Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More on the Greening Initiative: fixing up abandoned houses into public housing

After the recent post on seeing people working at one of the abandoned houses with the city's Greening Initiative sign, I got an email address for Dena Michaelson at the District of Columbia Housing Authority, who sent me a press release about it. Basically, the authority got a grant from HUD to renovate 26 DCHA-owned  abandoned houses around the city, some of which are abandoned, to be used as "scattered site" public housing.

Before you say "oh no, more public housing," for the most part, the scattered site model does very well. There's a lot of research on the benefits of individual houses in neighborhoods both for the residents and the neighborhoods. For example, check out this HUD study. There generally aren't negative impacts either, like crime or dropping property values, as long as the sites are managed and tenants are screened well. It's basically the same idea behind the generally successful HOPE VI program is doing, making mixed income housing, although in HOPE VI's case it's turning big buildings into smaller, more dispersed sites.

Plus there are already varying amounts of subsidized houses in the neighborhood, often done by non-profits. I'm checking to see how much the city runs. (See below for Update.)

This Examiner editorial says this model was tried before unsuccessfully, but it sounds like that was due a lack of emphasis under mayors Sharon Pratt Kelly, Marion Barry, and Anthony Williams rather than because it's a bad plan.

And one could argue that if you want Columbia Heights to continue to be a diverse, mixed-income neighborhood, it's better than having these abandoned houses go to developers and become expensive condos. Of course, that's just one argument.

Your thoughts? Below is the relevant part of the press release from DCHA:
Scattered Sites (5 grants with very similar provisions for different groups of scattered sites)

HUD Funding: $1,927,406      Amount to be leveraged:          $ 192,741        Total Project: $2,120,147

    * Five grants provide funds for the gut rehabilitation of a total of 26 scattered site units throughout Washington DC.
    * These units will be renewed from varying states of repair and disrepair, from structural repairs to the complete replacement of building systems. These units will go from being energy and water wasters to being models of resource and cost efficiency.
    * All materials used in the rehabilitation and repairs will be as healthful, nontoxic, and sustainable-sourced as possible

Scattered site public housing is an old program.  At one point, DCHA owned more than 300 homes scattered throughout the city that housed public housing residents.  It proved to be too disorganized and expensive to maintain all the properties at the level needed to provide safe and secure housing for the residents.  In the ‘90s, DCHA started selling off the individual homes, giving first offers to existing residents in the homes, then to other public housing residents.  Some were sold at market rate to get the funds to fix up others.

We are down to fewer than 60 scattered sites, now.  We submitted a competitive grant request to HUD for ARRA funds, and received the 5 awards for a total of 26 houses.  These are the ones being fixed up, and they will continue to house our residents.  The remaining houses are either rented to public housing residents or being land-banked until we can find funds to fix them up for sale.  Sales will be to low income families or at market rate, depending on our needs. 
Note that "land-banked" means they're owned by DCHA and unoccupied, which I previously called abandoned before I knew they were DCHA-owned. 


  1. CH has enough public housing, its time to start removing some of it. turn it over to developers to make expensive condos please!!!!

  2. If the Washington Examiner is against it, it must be a good idea.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to look into this. I live on Irving and have been wondering about these houses. Sounds like an innovative idea to address the need for low-income housing.

  4. Actually part of the Tivoli is mixed use and if you see the people that live in there, you would never know. If it falls into that model it's all good. What I do have issues is taking a giant chunk of tax payer dollars (if you look closely this was part of that stimulus $787 Billion boondogle) to fund this. One of my neighbors that lives in the units at the Tivoli is a realtor and he is NOT making low income money and that bothers me bc it can be really going to a non profit worker, an EMT, or a teacher. Instead we have him and his working wife taking up a unit and that is NOT fair.

  5. I live across the street from this lot, and I must say that I think it's great that the city is focused on distributing low-income housing. Creating sky-scrapers of low-income (poverty) housing depresses the areas that the housing is in and limits the experiences of the kids who grow up there. Distributing low-income housing provides a great neighborhood for kids and families. We shouldn't concentrate poverty; we should create diverse communities and make this a better community together. Everyone wants what leads to gentrification -- reduced crime, better schools, less litter -- but when communities fight for their own betterment and then need to move out due to tax rates going up we've failed. Low income housing is the best way for low income community members to stay in their communities when a community improves (because they've worked for it) and distributed low-income housing is a great way to break the cycle of poverty.


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