Brightwood Tenants Preserve Affordable Housing

When she wrapped up her out-of-town trip earlier this month, Genora Keenan returned to her residence at Fort Stevens Place Apartments, a 59-unit building in an increasingly expensive part of Northwest that had recently been renovated and fully equipped with new utilities, thanks in part to her efforts.

Using the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), Keenan and other tenants of Fort Stevens Place secured their spot in new apartments that will remain affordable for at least 30 more years. The journey to this milestone included negotiations over three years and building renovations that took more than a year.

More than a week after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd (D) and others celebrated this victory during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the front steps of Fort Stevens Place, Keenan recounted a process that had been peppered with meetings, mountains of paperwork, and a temporary relocation.

“Tenants were concerned about the basic things. None of the plumbing or electricity in the building had been replaced since I’ve been here. Those and the roof had been the biggest problems,” said Keenan, president of Fort Stevens Place’s tenant association and a resident for more than 40 years.

Ft. Stevens Place, in existence since the early 1950s, had long been one of five apartments along Fort Stevens Drive in Northwest owned by a single company. A sale five years ago bequeathed each building to different entities. During the TOPA process, tenants of Fort Stevens Place chose the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC) as a partner in their endeavor to gain control of their building.

With the financial backing of Suntrust Bank, CPDC oversaw the renovation of Fort Stevens Place, including repairs to the roof, replacement of the electrical wiring and plumbing, and installation of a central heating and cooling system. In total, the project cost $18.6 million. Contractors upgraded units in tiers. After one group of apartments had been renovated, tenants who temporarily stayed in another unit returned to their dwellings while another cohort made a similar switch.

“It went by pretty smoothly,” Keenan said. “We didn’t have people [permanently] moving out; things stayed steady because of the renovation.”

The ribbon-cutting at Ft. Stevens Place during the latter part of last month happened amid rumblings about the Comprehensive Plan and the upcoming expiration of rent-control protections that have been in effect for decades. The start of Fiscal Year 2020 on October 1 started a new round of investments in public housing repairs, workforce housing, and age-in-place resources for seniors.

This week, Mayor Bowser released a housing equity report and Comprehensive Plan proposal alongside DC Office of Planning Director Andrew Trueblood. The report established specific affordable housing goals for each District neighborhood, which falls in line with an executive order signed earlier this year establishing a goal of 36,000 new homes, a third of which will be affordable, by 2025.

During a September meeting at the Urban Land Institute (ULI), Mayor Bowser pointed to west of Rock Creek Park as the next frontier in subsidized housing. This enclave, located less than two miles from Fort Stevens Place, has long been exclusive to upper middle-class and wealthy District residents, even with 16 percent of the city’s rent-controlled housing stock. A ULI panel later drafted recommendations to actualize the expansion of affordable housing along Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenues, and other areas west of Rock Creek.

On the morning of September 26, as she marveled at the fall landscape surrounding the community and commended the Fort Stevens Place tenant association and CPDC for a collaboration well done, Mayor Bowser spoke again about her housing goals.
“We fought for housing investments for the new fiscal year,” she said. “This is part of a larger strategy to get to 36,000 homes by 2025. By creating affordable units, we will be aggressive.”

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