Mayor Bowser spent Friday, November 6, running between seven groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings to highlight advances in affordable housing and new businesses. She called it Scissors and Shovels day.

“The District is a city on the move. Businesses are opening, jobs are being created and economic opportunity is coming to all corners of the city,” Bowser said during a kick-off event held at the new Uber East Coast headquarters at Dupont Circle.

More than one year after residents were told they’d have to temporarily move to accommodate renovations, The Phyllis Wheatley Young Women Christian Association (Wheatley YWCA) at 901 Rhode Island Ave, NW, broke ground on renovations as part of Scissors & Shovels Day. Wheatley YWCA has received grants to refresh both the interior and exterior of its building, which has housed women with low income and women with special needs since its opening in 1920.

Wheatley YWCA partnered with Dante’s Partners, an affordable housing developer in the District, for the renovation. The company focuses on sustainable energy and keeping the traditional look of the buildings it develops.

“The renovation of Phyllis Wheatley YWCA presents a unique opportunity to both preserve affordable housing and revitalize an historic building in the rapidly developing Shaw neighborhood,” said Buwa Binitie, the managing principal of Dante’s Partners LLC, at the event.

Wheatley YWCA residents are relieved that the building is benefitting from the collaboration between nonprofit organizations and corporate partners. Robin Mendes-Newell, a resident since 2006, says it makes her happy that more women can get affordable housing now.

“A couple of years ago we feared closure of this building, but demonstrations and mobilizations between fellow residents and other persons outside of the building, who saw the importance of keeping this place open for women, probably saved Phyllis Wheatley,” she said.

Mendes-Newell is also surprised by how many donations of household items Wheatley YMCA receives throughout the year.
“I came to a furnished room, but the giveaways from local schools, organizations and private persons make it more homey around here. Also, the building is a safe place for women experiencing domestic violence,” she added.

The building’s renovation is scheduled to be completed in Fall 2016, at a cost of $17 million, $2 million more than originally projected. Wheatley YWCA will then offer 84 housing units for women. This is fewer than the 117 dorm-style units currently available, but many of the new units will have private restrooms and kitchenettes, designed to move residents towards self-sufficiency.

The renovation project is designed to ensure that the building’s current residents can remain in their homes and not be displaced. All lease-compliant residents will have the opportunity to stay in the renovated building. Rental rates will remain affordable, and the building’s current residents will not see their rents increase. New residents will receive vouchers through the District Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Only women with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income will qualify.

Continuing to provide housing to women with low-income or special needs nearly a century after Wheatley YWCA’s founding is an important principle to board president Patricia Plummer. In her remarks she highlighted that the Wheatley YWCA is the only YWCA in D.C. that provides permanent and affordable supportive housing catering to women.
“There is so much history in this building, so we have good partners which will both develop the living standard and also keep the traditional look of the building,” she added.

Among other benefits Mendes-Newell and the other residents can look forward to this year is a big Thanksgiving dinner and a Christmas celebration. Next year the YWCA will also have social services staff working there to support resident’s path to self-sufficiency.

Weinberg Commons Leads Way for Greener Housing in the Future.

Next, Bowser ran across town for the official opening of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Commons in Ward 7. Operating this family housing project is the nonprofit Transitional Housing Corporation (THC), which provides housing and comprehensive support services to homeless and at-risk families.

Weinberg Commons stands out from the houses nearby it on Southern Avenue, SE due to the sustainable, green architecture used in its construction.

“Weinberg Commons is a giant step forward in THC’s effort to carry out its mission to boldly confront family homelessness and to interrupt its transfer to successive generations,” THC President Phil Hecht said.
This complex provides 36 affordable housing units, 12 of which will be set aside as permanent supportive housing for persons experiencing homelessness. Quinn Miller of THC confirmed that all 12 of the permanent supportive housing units have been filled.

“All but two families have officially moved in, and we expect the last two will be in before the end of the month. The Department of Behavioral Health selected these specific families for this location,” he said.

Zavos Architectural and Design (ZA+D), was also a partner in the development of Weinberg Commons.

“We hope that this type of architecture may set the new standard of environmental friendly designs in the future.,” ZA+D President Bruce Zavos said. “It creates better ways of furnishing and significantly lowering costs for air conditioning, heat and water consumption.”