Meeting about the Future of the Old Hebrew Home – “Based on the comments and questions, there seemed to be a concern about the process”

by Prince Of Petworth June 18, 2014 at 1:25 pm 49 Comments

1125 Spring Road, NW
1125 Spring Road, NW

From Kathleen Crowley of ANC4C10:

“For my fellow ANC 4C folks, below is a brief summary for those who may not have been able to attend the meeting held by DC Department of General Services (DGS) regarding the future of 1125 Spring Road NW, here are a few highlights:

-1125 Spring Road NW is a capital asset with DGS and will be developed as a residential property consistent with its zoning designation. DGS plans to surplus the property to the DC Housing Authority.

-The purpose of the meeting was to solicit feedback from the community regarding the possible residential uses of the property (i.e. affordable housing, mixed use, senior).

-Based on the comments and questions, there seemed to be a concern about the process. For example, how will the feedback from the community inform the final recommendations and decisions; concern the community will not be able to review or comment on the recommendations to be presented to the city council; lack of confidence in the DC Housing Authority to move this project forward in a way consistent with the community interests (e.g., parking issues, permanent versus transient, etc.); and a concern that decisions will be made regarding this project amid changing DC leadership.

-The intended use of the property is the undecided issue. Although most would like to see the property used for senior living, it was suggested a survey be conducted to better understand the community’s overall interest about the use.

-DGS emphasized that the best way to express your interests and concerns regarding this matter is to 1) contact your DC City Council Member; and 2) contact DGS

Comments (49)

  1. i disagree that “most would like the property to be used for senior living”. i was at the meeting, and do not recall that “most” who spoke articulated a desire for (exclusively) senior living. only if you grouped together those who voiced support for mixed-income housing (which would include seniors) and those who wanted housing exclusively for seniors, then you could say “most would like the property to be used for senior living”.

  2. It seemed to me that there was a broad misunderstanding of what was left for DGS to decide. The undecided issue is much more narrow than one would have guessed by listening to the comments at the meeting. DGS has made its mind up about 99% of how this building is to be used. The decision to turn this building over to DCHA has already been made, without public input, and it’s an entirely political decision that comes down from the mayor’s office. All that remains is to decide on the demographic specifics of the new building. As for senior housing, I don’t particularly understand why the community is so set on it. Some seniors are great, but those of us who’ve been trying to get upper 14th Street to develop at a rate that’s in line with the cost of housing in the area would like to see some occupants who spend money at local retail establishments. I understand the concern about parking and the concern about bringing low income folks into the neighborhood, but a nice mix of seniors, low income, middle income, and upper income people seems to be ideal to address all the various concerns, and that’s clearly the way DGS is leaning. Overall, I was pleased with the direction of the project and was a bit disappointed that so many in attendance were focusing on a process that had already played out at DGS, and on which they have very little effect.

  3. DGS specifically stated that they’re not considering market-rate housing, so I don’t know where you get the idea that upper income residents are being considered for the building. DGS is considering a building with no income floor and a ceiling of $60K for a family of four. That’s not going to get you the kind of development you want on upper 14th – for that you need market rate housing.

    As for senior housing – people want it because they view it as being the least disruptive to the neighborhood, i.e. no new competition for onstreet parking.

  4. Fair enough. I suppose I still think $60K is a lot of money, but you’re right. So disregard the “upper income” aspect above. But I think that someone making $60K/year still has enough disposable income to buy a sandwich on 14th Street. I tend to think seniors aren’t going to make it over there to do the same. Leaving it abandoned would be the “least disruptive” solution. Why do anything with it at all if we’re just looking for status quo in the neighborhood?

  5. The $60K number is for a family of four, not an individual. I personally think the parking concerns are overblown as almost every street around this property has alley access for parking, but parking always comes up with urban development.

  6. Ugh. Perhaps I should have spoken up if this was the case. Perhaps ironically, a family of four living on Spring Road, making $60K before taxes, is going to have a hell of a time affording a car. Perhaps parking will be less of an issue than some anticipate.

  7. Parking, while increasingly crowded, should not be the focus here. DC sucks for parking. Petworth didn’t have a problem before it became more desirable to live here. It’s an inevitable part of the neighborhood improving. The ANC SMD Commissioner for this has a weird bug in his butt about parking.

  8. I noticed that (the ANC rep’s preoccupation with parking) at the meeting. I was surprised that a couple of community members mentioned parking as well.

  9. It amazes me that people are so focused on parking as well. If it were up to Vann Di Galloway, the ANC rep, he would probably turn the Old a Jewish Home into one big free parking lot! He needs to learn to multi-task. So many problems and he obsesses with parking. Doesn’t seem to be the most effective elected “official.”

  10. @JS – thanks for the summary (I’m the 2:15 poster who is puzzling over DCHA + market rate. Sounds like the answer is they’re NOT considering it. That’s a shame. If that’s the case, I will definitely put support behind senior or veteran housing…reason being that those particular populations mitigate the other social problems you have with the incomes being proposed otherwise (drugs, crime, etc).

  11. Enough with the parking. That’s the least of my concerns.

  12. I agree with your latter points with regard to the need for mixed income. However, I think the broad misunderstanding you cited stemmed from the fact that the DGS representatives came to the meeting unprepared. There was no functioning presentation nor was there an agenda to be followed which led to a disorganized question and answer hour. I’d also say there was a great deal of equivocation on the side of DGS. I’m not sure the public came away with any idea of “direction” aside from the strong indication that the property would go to DCHA.

  13. The guy did his best to talk people in circles, but it only made people even more mad. He basically alluded to the fact that Bowser and Graham were behind it too. When a guy asked who to file our comments to, the person from DGS, said you need to talk to a Bowser and Graham with a kinda wink wink (ie that’s who’s pushing this idea). Market based housing makes the most sense. DGS promised to send a survey out to the neighborhood and present the results at the next meeting.

  14. As someone who lives nearby, but couldn’t attend, I appreciate the forum to continue discussion here. I personally support a market rate development with set-asides for seniors and workforce/low income. I’m confused on how something that is DCHA owned may/can support market rate units though? Can someone explain this please?

  15. See above. The current plan has no market-rate component, which I think is a big mistake.

  16. I assume its out of the question for a DCHA property to have a few units for 80% of AMI households?

  17. BTW

    I’m an old (54) Hebrew (Ani rotzeh bait ba District Shel Columbia)

  18. You should be grandfathered in! I support housing for old Hebrews exclusively.

  19. 54 isn’t old!

  20. Well, the DGS reps kept repeating “nothing has been decided” but it was pretty clear from the evasive answers given to most questions the plan is to have a low income to 60% AMI building, which is ~$60K for a family of four, less for smaller family sizes. No plan for higher income/market rate tenants.

  21. Unless you want DCHA to turn this building into a housing project, you need to contact Muriel Bowser and your ANC Reps immediately. It was clear to me that DC elected officials got caught trying to push this affordable housing plan and now are trying to back track because of staunch opposition. People are LIVID and last night only served to fire people up even more. There absolutely HAS to be market based housing in this development. Mix that with some senior housing to take care of our elderly neighbors and I think you have a plan that people can accept. Why wasn’t someone there from Muriel Bowser’s office?

  22. I’m unclear why this property has to be surplused to the DC Housing Authority? Why not another government entity? Why not look at making it a charter school? Perhaps leasing it to the federal government for office space. If people are so concerned over parking then office space, retail or luxury condos (bigger units, less residents) makes the most sense. In my mind, the majority need to be market based.

  23. It’s zoned residential, and I think that’s an important aspect. Other than that, the only reason is that the people at DGS and, ultimately, Mayor Gray think this is the way to go. If the council disagrees, it’ll reject the plan. But the feeling I get is that this is mostly pro forma at the council level. This is the sort of concern that was often raised last night, and why I wrote above that I thought there was a misunderstanding. There’s no legal necessity for the mayor or DGS to be clear about anything. They held the meeting last night because it was required by law, but they have a plan and they’re going to attempt to execute it. Unfortunately, both the mayor and the council are lame as all hell.

  24. But this proposal has to go through Muriel Bowser’s committee… She can easily kill this. Gray may be trying to force her to swallow this bitter pill though. Hopefully Bowser realizes that you can be in favor of affordable housing, but not necessarily at this location. The neighborhood is definitely against this specific proposal.

  25. The reps at the meeting said that they expected to submit a proposal package to the D.C. Council in “September or October,” and that they thought the Council would have it for “a couple of months.” It didn’t sound to me at all certain that it would be resolved while the current councilmembers are in their terms. I think more than one person asked that the package not be submitted to the Council until the new councilmembers have begun their terms, so that the decisions aren’t being made by lame ducks.

  26. It should be 1/3 seniors, 1/3 market, 1/3 affordable up to 60% AMI. That should satisfy all and provide a truly diverse mix of people. Otherwise, yes, it will simply become a poorly run DCHA housing project with lots of crime.

  27. Park Morton, where the 7 year old girl was just shot, and which continues to be a huge problem; was cited many times. When DGS was asked to provide an example of another housing project in DC similar to what they are proposing, they declined to give an example. Wonder why!

  28. I was at the meeting last night and its clear there is very little support for DCHA to take over this site. Considering they have failed at every other public/private development site (park Morton!). DGS seemed surprised that this wasn’t a slam dunk and even indicated that they had to do ONE public meeting before the suprlus legislation and they assumed last night would be it. DCHA was totally useless when it came to answering questions as to how this site works in relation to Park Morton. The real kicker is when pressed, DGS admiited that the surplus and future redeveliopment was not just the Hebrew home but also the adjacent Robeson house. Apparently at the ANC a few weeks ago they did not share that information. DGS also said they are open to developer proposals that would include new development on the Robeson site which could be another 4-6 story building. Based on how Low income housing tax credits work, its very unlikely you will see any market rate housihng. DGS was clear they were not currently proposing any market rate but perhaps after the negative feedback last night they may have to rethink this. So its not just 80 units of “work force housing” its could potentially be 200 units with an additional building. And housing vouchers count as income so it could be a lot of section 8. I think anyone running for election (Mayor, Council and especially the ANC) better listen to the community.

  29. Bowser supports this development, so good luck lobbying the lame-duck mayor in the meantime.

  30. this is just one more way Bowser is out of touch with a signficant number of her consituents. She already sounds like an idiot trying to talk educattion policy but she clearly can’t understand real estate either. Cat

  31. Bowser might be out of touch with the owners in this neighborhood. But she knows who her base is and that’s all that matters on Election Day in DC. And those folks are going to love her for creating more affordable housing in NW DC. Wards 7 and 8 love to stick it to the uppity NW crowd.
    Seriously, this is going to be affordable housing. And there’s not much anyone can do to stop it.

  32. Here are my principles:

    • Create a sustained tax base to better serve DC’s disadvantaged population (these revenues must be used to break the cycle of poverty, a la the Harlem Children’s Zone)
    • Pursue non-market distorting solutions (the best solution to housing is to increase supply – and this helps everybody; for set-asides for the disadvantaged, use vouchers)
    • Use zoning regulations to provide required set-asides for the disadvantaged using proven models (pursue mixed income models)
    • Respect neighbors by limiting height, sustaining reasonable set-backs from property lines, and adequate parking based on hard data from Park Place, the Swift, and Three Trees apartment buildings
    • Require an adequate number of units be designed for families

    The fronts of 1125 and 1131 must be sustained for the historical meaning. All else can go. I want to see row houses where the Robeson school is, and then a modern apartment building covering the lots containing the existing structures at 1125 and 1131 that integrates the historical facades.

    Why is this the right approach?

    • It supplies mixed income opportunities to give people an opportunity to succeed.
    • It requires no tax-payer subsidy and establishes sustained tax revenues
    • It increases housing supply to keep down costs while providing additional family housing
    • It brings new children to the neighborhood to sustai9n the efforts to improve Raymond Elementary

  33. These are great ideas but how can we accomplish this? What can we (the people) do?

  34. Write to Bowser, Graham and your ANC Reps. Work with your neighbors to help amplify the anti-housing project message. Also, be sure to write some letters to the editor as well as contact the media with your concerns. People seem pretty upset. This has all the makings of a PR disaster for the city.

  35. David, 1131 is currently in use and is not part of the redevelopment effort. It’s not getting torn down anytime soon. 1125 is designated as a historic property so any attempt to raze part of it has to go through HPRB and it seems highly unlikely that HPRB will grant permission for that, esp. since far more than just the building’s front facade is visible from the street. In fact, it’s probably cheaper to renovate the inside of 1125 rather than build a new structure behind the existing facade.

  36. Hello! 1131 COULD be included. Don’t count it out. It’s a natural part of the full triangle (and was part of the original property way back when there was just a farm). As I understand it, the preservation is the facades only of 1125 and 1131. That said, I have not encountered any substantial problems with what seems to be a well-run facility at 1131, but by incoportaing it into a larger plan, the city and its citizens can take advantage of a much larger opportunity to take care of many additional needs.

  37. Thanks JS! Here’s what I was abel to find out:

    The nomination and subsequent landmark status protects the exterior of the building. The interior is fair game and can be altered with no preservation issues. While this generally means that historic buildings will not change much in their exterior appearance … that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. Historic buildings can have additions and they can be altered. The process is a bit longer because it has to go before the HPRB, but there are examples where this has occurred.

    One of the better examples I can think of is 1111 North Capital (the new NPR headquarters). See: http://www.npr.org/about/images/press/events_facilities/Move_Photos_April_2013/SVoss-NPRHQ01.JPG

    In the photo at the link above, the building to the left is historic, the addition to the right and above is all new.

  38. Yes! There ought to be some market based housing within the mixed income model. Row houses on the Robeson property would be ideal. My fear is that if the developer doesn’t get some market based units in 1125 then they’ll attempt to fill Robeson with all studios and single bedroom units. That is the last thing we need.

  39. There’s a lot of talk but how many people posting here would live in a market rate unit in the same building that is comprised of 1/3 or more subsidized units? My guess is few would given the negative attitude displayed by many on this blog toward public housing residents.

  40. Rather than guess, why don’t we redevelop 1125 as a 70/30 market/subsidized building and see what happens?

  41. Because investors won’t commit to a mixed income building without a secure income stream (subsidized units) or a lot of community support (like people signing up to be on a WL for the market rate housing). And tax credits aren’t a reality without a lot of units under 60% of AMI. Until we the community get behind the idea of sharing walls with poor people, mixed income will just be a good idea on paper.

  42. So investors will build a building if they’re a) guaranteed an income stream via housing vouchers & city subsidies or b) lots of people sign up for non-binding waitlist to move into a building that won’t be done for another two years.

    Am I missing something here?

  43. yes, the investors are looking for the low income housing tax credits. thats all and to get those the building has to be majority low income. Its not the stream of income. its the tax credit.

  44. I found yesterday’s meeting frustrating.
    As others have noted, the reps from DGS and DCHA were evasive in responding to questions. Supposedly the purpose of the meeting was to serve as a hearing for community members to voice their opinions about what the site should become… but there were so many people there that there was no guarantee that the opinions voiced were in fact representative. There was no effort to take a vote on people’s preferred options.
    The reps from DGS and DCHA seemed unclear as to whether it was 1) possible or 2) in any way likely that the development would include any market-rate units. The DCHA rep mentioned low-income tax credits, and it sounded from that as though it’s in the developer’s best interest to avoid having market-rate units — very disappointing to those who wanted to see this become a truly mixed-income project. It also sounded as though they wanted to limit the development to residents with 60% or less of AMI (area median income), rather than going up to 80% or even 100% — both of which would still allow for a wider income mix, even if there weren’t any market-rate units.
    I got the impression that there had been a meeting several years ago about the future of the site, and at the time, the community consensus was that the best — or “least deleterious” — use for the property would be to turn it into senior housing. So some people at the meeting were asking, “If you asked us x number of years ago what we wanted this to be and we told you then, why are you asking us again now?”
    It was very unclear to me how much input the community is actually going to get in the whole process. The DGS rep was telling us to contact our councilmembers… but it sounds like the proposal is shaped while it’s at DGS, so as far as I could tell, we should also be contacting DGS directly.

  45. Let me guess? Muriel Bowser is probably trying to wrap this property up in a nice little package for Donnatelli Development. Renovate it on the cheap, stick some poor people in it while Donnatelli collects the government vouchers. This is the same developer that got 20 year tax credits to develop Park Place and instead of finding retail, allows the property to sit vacant while living off the tax payer’s dime.

  46. Artful Dodger

    DC government reps were utterly dodgy and dismissive–as evidenced by the awesome “note taking” by the project manager. (She was jotting down things occasionally… on a freaking copy of the Powerpoint they couldn’t be bothered to show.) I live behind the building, and my neighbors and I are writing to our vaunted leaders. I, for one, will be sending notes to both Bowser and Catania.

  47. I attended the meeting and many people spoke up about the need for a survey. Folks, a survey was already completed on April 1st when Jim Graham was soundly rejected by the voters of Columbia Heights. His 16 year pursuit of dense affordable housing projects in Columbia Heights while at the same time ignoring homeowners resulted in being defeated 41% to 59%. Jim Graham got the message, but apparently DGS and DCHA did not.

    I live several blocks away from this project, therefore I don’t really have a horse in the race. But I would I urge those of you more closely affected to tirelessly mobilize. Taking a page from the DNC and RNC, here is a 5 point plan to defeat this project (or get it built with a majority percentage of market rate housing):

    1. Get the contact information of all of the decision makers and send them targeted messages expressing your concerns.
    2. Get the names of those that support the project and let them know your opposition.
    2. Get the names of those that are undecided on the project and bring them to your side.
    4. Get the names of those that agree with you and have them get 10 more.
    5. Repeat.

    Yardsigns with a website to bring in more allies should also be produced. Your mobilization efforts need to be relentless. And let April 1st be your guide that the community is behind you.


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