D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (third from left) celebrates the start of construction on the Interim Retail Village at Parcel 15 on the St. Elizabeths East campus with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 11. (Courtesy of the Office of the Mayor)
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (third from left) celebrates the start of construction on the Interim Retail Village at Parcel 15 on the St. Elizabeths East campus with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 11. (Courtesy of the Office of the Mayor)

As the St. Elizabeths East campus in Ward 8 in southeast Washington continues to develop, concerns have arisen regarding the affordability of the housing located on the large massive development.

“I would like to live here, it seems like a nice place to be,” said Jackie Crenshaw, while attending the festivities surrounding the groundbreaking of Parcel 15 and its Interim Retail Village on the St. Elizabeths campus on July 11. “But I don’t know if I can stay here with what I make on my job?”

Zillow.com, a housing website, reported the price of a typical single-family home in the District lists at $717,083 while in Congress Heights, the neighborhood that encompasses the St. Elizabeths East complex, the average price of a home stands at $422,500 according to the Oct. 18, 2021 edition of Urban Turf, a real estate online site. Apartmentlist.com reported a one-bedroom apartment in the District costs $2,527 monthly while a similar housing unit in Congress Heights would $1,087 each month according to Apartments.com.

City officials talk affordability

Drew Hubbard, the interim director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, participated in a virtual forum on housing issues in the city and in Ward 4 by the Ward 4 Democrats on July 9. When asked about whether residents who make less in the range of $50,000 a year can afford to stay at St. Elizabeths East or the future The Parks at Walter Reed in Ward 4, he said yes.

An overview of Parcel 15 at St. Elizabeths East in southeast D.C. (Courtesy photo)

“The District government has many different programs to help people obtain housing in D.C.,” Hubbard said. “People can utilize federal or local sources. The District government’s main tool to create affordable housing is the Housing Production Trust Fund. We have a full range of tools to address the housing crisis in the city.”

Latrena Owens, the executive director of the St. Elizabeths East Campus Redevelopment project, said affordable housing has emerged as a primary focus of the venture.

“At The Residences at St. Elizabeths we have 252 units with 80% designated as affordable,” Owens said. “In April, we opened up the townhomes and 27 of those have been slated as being affordable. As we open up Parcel 13, there will be more affordable housing there. We have other housing projects in the pipeline and affordability will be a factor.”

Residents talk St. Elizabeths housing

Ivan Jose Cloyd works as an entrepreneur with a streaming service and real estate interests in the District, Prince George’s County and recently, Baltimore City. Cloyd has housing contacts at The Residences at St. Elizabeths. As a resident, The Residences location enticed him with its nearby Congress Heights Metro stop, a shopping mall within a few blocks that had a full-service grocery store and the Entertainment & Sports Arena right across the street. He attended the events surrounding the groundbreaking of the Interim Retail Village that will include entrepreneurs selling food and products in a timber facility set to open in December.

Cloyd said the emergence of St. Elizabeths East should not dissuade anyone from trying to get housing there.

“Honestly, we have people from all type of income levels who live at The Residences,” he said. “The people who live here were very persistent during the application process and worked really hard to get an apartment. What it boils down to is if you really want to live here, you can.”

Emil Robinson purchased one of the townhomes. A government consultant, he said one of the keys to getting a townhome had to do with personal budgeting.

“I saved for it,” Robinson said. “The mayor has set it up to where someone of my income level can afford one of these homes. But you have to save your money and have it available to move forward. It is important that you follow the guidelines set out. It was pretty rigorous vetting process but I stuck with it because I knew what I wanted.”

Robinson didn’t disclose how much he paid for the townhouse saying “it was expensive.” He also said he couldn’t utilize the perks District government employees have in buying housing and added he made too much money to qualify for some assistance programs. Robinson admits that he looked into moving to Prince George’s County for housing but opted to stay in the city.

“I was born and raised in Southeast,” he said. “I always wanted to have a piece of property where I was born. With the city changing so much, I wanted to have one piece of D.C. for me.”

Like Robinson, Aaliya Muhammad, a District native, wanted to stay in the city. Muhammad said the District government “has a lot of programs that will meet you where you are.”

“You have to be tenacious,” said Muhammad, a software engineer. “You have to jump through some hoops and do a lot of paperwork.”

Muhammad said people interested in purchasing a St. Elizabeths townhome should look at the city’s Housing Purchase Assistance Program and similar initiatives designed to help homebuyers. She said the effort to buy her townhome “was worth it.”

“I wanted to make sure I had a little piece of D.C. before it became too expensive,” Muhammad said.

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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