Dear PoPville – DCHA renovated home sits empty for 3 years

1334 Irving St. 004

“Dear PoPville,

Why has this house 1334 Irving St. NW (in very desirable Columbia Heights) sat empty for 3 years?

It was renovated by DCHA with HUD funds, supposedly to be sold to low/moderate income DC residents through a homeowership program.

I first contacted Jim Graham about it on Marcy 30, 2011.

Dear Mr. Graham,

Could you please find out what DCHA is doing with the property at 1334 Irving St. NW? There is a sign out front proclaiming a joint project with the “Greening Initiative” and it is currently being gutted and renovated. I spoke to a person working on the renovation who said it will be 2 apartments, but didn’t know anything more.

There is nothing on the DCHA website about this project. Nearby residents would like to know what the plans are for this property.

He forwarded the email to DCHA, with no reply. I emailed again on July 7, 2011, which Graham again forwarded. We received a reply on July 12, 2011 from DCHA.

We received stimulus funding from HUD to repair several scattered site units. The repairs to this address is a part of that effort. The plan for this unit is to sell it to a low/moderate income family participating in DCHA’s Homeownership program.

Adrianne Todman
Executive Director, D.C. Housing Authority

But the place continues to sit empty. My last inquiry was January 6, 2014 and I have again received no reply from either Jim Graham’s office or DCHA.

With so much need for affordable housing it seems criminal to see these two apartments sit empty for 3 years.”

29 Comment

  • this is why looking to government intervention to ‘solve’ the affordable housing ‘problem’ is so futile.

    a private developer would have turned this in to 4, smaller, affordable condo units perfect for young families and workers such as police officers and teachers. instead, it languishes, no doubt awaiting the payment of various bribes and campaign contributions.

    • Sorry – you couldn’t be more wrong. A private developer would have turned this into 4 condos selling for $700,000.00 each, as they did across the street at 1341 Irving St.

      I would actually love to see nurses-bus drivers-small business owners able to buy a home here.

      • While it’s nice to think about teachers and police officers buying condos a block and change away from the Metro, if you want to help local businesses you need to let the market take its course. This land is simply to valuable to relegate to affordable housing only.

        • Affordable housing basically rewards line-standing at the expense of poor people who are not as good at line-standing (or as lucky in a lottery system), and at the expense of taxpayers. Most of the solution to the lack of affordable housing should be to make it easy for developers to build as many units as possible – so that increased supply eventually brings down price.

          Recognizing that may not be enough to create mixed neighborhoods in all cases (and recognizing the value of mixed neighborhoods), maybe there needs to be a role for affordable housing too. But we should try every other reasonable solution first – affordable housing is a very bad idea that works out very poorly, and is really only worth it if it is absolutely the only way to create diverse neighborhoods.

          Also, we should really make it more possible to evict non-paying tenants in this town. It’s absurd how difficult it is to do so, and it drives good landlords out of the market. The net effect is to reward slumlords (those who bribe officials and intimidate their under-educated, under-represented tenants) by limiting supply and thus driving up rental prices, and also to reward bad tenants (those who abuse tenants rights to stay in units they are not paying for). Of course good tenants (those who actually pay rent) are thus hurt by higher rental prices.

          • You are so right. The affordable housing issues could have an easy fix if DC wouldn’t make it such a scary thing to be a landlord. I know people who actively have rentals on the market and get calls from people asking do they take section 8 and they flat out say “No”. To many times you hear of horror stories about people getting in working the system and staying for years for free. Most landlords I know run tenants through enough of a background check that they should get security clearances afterwards. If the city would make the playing field more equal for landlords and tenants a lot of housing would open up to people who need it.

        • How much of your salary are you ready to give up for the “welfare of your fellow man?” If I can get $1,500.00 for a market rental, why should I take $1,200.00?

      • Sorry – you couldn’t be more wrong. A private developer would have torn the block down and put a high rise up increasing inventory and lowering prices.

        Height restrictions, historical restrictions, zoning etc all keep housing prices in DC artificially inflated. I get it – people like DC the way it is but you can’t complain about the resulting housing prices too.

    • Well the property is only 3000 square feet so if they broke it up into 4 units then each unit would only be 700-725 square feet and would consequently sell for $400,000+, far too much for the average police officer or teacher, and probably too small for a young family, but perfect for a young single lawyer.

      • Where did you get that square ft. number? I live on that street in a similar house and you could easily do 4 spacious 1 bedroom apts. or 3 great 2 bedrooms.

      • No – they’d rip the back off and pop the house out to the maximum allowable lot coverage. Redfin says it’s 3,050 square feet on a 2900 square foot lot, so figure that the building footprint is only ~35% of the lot size. Not sure what the zoning is but in a lot of rowhouse neighborhoods you can build to 60% lot coverage as of right, so that would get you an additional 700 or so square feet of room per floor. Add in the basement, and you’re easily looking at 1500 sqare feet a unit (you forgot that the basement wasn’t counted in the square foot and that’ll certainly be it’s own unit).

    • A developer would not have, because there is no sense in that. A developer is for profit. Affordable housing is not a for-profit business in DC, especially in that area.

      Personally, I think that the main problems with DC”s private affordable housing plan are:
      1. Heavy dependency on housing choice vouchers, and the disconnect between what it costs to live in certain areas of the city. The max rent vouchers will pay for a one bedroom (no utilities) in Columbia Heights is $1179; the max they will pay in Barry Farm (SE DC) is $1052. I understand completely that DCHA doesn’t want to pay Columbia Heights-level rents of $2000+, but what happens is it becomes an industry for certain areas of towns. You buy a lovely, renovated 3 bedroom condo for $186k, have monthly payments of $968/month, and have guaranteed rent of about $1706/month, because that’s what DCHA will pay if you say that’s what the place is worth. If you’re looking to make a buck, there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want a diverse population throughout the city, you’re not going to necessarily get that. It means that certain places with these absurdly high maximum public payments compared to the market rate become the sole landing ground for the city’s poor, because that’s where developers can make the great profit on rentals.
      2. No DC tax breaks for landlords providing low-income rental housing. This just seems absurd to me. Very low income renters can file a schedule H to get a tax break, but it doesn’t provide the same benefit for landlords. Maybe they think that the federal programs are enough, I don’t know.
      3. The only DC incentives/benefits/breaks I know about have to do with the development of housing units–so Affordable Dwelling Units in exchange for leniency in development or better financing mainly. These don’t benefit landlords in many cases, since in practice, many ADUs are for condos (with covenants that prevent the units from being rented out during the covenant term). The ADUs that are for apartments, I’m not convinced they will do much good in the long term. I haven’t seen the covenants for rental buildings, but if they are similar to condo buildings, then the covenants expire and after ~15 years, the units will no longer be income restricted.
      4. Property assessment that seems to be less based on what rents a property is actually receiving and more on what the OTR thinks that property should be getting.

      Yes, the DC laws are tenant friendly, but that’s typically the case in any city compared to the suburbs or rural areas and it’s something that can be worked around, as in cities like New York and Philadelphia. Yes, there are federal programs in place that are administered by the state/district; I would just like to see more done for existing buildings. I don’t know the answer for what would be the right thing to do, but as rents through DC soar, I’ve been wondering how best to build incentives for providing rental units since so much of the new ADUs seem to be condos, which the truly poor cannot afford.

  • This post brings up a very good question: why do people keep writing Jim Graham’s office expecting a response, or more ridiculously, action?

    • I contact Jim Graham’s office to ask about putting a light into an alleyway to protect vehicles from being broken into. Surprisingly, I had a lengthy phone call from a representative from the office where we discussed options. Unfortunately, the pole in the alleyway belonged to Comcast and not DC, so the light wasn’t possible, but I found the responsiveness to be appropriate. So, this general statement isn’t necessarily always the case.

  • “The free market is busy right now. Take a number.”

  • This is what happens when you pay off the right people. Just ask the Armenian Genocide Memorial Foundation.

  • I bet Graham has some staffer trolling these pages. Expect an unsatisfying response from his office any moment.

    • Friends,

      It has come to our attention that this house has been vacant for some time. I am looping in (fill in name here) for a response.


      Not Jim

    • I’ve found that Twitter is a good place to get results from your council member. Shaming on them on Twitter for inaction can turn into a big PR mess for them.

      • Well, not the Jimbo. His Twitter feed is basically the definition of “inaction.” Never seen a more one-sided use of the service.

    • I hope someone will forward this thread to Graham’s office – or anyone who might be able to do something about it. I’m actually unwilling to do it myself, in case he gets elected again I frankly don’t want to wind up on his “bad list.”

  • I live down the street and so watched this process with some interest over the years. The renovation itself took neary 18 months (a private flipper would have done it in 4 or 5, max) , and it was super shoddily done. The first contractor the city hired to do it was an 8A that apparently had no previous construction experience, none, and the second one would show up for a day, then go ghost for 2 weeks. I got to be friendly with the building inspector from DCRA who was responsible for inspecting the project, and we would chat about the project every few weeks.

    Lastly, per the final contractor, his contract was for just shy of a million, which of course had to pay to undo some of the work from the first guy who probably billed the city a few hundred thousand to do his part, so lets call it a 1.3 million dollar reno which on a per sq/ft basis would be about the most expensive residential construction outside of the Georgetown Ritz or City Center Condos. And now it just sits…

    Yep…a “great” use of taxpayer dollars. It is projects like this, and DC has lots of them that give low income housing opponents a lot of ammunition.

    • Besides all that – (yikes enough!) – all the contractors & workers – the 4-5 who parked there every day anyway – were from VA or MD. I asked Graham about this at the time – but again got no reply.

  • This is what happens when you don’t allow the free market run it’s course. It’s a joke they set very nice housing for people who normally can’t afford it.

  • There are at least two more of these in the neighborhood. One on the 1300 block of Girard and one around the corner on 13th just down from Girard.

  • Conversation has gone way off topic. The question is not how you keep economic integration in an appreciating neighborhood, important though that is. Nor is it about whether government should get involved in real estate development to fulfill its policy goals.

    The question is, why is it vacant.

    I’m guessing there’s a lawsuit somewhere working its way through the courts. Government sued contractor. Contractor sued government. A cloud on the title came up that the government’s title researchers didn’t identify before okaying it for rehab. Someone was giving/getting bribes. There was an error in the permitting process and the city wants the contractor to tear everything out and start from the beginning, but that would bankrupt the contractor. Etc. etc.

    There are a million points in the process of getting a house rehabbed and on market where things can break down and stay broken a long time. If it involves the courts you will never get anyone from the Council or a city agency to do anything but obfuscate.

    The situation described by the original poster bears all the hallmarks of a legal dispute, and I don’t think anyone except the few involved will ever know the whole story.

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