Brookland Manor residents keep battling possible displacement
The planned redevelopment of Brookland Manor apartment complex has been controversial since MidCity Financial, the owners of the property, released details of their most recent plan. Many current residents of Brookland Manor fear displacement will come with the redevelopment.
These residents will not go down without a fight and they are doing what they can to have a voice in the redevelopment process. A rally was held outside of the D.C. appeals court on Sept. 28, when organizers from the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association and LinkUp, a community organizing collective that aims to bring about serious change, came together with supporters and current residents of Brookland Manor to draw attention to what the residents may be facing.
At the rally, Yasmina Mrabet, co-founder and housing organizer of LinkUp, told the supporters that one block of the complex had already been emptied and residents who once lived on that block had been either relocated elsewhere in Brookland Manor or evicted. She mentioned armed security guards who were hired by MidCity and said the guards patrol the complex and have been known to cite residents for petty offenses that may be used as a basis for eviction.
When MidCity initially announced its redevelopment plan in 2014, they planned to build 2,235 units with 436 of those units being affordable housing. What stopped them from moving forward with their announced plan was the Comp Plan, which is essentially a 600-page guide for how D.C. real estate should be developed, with guidelines and boundaries on zoning, density, and height of buildings.
The Comp Plan allows for the Zoning Commision and the Office of Planning to make decisions on what may be legally built and where it is allowed. This first plan proposed by MidCity was far outside the boundaries established at the time in the Comp Plan. Instead of trying to change the Comp Plan, MidCity changed their plan to fit the stated regulations. MidCity’s new proposal lowered the total number of units to 1,760 and reduced the number of affordable units to 373.
A major source of consternation among residents of the apartment complex is uncertainty about how MidCity will design those 373 affordable units. The new proposal eliminates all of Brookland Manor’s 5-bedroom units and almost all its 4-bedroom units while setting aside 200 affordable units for seniors. The argument that the residents have brought against this is that there is risk for displacement of families and longtime residents.
According to a report by Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, which represents the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association in their appeals, the residents are demanding three things from MidCity during this fight. Residents demand:
- 535 units of affordable housing must be preserved at the current bedroom sizes and current subsidy levels.
- Residents must be able to remain on the property during redevelopment (i.e., build first so that redevelopment occurs in phases and displacement is prevented).
- Residents must have the ability to access employment opportunities through the rebuilding of their own community, of which they have a fundamental right to be a part.
Residents and organizers who are appealing the redevelopment seem to agree that in MidCity’s plan, the number of affordable units and how those units are distributed does not meet the needs of the residents.
A September court filing contains a demographic analysis of Brookland Manor that described what the current MidCity plan means for families in the apartment complex.
“In all cases, the number of families that require three-bedroom apartments or larger significantly exceeds the number of such apartments likely to be available at Brookland Manor if the current redevelopment plan proceeds as submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission,” stated Andrew A. Beveridge, PhD, in an expert report to the court.
“Based on relevant United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) and D.C. Housing Authority (“DCHA”) occupancy standards, 130 of the 193 families currently residing at Brookland Manor Apartments require a three-bedroom apartment or larger, and 68 such families require a four-bedroom apartment or larger,” Beveridge stated to the court. “Even if one considers just the minor children, household head (and partner) and live-in aides, 104 of 193 of such families require a three bedroom apartment or larger, and 41 require at least a four-bedroom apartment.”
Beveridge’s findings bring to light that many of the families in Brookland Manor are intergenerational and with the separation of the “seniors only” units, which are mainly 1-bedroom units with very few 2-bedroom units, this means that those family members would be separated and from each other.
“Our whole aim in this process is to insist that the developer engage and negotiate with residents regarding changes that are made that affect the whole neighborhood,” said Yasmina Mrabet, in an interview with Street Sense. “The community wants to have a say in the process.”
Mrabet and LinkUp have been side by side with Brookland Manor residents during most of this process, as they have been able to organize numerous public displays and rallies throughout the District during this time.
“These public displays are to bring awareness to the housing displacement around D.C. and the effects of gentrification, while also exposing the bad faith of the developers and their priority of profits,” Mrabet said. “It’s important that these displays altar the public image that these developers put on.”
Public displays are only part of the ongoing fight; where residents hold true power over developers is in the appeals process. Since MidCity is a for-profit company, a motive for redevelopment is revenue generation through the planned new units and retail. Regarding tactics,Mrabet said, “We can affect their money by essentially blocking the progress of the process they need to go through in order to start building.”
For MidCity to complete the redevelopment they must apply for Planned Unit Development, which is handled by the Zoning Commission. PUD is used when a developer wants to build more than what the current zoning laws allow; in return for permission to go forward, the developer provides public benefits for the community.
Legally, MidCity does not have to provide as many affordable units as it is offering to build in the new project. Inclusionary zoning requires that only 8-10% of newly developed units to be deemed as moderately affordable, but MidCity’s plan offers to make 22% of the units affordable. Though units may be smaller than the residents want, in the eyes of the Zoning Commission, the higher than required percentage of affordable units could be seen as a public benefit, since recent amendments to the Comp Plan emphasize affordable housing as a priority public benefit in the PUD process.