The appeal of the nearly $600 million redevelopment of the Brookland Manor complex in Northeast will halt the first phase of construction and force the developer to reconsider its plans for the 20-acre, 19-building housing complex at the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 14th Street.
In May 2017, the District’s zoning board approved a sizable portion of the Brookland Manor redevelopment, but legal challenges issued by residents may push the start date of the nearly 10-year redevelopment plan.
On May 7, Minne Elliot, president of the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Resident Association, asked the D.C. Court of Appeals to review the D.C. Zoning Commission’s April order that allowed MidCity to begin construction on the initial phase of its 200-unit senior building and a building with 131 affordable units to relocate current residents.
More than 370 of the complex, which made up of 535 residential units that range in size from one bedroom to five, are currently subsidized by the government for low-income renters. Other residents hold subsidized housing vouchers that can be used at any complex that accepts them. The complex’s Bethesda-based owner, MidCity Financial Corp., has committed to keeping 373 affordable units in the complex after reconstruction, which will have a total of 1,760 units.
But the redevelopment has garnered mixed feelings amongst its current residents.
Those who oppose the project say they do not oppose redevelopment, just specific aspects about the plan that they think will have an adverse impact on families and low-income residents, arguing that a complex that will triple its density should have more than 22 percent of the new construction be dedicated to affordable housing. The legal requirement for such a project is eight to 10 percent.
William Merrifield, Elliot’s lawyer and a staff attorney for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, has argued that the plan for Brookland Manor’s redevelopment would cause displacement of current residents, especially with the plan’s call for the elimination of large three- and four-bedroom units.
“This developer wants to triple the number of units on site, but we’re saying if you want to triple density, [the developer needs] to return the same number of affordable units at the same bedroom size,” Merrifield said. “There would be no appeal if the plan would not eliminate overall affordably and the community has a right to fight back against gentrification and displacement.”
He also said that family members who have to chose between living alone in the redevelopment’s senior building for those 62 or older or staying with family members.
Thaddeus James, a 14-year resident at Brookland Manor and supporter of the redevelopment, filed a civil suit against Elliot following the appeal.
“I’m pushing back,” James said. “I’m a senior and they re delaying the construction of the senior building.”
He said he wants Elliot and her lawyer to verify their claims against the development’s plan, which he said will have “a positive influence” on the Brookland Manor community.
Groundbreaking for the first phase of the project was planned to begin this summer. Though three vacant buildings on the property will still be demolished, construction on the site will be halted.
Developers are defending the project in two courts. Aside from the appeals case, Organizing Neighborhood Equity D.C. (ONE D.C.), a grass-roots organization, filed a federal lawsuit filed in August 2016 in the U.S. District Court on behalf of the families living there.
“Given this appeal, we will be forced to consider all our options for future development at Brookland Manor, including a by-right plan or a potential sale,” said MidCity Executive Vice President Michael Meers. “Unfortunately, both of these options would likely have a significant negative impact on the Section 8 contract at the property and a substantial reduction in overall community benefits.”
MidCity said in addition to an infrastructure upgrade, the redevelopment would be an economic catalyst in Brentwood by creating more than 3,000 jobs and generating more than $500 million in new tax revenue. The project also included plans for a full-service grocery store.
They said more than 70 percent of the complex’s current residents have signed a declaration in support of the redevelopment.
“On behalf of the overwhelming majority of Brookland Manor residents in support of the project and the greater Brentwood community, we are disappointed that a single individual has chosen to delay much needed new and affordable housing for Brookland Manor families,” said Robert Johns, MidCity Development’s director of community relations. “The reality is that RIA is for everyone: all current Brookland Manor residents will have a guaranteed home in the redevelopment — a home with modern amenities and enhanced services.”