by Lisa M. Thomas, Ph.D.
In this blog post, Staff Editor Lisa Thomas discusses how redevelopment can affect the District’s most vulnerable residents. For more on affordable housing in Washington, D.C., check out Katherine Hannah’s recent Note, Carrying Out the Promise: How Shared Equity Models Can Save Affordable Housing, on WestLaw and Lexis.
The area around Washington, D.C.’s Convention Center is a model for new development, but it also exemplifies the issues that some of the city’s most vulnerable residents are facing. Cranes appear in all directions, including the six-block area known as Mt. Vernon Triangle. Old and abandoned buildings are quickly being replaced with hotels, luxury apartments, stores, and restaurants. Museum Square, however, stands out as an exception to the new rule; currently, it is Section 8 housing on the corner of K Street NW and 4th Street NW. Many of its residents are Chinese, elderly, low income, and non-English speaking—factors that have disadvantaged them when negotiating to keep their homes. The tenants at Museum Square comprise half of the remaining Chinese population in the neighborhood, just a few blocks north of Chinatown.
In 2013, the owner of the Museum Square apartment building, the Bush Companies, declared that it was not going to renew the Section 8 agreement it had with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes the tenants’ rent. In June 2014, Bush informed tenants that they could purchase the building; otherwise, the developer planned to construct two new buildings there—one with fourteen stories of apartments and another with thirteen stories of condominiums. The project would also include four levels of underground parking and 17,000 square feet of retail space. The residents tried to exercise their right to purchase the property, which Bush claimed would cost them $250 million.