also gauges MidCity’s commitment to maintaining affordable housing for all Brookland Manor tenants, many of whom have lived there for decades.

A MidCity representative didn’t respond to our inquiry about the current composition of the units on the premises or when it plans to release such information to the Brookland Manor Coalition, which is composed of Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents’ Association and its allies.

However, in referencing communication that has been circulated, the representative said MidCity will build family-sized units to suit current Brookland Manor residents and work with the D.C. Housing Authority to increase voucher payments. The representative also said residents could stay on the premises during development.

Brookland Manor, in combination with the now-demolished Brentwood Village Shopping Center, will morph into a mixed-use community with nearly 1,800 residential units, commercial and retail space and areas for community gatherings. The first phase of construction involves building 200 units of affordable housing for seniors and 131 units of multifamily housing.

A source familiar with the process told The Informer that MidCity established a relationship with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that allows it to designate 373 units at RIA as affordable housing.

The rest, they said, would become market-rate housing, the monthly payments for which residents could subsidize with a voucher.

Akela Crawford, an attorney who, on behalf of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, represented the Brookland Manor Coalition in court earlier this year, said there’s still cause for concern when one considers that Brookland Manor originally had 535 units.

Crawford described the playing field as inequitable, saying that without explicitly revealing housing demographics and presenting a detailed plan to prevent displacement, MidCity has enough latitude to shortchange current residents without consequence.

“The Zoning Commission seems to be siding with the developer [and] now the city is more complicit because of the changes to the Comprehensive Plan which [allows] the developer to build a certain density,” said Crawford, who has since taken on a role with another nonprofit.

“Once the Comprehensive Plan is approved by Congress, MidCity will have a matter of right to build higher if they choose [without] community input.”

Pushed Out and Harassed

In a May open letter to Ward 5 residents, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who navigated the $47 million tax increment financing through the council, said the Comprehensive Plan, specifically the part that refers to Planned Unit Developments, ties increases to density to increases to affordable housing units.

Such increases, McDuffie said, would also impose mandates to include family housing – apartments with three, four and five-bedrooms.

As the District experienced urban development over the last decade, the cost of living has significantly increased for District families seeking family housing. The increasing rent burden, in part, has shifted the District’s racial demographics. Blacks currently account for less than half of the population.

In 2018, this trend compelled Ari Theresa, an attorney with Stoop Law DC, to file a $1 billion class-action lawsuit against the District government. Brookland Manor residents have attempted, in many cases unsuccessfully, to circumvent management’s strategies to force evictions.

Some coalition members, including the Rev. Dr. Loretta J. Houston, recounted other intimidation tactics by MidCity, such as the closing of green space, security officers’ harassment of residents for negligible infractions and alleges MidCity has condoned illegal activity carried out by nonresidents.

“They’re displacing people every day, trying to make them miserable,” said Houston, a former resident who currently serves as a board member of the Brookland Manor Tenants Association.

Eager to confront the mayor, she awaited Bowser’s arrival at the Brookland Manor health fair on Sept. 11.

“I want Mayor Bowser to know that the $47 million that the city gave to MidCity could have been given to residents to buy them a house,” she said. “The government has to do better by the people.”

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