The Brookland Manor apartment complex has long been a source of contention in Brentwood, and talks surrounding its status in the Northeast neighborhood began long before plans to redevelop the affordable rental housing community by property owner and manager MidCity appeared.
Brookland Manor became mainly affordable housing in the late 1970s when MidCity founder Eugene Ford Sr. took control of and rehabilitated what was then Brentwood Village, in partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now, neighbors and some residents of the complex claim it is the origin of crime and disruptive foot traffic in the neighborhood.
“Brookland Manor made our lives [in Brentwood] a living hell,” said a neighbor to the complex who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 60 years. She said she supports redevelopment and hopes it will address safety concerns that she alleges Brookland Manor causes.
“We have no more crime than those people who live in those houses,” said Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association Vice President Yvonne Johnson, referring to the neighboring Edgewood community.
MidCity’s plans, which provided the overall vision for the redevelopment to be named Rhode Island Avenue, were approved in November 2015. Now the family-owned real estate company is preparing for the first phase of development.
“We are not a throwaway people and we are not going to stand by and let [MidCity] throw us away like a piece of trash,” Johnson said.
Construction of the first two new buildings which include a 200-unit senior building and a 131-unit family building is expected to begin in early 2018 and be completed by mid-2019. Overall, the project will include multifamily and senior housing, two-over-two buildings and townhouses, as well as retail space and underground parking.
“We are not opposing the overall redevelopment, but what we are saying is you have to keep [current residents] in place,” said Will Merrifield, the attorney representing the opposing residents of the tenant association. “We want true one-for-one replacement.”
Merrifield said his clients want to see existing residents re-placed in units with the same unit size and subsidy rate, which will not be possible if the redevelopment eliminates three- and four-bedroom apartments.
“[MidCity] cannot keep saying that there will not be displacement and they cannot keep saying that people haven’t been displaced, because they have,” he said. “Their own numbers show this. It’s planned displacement.”
Merrifield said MidCity has displaced families by decreasing the number of available units and employing a corrupt private security force that reports infractions used to unjustly evict resident.
MidCity said no one would be displaced as a part of the project and every existing resident in good standing will be replaced upon completion.
“What’s there doesn’t work and we have to move forward,” said Maddi Ford, MidCity director of legal affairs. “We would like to be a partner with our residents.”
Ford said no lease renewals were denied to lower occupancy, but MidCity did not market apartments where no renewal request was made. She also said families will be replaced based on D.C. Municipal Regulations occupancy, which say a three-bedroom unit can be occupied by a family of up to six, and conflicting cases will be dealt with individually.
ANC 5C Commissioner Debbie Steiner called the Brookland Manor community “disruptive,” and said she believes MidCity will not make a commitment to affordable housing if opposition persists.
“If the city and everyone wants to give push back, at any time the private developer can say they don’t want to deal with the HUD certification process and make it all market rate,” Steiner said.
But MidCity say they are far from that point.
The city’s Inclusionary Zoning Program only requires a project of this nature to include 8 to 10 percent of the residential floor area be set aside for affordable units. MidCity says its overall redevelopment will reserve 22 percent of its units for affordable housing.
An Office of Zoning representative said MidCity is bound by its Planned Unit Development (PUD) application, which was approved by the Zoning Commission.
“In order to get a building permit, they would have to show that their most recent plans comply with the [Zoning Commission] order,” the representative said, adding that MidCity could modify their PUD, but such action requires another approval process before the commission.
Merrifield said he would employ other legal strategies to push for more affordable housing.
“We are in this for the long haul,” he said. “This zoning process is part of that, but it is not the end all, be all.”