Photo Courtesy of Melbourne Streets Avant-guarde//Flickr
Melbourne Streets Avant-guarde//Flickr

Plans for Plaza West, an affordable housing development for seniors and other families, were approved by D.C. Council 0n Dec. 1. This $84 million project is unique because it will be the first in the District to include affordable housing units reserved for “grandfamilies.” The number of children living in grandparent-maintained households doubled between 1970 and 2012, according to recent census data.

“Once the recession occurred, we actually saw a real uptick in the number of kids living with their grandparents, and now the numbers are close to 8 million,” said Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher with Pew Research Center who has studied the “grandfamilies” phenomenon. “To put that in perspective, that means that about 1 in 10 kids are living with a grandparent.”

Initial construction of the complex, to be located in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood of Ward 6, will begin early next year and is scheduled for completion in spring 2017.

Golden Rule Plaza, a nonprofit focused on affordable housing in Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood, is a private partner that made the project possible.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said Plaza West is an innovative way to help seniors and working families afford to live in the city and her administration will seek more avenues to do so.

“I am excited to see Plaza West, the first grandfamily development in the District, move forward,” Bowser said. “This is a shining example of our community stepping up to make affordable housing possible for our most vulnerable residents.”

According to the mayor’s office, 50 of the units in Plaza West will be set aside for grandfamilies with household incomes of 30 to 40 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI). Special social services for grandfamilies will be provided on-site. The remaining 173 units of housing will be available for individuals and families making 50-60 percent of AMI.

The 34,500 square-foot site where the 12-story complex will be built is located at 4th and K, NW. Residents will benefit from 9,500 square feet of outdoor recreational space.

Many challenges arise when grandparents assume full responsibility for their grandchildren. Often, they are completely unprepared to house an additional family member.

“[These grandparents] usually aren’t expecting to be taking care of the children, so they’re not prepared financially, said Donna Butts, the executive director for Generations United. “Their home may be great for a retired person or a retired couple but not for little toddlers. Many of the grandparents, about 58 percent, are still working.”