Brookland Manor residents, councilmember, torn on neighborhood modernization plans
As Pastor Robert Edwards lifeguarded in the Brookland Manor neighborhood, he watched fondly over the children splashing and swimming in the pool and praised the development plan to modernize the neighborhood.
“It’d be good. Fix it up,” Edwards said. “These are great people. These are all my kids.”
The apartment complex is being reimagined as part of a 20-acre area in Northeast D.C., hemmed in by 14th St. and Rhode Island Ave. NE, that the developer is calling RIA. This redesign by MidCity Financial Corp. will include up to 1,760 new apartments for mixed-income residents and up to 181,000 square feet of commercial space, according to the project’s website.
More than 200 residents have signed a letter of support for the redevelopment, according to MidCity. But not everyone supports the changes like Pastor Edwards does.
Several residents have argued that the installation of smaller, potentially more expensive apartments will put a strain on current residents’ wallets and split up multi-generational families that have lived there for decades. The Brookland Manor Brentwood Village Residents Association has teamed up with ONE D.C., a community organizing group that fights for racial and economic, according to the group’s website.
On July 20, residents and representatives of ONE D.C. had planned to walk through Brookland Manor and Brentwood Village with Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who represents Ward 5, including the development site. Their goal was to speak with neighbors about the project; however, attendees said McDuffie stayed for only a brief moment before running out of the room.
Yasmina Mrabet, a community organizer for ONE D.C., attended the meeting and said McDuffie left when he spotted a filmmaker in the room. The documentarian is recording tenants’ efforts to obtain more affordable housing.
“It clearly shows [McDuffie] doesn’t want to be accountable to the public,” Mrabet said. “Why can’t he go on record with what he has to say with the tenants if the tenants want this to be a transparent process for everybody to see?”
Minnie Elliott, the president of the residents association, said the association tapes their meetings because they do not take minutes, similar to the D.C. Council. She added that a lot of Brookland Manor residents are ONE D.C. members and said it would have been impossible to separate the two.
“My biggest concern is I don’t think he wanted to make any kind of commitment to the people here at Brookland Manor as far as affordable homes,” Elliott said.
[Read more: Ward 5 tenants accuse developer of discrimination ]
In a letter to residents that he released early to Street Sense, McDuffie wrote that he had agreed to meet with residents — only with residents — which “lead to the confusion on the morning of July 20th” when a video crew and non-residents were in attendance.
“In my estimation, the meetings are less productive because outside groups are using the issue to validate their platforms rather than work in a collaborative manner for the benefit of Brookland Manor residents,” he said in the letter.
McDuffie added in the letter that he had worked with MidCity to give residents in large bedroom apartments the first right of refusal for a four-bedroom townhouse in the new community.
Following the July 20 meeting, ONE D.C. took to Twitter and posted several videos of residents’ accounts of what happened at the meeting. After McDuffie responded that senior residents told him it was too hot to walk in the neighborhood, the organization, residents and the councilmember exchanged several tweets debating the meeting’s purpose and cancellation.
I forgot–you know what’s best for the residents who actually live in the community.
— Kenyan McDuffie (@kenyanmcduffie) July 20, 2017
The residents do know what’s best. So why don’t you stop cancelling meetings and actually talk to them? https://t.co/RMbMxhF5EC
— ONE DC (@_ONEDC) July 20, 2017
The residents association also sent McDuffie a letter in February with their demands to maintain 535 units as affordable and with the same bedroom size, allow residents to stay on the property and permit residents to have employment opportunities involved with the redevelopment of the area.
The D.C. Zoning Commission approved MidCity’s initial plans for the neighborhood in November 2015 and earlier this year accepted the next round of plans for a section of Brookland Manor known as Block 7.
As the first phase of the plan, Block 7 will bring 331 units to the area in two 4-story buildings that are expected to open in mid-2019. The structures will house mainly seniors and current residents, according to the project’s website and zoning commission documents. The first building will house seniors in 200 affordable, mainly one-bedroom units. The second will have 113 one and two-bedroom units and 18 three-bedroom units.
Almost 170 seniors qualify to live in the senior building, according to zoning commission documents.
Michael Meers, the executive vice president of MidCity, said services specifically for seniors will be provided in the new affordable housing units and at least 22 percent of units will be deeply subsidized for low-income families. Currently, 8 to 10 percent of units are required to be affordable.
“This mixed-income housing will create a fully integrated community that will help lift all residents,” Meers said in an email. “The new RIA development will create thousands of jobs and generate millions in new tax revenue for the city as well as economic activity for local businesses.”
Meers did not elaborate about the next steps of the project, how the number of affordable housing units were chosen or whether the new buildings will have four or five-bedroom units.
All tenants who are in “good standing” will have the opportunity to stay on the property, according to the project’s website.
The new development could also break up the low-income concentration currently in Brookland Manor, according to zoning commission documents. “Other projects that have deconcentrated low-income housing in the District and elsewhere have been celebrated successes for interrupting the self-reinforcing nature of poverty and crime,” according to the second project proposal.
In the new development, 373 apartments will remain under Section 8 contract, a Housing and Urban Development housing subsidy attached to the specific units where residents pay about 30 percent of their certified income for rent. Yet, unless plans change, there will be roughly 150 less affordable units in the new development than what is currently available, according to a Greater Greater Washington report. When the 80-year old complex is replaced with modern construction and amenities, the market rate rent for apartments there will increase considerably and be out of reach for low-income renters.
As of April, 431 of 521 units in Brookland Manor were occupied, according to zoning commission documents.
Mrabet said that ONE D.C. offered to team with developers to try to obtain money from the Housing Production Trust Fund, which could be used in Brookland Manor.
“Everybody in this community is expected to fit into the 373 units that have no large bedroom sizes and that have 200 of them restricted to seniors only 62 and over, so clearly that’s impossible,” she said.
Elliott, the president of the residents association, originally lived where Block 7 will be constructed before moving twice to get to her current apartment. As Elliott sat in her three-bedroom house that she shares with her grandchildren and their mother, surrounded by several boxes, she said she would not be able to move to the senior building with her family.
“They wouldn’t be allowed, and that’s a lot of people here on this property,” she said. “You have seniors that are raising their grandkids or helping their children in order to go to school.”
With all these things, you wouldn’t be able to do that,” Elliott said.
Maier & Warner, a Rockville-based public relations firm representing MidCity, said in a statement to Street Sense in March that 13 Brookland Manor families require units with more than three bedrooms.
Lisa Roy, a resident (pictured aat top) who attends ONE D.C. meetings, said that although she approves of the development of the neighborhood and thinks it will be beautiful, she is concerned the changes do not support large families who want to stick together.
Roy recently had to move out of an apartment with her daughter and grandchildren to live in a bottom-floor apartment for health reasons, she said.
“That’s fine for us, but you’ve got some families who don’t want to split,” Roy said.
Residents have also accused property owners of evicting residents for minor reasons to make room for new residents in the development. According to a report by The Washington Post, Brookland Manor filed 15 eviction lawsuits over less than $100 in unpaid rent during a 9 month period in 2014 and filed 23 eviction lawsuits over less than $100 in unpaid rent during a 9 month period beginning the following year.
Mary Smith, a resident for more than 20 years that lives with her great-granddaughter, said that it was time for a redevelopment and that the owner of the property has a right to fix it up.
Pam Bonner, Smith’s sister, added that she believes the new buildings will bring some peace to the neighborhood, which she said is plagued by drug use and violence.
“You don’t know when to let your kids out,” Bonner said.
While the new buildings will be an improvement and she does not know anyone who has been removed from the neighborhood, Shateena Ellis, a Brookland Manor resident, said she is worried that officials will not stay true to their promises to help all residents to stay.
“It’s slowly but surely becoming a headache and a worry to people,” Ellis said.