Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meeting on 1125 Spring housing: city adding a new building, most people want senior, some affordable housing

Old Jewish Home on Spring RdLast night was the community meeting on the redevelopment of 1125 Spring Rd NW, the old Washington Hebrew Home. As you may recall, the city plans to make it affordable housing, but at the meeting it was clear that local residents disagree on how much it should be. 

The meeting also included a new detail, that the total project will have about 200 units, with 70-80 in the old Hebrew Home and the rest in a new building to be constructed adjacent to the existing building. I hadn't heard that before.

As I wrote yesterday, one group called Friends of the Hebrew Home is arguing for very little affordable housing, about 20%, while another called Neighbors for Affordable Housing advocate for a larger percentage. (The city's plan calls for the housing to be for people making less than 60% of the area median income.)

In my opinion, the FOHH group is using misleading tactics, and at the meeting last night, according to the City Paper, those two camps got into it a bit, with one person yelling, "Friends of the Hebrew Home, you are no friends of this community!" while others accused the Neighbors group of being from outside the neighborhood. The City Papers says most are from nearby but some are from farther away, and the group was organized by Jews United for Justice. (The name of the "Friends" group is also strange to me: what are they friends of, the building itself? And I had never heard about this group before, either.)

The city's Department of General Services, which handles buildings and such, revealed the results of the survey from a few weeks ago. Eighty percent of people wanted housing on the site, and 80% wanted some senior housing there, while 26% of people wanted only 10% to be for lower income people while 16% of people wanted the whole thing to be affordable. Others argued the survey wasn't representative, since it was just an only Survey Monkey and might exclude older people, poorer people, people without computers and the like.

It sounds like there wasn't a resolution, but at least the city (and local residents) have a better idea of what locals want, which seems to be a mix. What do you think?

WAMU's Martin Austermuhle and the City Paper's Aaron Wiener were both on the scene, so I made this rundown of their tweets from the night.


  1. Could you please explain what about the FFHH's tactics are misleading?

  2. I love how someone that lives on 4th Street, which is more than 9 blocks away, calls herself a neighbor of the Hebrew Home. I won't even get into the fact that most of the Jews for Justice live outside the District! Give me a break. For those of us that live within a block or two, this is a REAL problem. DCHA has not proven itself able to handle housing. And how is a one bedroom apartment a "family" unit? Did I mentioned there is a grade school and playground across the street? Bad idea.

  3. Correction here: FFHH is just a listserv and not some unified group. None of us took blood oaths, and very few of us support anything less than 70% affordable housing. We're worried about 100% affordable housing because we have a difficult time understanding why a large building full of government-assisted residents won't experience the same problems these buildings have had going back to the 1960s. We think some small amount of market rate housing will ensure that the Hebrew Home doesn't fall into the cracks of the US urban housing development system over decades, as these buildings tend to do. It's a reasonable position, and none of us have misled anyone.

  4. Timmy! I did in yesterday's previous post: the flyer didn't identify who they were, it said the city was trying to sneak this in, despite the city coming to local ANC meetings and this being the second community meeting about it, and also the city doing a survey of residents. The flyer also included a picture of the Park Morton housing complex, which has some problems but is otherwise unrelated, implying that will happen here. To me, it's fear-mongering and NIMBYism cloaked as concern for poor people.

  5. Although the most recent anonymous commenter sounds more reasonable than the flyer.

  6. DCHA said the easiest ratio to get funding is 70/30, either way (i.e., the 70% can be affordable or market rate).

    That's one of the few useful facts revealed at the meeting. So how about 30% market rate, and split the 70% affordable between Workforce, Retirement, and <60% AMI? Seems like a compromise where everyone wins... as long as it comes with some parking.

  7. Andrew: the city was trying to sneak this in. There was a solicitations for legal services on DC's web site with specific details about the project that had never been revealed publicly. The process of transferring ownership to DCHA began before any comminity meetings. It is only because of those who ultimately started the FOHH list that this meeting took place at all. All they want is transparency. Everything is public online on the google group, please feel free to read it. The tactics are designed to get people involved and that is all.

  8. This is at least the fourth meeting if you include ANC meetings the city came to. I bet the city solicits for things all the time before the plans are formalized and public.

  9. Andrew W,

    First off, I’m not sure if you attended the meeting last night, but if you did you must have noticed that the people most concerned with the process and lack of notification were those who advocated vociferously for 100% senior housing and/or affordable housing. The same was true for the survey. Opining that the FFHH flyer was misleading about this fact is either disingenuous or simply ignorant of how this has played out. Furthermore, had it not been for many people at the June 17 meeting (the only one statutorily required) being so surprised at the progress of the plan, this second meeting would have never taken place. Perhaps you should check your privilege of being on the right side of the digital divide and realize that many of the seniors and poorer residents in both wards were unaware of these plans until community members knocked on doors and passed out flyers.

    As to the picture of Park Morton, it clearly is related because it is a DCHA-developed housing plan. Park Morton happens to be the closest to the HH, and, as you glibly note, it "has some problems." And, while I do think many who paid significant sums for their homes surrounding this land want to preempt the problems associated with concentrated poverty, the greatest victims of Park Morton's (or Park Southern’s) problems are the residents themselves. Sometimes the Venn diagrams for NIMBYism and concern for vulnerable citizens overlaps.

    The FFHH does not have a single vision. At the most, it can be said to be a group of people who live very close to the HH who want to avoid a building that concentrates extreme poverty. The point of the flyer was to raise awareness and get people to the meeting. And judging by the attendance last night they accomplished their goal.

  10. Timmy! I don't want to have an internet flame war here. It's my opinion that the flyer is disingenuous and fear-mongering. You are free to feel another way. There are plenty of DCHA properties around the city, the author of the flyer (which as I noted was not signed by any person or group, so I am assuming it was made by the FFHH) chose this one, obviously to draw the implication that the same thing will happen.

    As for my privilege, the city admitted that the survey did not reach everybody, which I also mentioned in this very blog post. The city also went to ANC meetings to talk about the project, which happen regularly and have a lot of notice many places. Could the city have done more? Yes. I didn't know there was a second building, for example. But arguing that this is some sneaky plot by the city is, I believe, not fair.

    In addition, someone else claimed the Google Group for FFHH is free and open for anybody to read. You have to apply to join to see anything, which I just did, and I had never heard about it before today. I have not seen it mentioned on any other local listserve or any other forum. Perhaps whoever organizes it should reach out to people on the other side of the digital divide, as you put it.

    I think in general though, most people agree: affordable housing is good, let's have some here, and let's talk about it. Clearly that happened and this meeting, and considering the response, I bet those conversations will continue.

  11. Andrew, please read the FOFH list archives. You are either deliberately misrepresenting the history of this, or you just don't understand it.

    The first and only mention of this in a public forum was by Muriel Bowser about 2 years ago in which she stated that the city planned to develop this into senior housing.

    Next, two years later, we're invited to discuss a proposal do develop "80-90 units of affordable/workforce housing" but "this is very early in the process" at the June meeting, Then, in the interim of a process that's "early" the wired solicitation citing very specific details appears (60% AMI LIHTC)... wait, huh? I thought it was early on.

    Today, it's 200 units, and plans are being made that seemingly change greatly in substance from meeting to meeting, and not in a good way.

    The only way the community has been involved in this process so far, is to hear about decisions that are being made through erroneous leaks or community meetings where our concerns are ignored. As far as I can tell nobody from the neighborhood has a seat at the table today.

  12. I don't appreciate you calling me disingenuous on my own blog.

    A commenter on yesterday's post said the city came to two ANC meetings to talk about this: " Very early in the process, DCHA reached out to both ANC 1A and ANC 4C, both of which included presentations by DCHA on their agendas." I don't have any reason to not believe them.

    In addition, there was a legally-required public meeting in June.

    That's three meetings before today. The city also has a website on it, but I don't know when that was first created:

    Again, I believe they could have done more. But just because you didn't see those meetings doesn't mean it's an evil plot to avoid you.

  13. Also I think that pulling out the NIMBY card is to completely dismiss the concerns of neighbors.

    People here have fought development of a single townhouse into (market-rate) condos because of the impact on parking and character of the neighborhood by overdevelopment. Does that make them NIMBYs? Too many rich people living nearby?

    Calling someone a NIMBY because they are concerned about how a major project that affects them DIRECTLY because they live a stone's throw away is to dismiss their concerns. That's just wrong. Would you prefer to live somewhere that nobody cares what a developer does on your block?

    This is a big deal. It's important that the community be involved, and that doesn't mean involved in the form of being told what's going to happen. That's all the neighbors want. It's not a lot to ask. Ideally, that message would not be clouded by a bunch of organized activists who don't actually live nearby filling up seats at the local meetings.

  14. "But arguing that this is some sneaky plot by the city is, I believe, not fair."

    Well, fortunately, you're one of the very few who think this.

    I'm not trying to get in a flame war either. It is my opinion that your coverage of this has been very lazy. I've read your blog for about four years now and this is the first time I've felt the need to comment.

  15. I agree that it's good neighbors are involved. I don't believe scare tactics, which is what I believe that flyer is, are the way to do it. If someone is going to put out a flyer, at least have the sense to put your name or your group's name on it. That's part of what made me suspicious of this whole argument -- anonymous flyers suggest immediately that something else is going on. That, and the tone of the flyer, made me think that the claims about being concerned for the people living in that building were a front for actual NIMBYism. I hope that's not the case.

    That said I'm glad people came to this meeting, and I will continue to cover this issue.

  16. What exactly do you think is happening when you say "something else" is going on? You sound very conspiratorial.

    You can keep calling it NIMBYism, but it's really people who are concerned about what's going on in their backyard. If that's NIMBYism so be it.

  17. Andrew, nothing about the history you state conflicts with my account. That's exactly what I said.

    The project was announced at ANC meetings in May. The legally required meeting was in June, then specifics are leaked via an RFP which is active for exactly 5 days. That's when neighbors decided they needed to organize to have some influence on the process since it seemed clear that it was moving on with or without them. The web site is within the last 2 months, I remember someone mentioning its appearance on the mailing list.

    The specifics of how the flyer was presented were discussed in great detail on the FOTHH mailing list, which is, as I said, public.

    At the end of the day I think you should approach anything like this with a lot more skepticism. Why do you believe the city is NOT trying to pull a fast one? Historically, pulling a fast one is the default approach to just about anything.

    If this turns out to be a sweetheart deal that's already wired to a particular developer, it would just be yet another in a long history of such things.

  18. Anon, you make a good point about the sweetheart deal. I don't think these meetings are bad, and for the third time I agree the city could have done more to publicize it, but it wasn't secret.

    I'm now on the FOHH list, but like I said I hadn't heard about that before today -- and I live very close to this building. They should do some more outreach for it.

  19. The flyer said the city is "quietly rushing," not that they were doing anything in secret.

    Also, have you been to an ANC meeting? About seven people show up to them. Having the DCHA drop into one in ward 4 and one in ward 1 isn't quite the publication you make it out to be.

  20. Andrew: I respect your blog, but you are seriously misinformed or drinking the "affordable housing" Kool Aid. You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

  21. Which facts are those?

    If you notice, I don't believe this should be 100% affordable either.

  22. I think actually that you probably had the most fair write up of the evening especially when you compare to the City Paper's coverage, which had a clear agenda.
    That being said, I don't know why you think the flyer is unfair. It's pretty clear the city was planning to make this 100% affordable before word got out. Presenting at ANC meetings with minimal attendance should hardly count as notification for such a big project.
    Park Morton is the closest affordable housing complex. It without question has problems. Why is comparing this situation to that one unfair or scare tactics, especially since if they close Park Morton, some of the residents would likely come to this development.
    In the same vein, I'm not sure how it has nothing to do with this, since the city owns and will be running it, the same as Park Morton which is a few blocks away.
    I think there are already enough things close to this area. I'm not sure why Columbia Heights and Petworth have to have the lions share or this type of housing. Spread it throughout the city. Concentrated poverty is bad. It's easy to advocate for this when you aren't going to live two blocks from it. Is like to see
    A project like this in ward 3...

  23. DG, thanks for the compliment on the coverage. I agree there could have been more notification, but they did a fair amount. There are plenty of good DCHA sites too, though. I do agree about concentrated poverty, and like most people I think this should be a mix of affordable, senior, etc.

  24. "There are plenty of good DCHA sites too, though"

    ...such as?

    Seriously, the list of DCHA managed properties includes some of the most notorious in DC history, like Sursum Corda (used to be homicide central), Garfield Terrace (rock throwing at cyclists on 11th St), Barry Farm, and so on. Glancing through the list, the most of the ones that I haven't heard of over the years associated with horrendous crime and negelect are some of the senior complexes.


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