Monday, February 20, 2006

the fight in eckington

the proposed St Martins affordable housing project is causing a rather derisive rift in the community. Accusations of pimping poverty have been thrown. Accusations of Racism are coming into the mix. The debate is now a fight.
I saw this letter in the Bloomnigdale listserve, and felt like it was the most articulate of the arguments. It is in response to some derogatory letters.


First, I would like to clear up some misconceptions you might have. We have never been against affordable housing. CCS would like to say that is the case so that we could be easily dismissed as a bunch of NIMBY’s. They are also using this to cloud the real issues with this project. We agree that there is a need for affordable housing in our neighborhood as well as all of DC. The real problems with this project are the size and design.

The lot is currently zoned R-4 in a residential neighborhood. The purpose of R-4 zoning is to preserve single-family row houses. In order to build their large 184-unit apartment complex, they will have to get a zoning change to R-5. Attached you will find a document from HUD about the HOPE VI project. In it it says:

Historically, the design of public housing focused on building the maximum number of units for minimum cost, resulting in the current problems today associated with public housing nationwide - developments in such poor physical shape that they often fail to meet the minimum HUD-standard for decent, safe and sanitary housing, and serve as obstacles to any serious investment in the surrounding neighborhood. The traditional site designs incorporate elements that have the tendency to foster criminal activity, such as odd street patterns that dead end in the middle of a development and central spaces that are invisible from the street and are absent defensible space housing. The physical plans often call for reducing density, building single-family units that face the street, improving security through physical enhancements and connecting the development with the surrounding community.

The St. Martins project is focusing on building the maximum number of units at the lowest cost by utilizing the LIHTC. Catholic Charities, by their own admission, calls this form of financing “wasteful and full of corruption and profiteering”. See the attached Millennial Housing Survey. In order for the developers to make money, they have to build a large complex which disconnects it from the surrounding community. The design also includes 2 enclosed courtyards that are invisible from the street. Although they are building a parking garage, they are charging an additional fee. A lot of families might not be able to afford the additional $600-$1000 fee per car per year. There have been several projects built recently that incorporate good urban design practices. We only ask that CCS do the same thing. I’ve attached documents for several of the projects that incorporate the ideals of home ownership, affordable housing, mixed income, and good urban design.

Now to clarify a few points. Once again I have to point out that most teachers, EMTs, firemen, librarians, and social workers would make too much money to qualify to live here unless they have several dependents with no income. The maximum salary for a single person is $37,500. The income level of $48,000 that you state would be the combined incomes of 3 people. I’ve attached the full chart for you information. Regarding Sursum Corda: The New Communities Plan objective is “designed to stabilize the District's most distressed neighborhoods by transforming them into mixed-income communities that protect housing for the poor. In these areas, the District will create more opportunity through better jobs, education and training, and human services, around rebuilt community anchors like schools and recreation centers.” At Sursum Corda, they will be achieving this by retaining all of the current residents through home ownership. The new Sursum Corda will be a mix of affordable housing and market rate housing. We would love to see this model applied to St. Martins as well, but the Archdiocese refuses to give up ownership of the property. The Fairfield Project which is being built behind FedEx is providing affordable housing units along with the market rate units. Again, another concept we would embrace. As to the accusation that we are racist and classist: Our group consists of people from many different races and economic abilities. On a personal note, we value diversity. My husband is mixed race which is one of the reasons we wanted to move into a diverse neighborhood. If I were single, I would qualify to live in the apartments. Would I not be entitled to a clean, safe, healthy place to live or would you relegate me to a project being built using outdated ideologies?

We, the residents of Eckington, have attempted to discuss our issues with St. Martins, Niel Drobenare, CCS, Cleopatra Jones, Mary Farmer-Allen and the ANC on numerous occasions. They refuse to even meet with us to discuss our concerns. Their response thus far has been to ignore the residents and spend even more money on expensive mailings and PR campaigns to cloud the real issues and start a dialogue to address our concerns. Once again, we remain available for meaningful discussions to address our concerns. We would be happy to discuss them with you directly if you’d like.


Susan Lilavois

Eckington Citizens for Responsible Development (ECRD)

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