Notes From the 1125 Spring Road Surplus Meeting

The Hebrew Home for the Aged, 1125 Spring Rd., NW.

The Hebrew Home for the Aged, 1125 Spring Rd., NW.

Last night at the Petworth Library, from 6:30 until about 8:00 pm, the Department of General Services (DGS) held a public meeting on the surplus process for 1125 Spring Road — better known as the former Hebrew Home for the Aged. As expected, there was a lot of community interest with about 67 community members in attendance. DGS’s Stephen Campbell was the primary speaker, with the DC Housing Authority’s Development Project Manager, Alastair Smith, also addressing questions.

The long and the short of the meeting is that all options for redeveloping the property are on the table for discussion at this time, according to Campbell. At the earliest, DGS could submit its surplus package to the DC Council in September or October for their 90 review process before the property is officially available for development.

While the meeting’s primary object was to discuss the need to surplus 1125 Spring Road and the Robeson School building to the east — much of the discussion focused on possible redevelopment of the primary structure, being the 8,500 sq. ft. historic Hebrew Home building. Still, the issue of redeveloping the site really took a back seat to the issue of the building’s proposed new use in support of affordable housing. In fact, I personally do not feel that I really got the full benefit of the presentation as residents took control of the meeting early by interrupting the meeting’s flow with questions. This in turn devolved into one large question and answer session well before the completion on the presentation. Still, I think I was able to glean some details from the conversation.

In essence, and as I’ve written before, the proposed direction the District is going is to investigate redeveloping the historic structure in support of affordable, workforce housing. Currently this means families making around $50,000 to $60,000 per year. The DC Housing Authority would be working on this project with a development partner, which in the end would own about 99% of the development. It was stated more than once that what is being proposed is not public housing. In part, the purpose of the meeting was to hear community feedback and suggestions so that DGS, the DC Housing Authority, and ultimately the DC Council could determine what the right mix of housing will be for the property.

In discussing the types of housing possible for the site, Campbell stated that everything was on the table including senior housing, family housing, and perhaps some upper income housing in about ninety 1- and 2-bedroom units. I was able to get recognized at this point and emphasized that perhaps a lower density of 70-80 units — as was presented to ANC1A in April 2014 — would be better and strongly advocated for some larger units containing 3- or 4-bedrooms. Personally, I can’t emphasis enough the need for affordable family sized units in the community. I also advocated for senior housing as we need a diversity of affordable housing types in the community that will allow seniors to age in their communities even if they can no longer age in their homes.

Earlier in the meeting one community member suggested that DGS conduct a survey of residents so that they had actual data to work from. While I agree that this would be great to have, I also question how the information would be presented in a survey, and what process would be employed so that the feedback was of value. For example, I had a sense that “affordable housing” had several meanings among those in attendance. There would also need to be definitions within the survey to ensure that all participants understood the questions similarly. Lastly, I have questions about the geographic distribution of such a survey and how those on the other side of the digital divide would be able to participate.

Hebrew Home(Hebrew Home from 11th Street looking north)

The surplussing of District owned property occurs after it has been determined that the District no longer has a use for a property. In this case, there is no governmental use for the property — aside from the La Casa building at 1131 Spring Road which will continue to be DC owned. The property is currently zoned residential, thus suggesting the residential uses under consideration.

One theme I heard and that was inferred from the comments — largely through several references to Park Morton — was a fear that the property will support low income or public housing. Conversely, one resident spoke up near the end of the meeting in support of low and moderate income housing (although they prefaced their comment with a statement that what they were about to say was probably not going to be popular with many in the room). There was also one resident who stated that they would like to see the property be developed into a charter school.

What was clear to me by the end of the meeting was this:

  • There needs to be additional community meetings focused on this development so that the outcome is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood (I suggested using Raymond Recreation as a more centrally located option);
  • There needs to be better outreach to the residents who will be most impacted by development of this site;
  • There needs to be a better understanding on how the Robeson school site may be redeveloped and what that development may look like;
  • ANCs 1A & 4C need to provide solid leadership on this issue and organize the community meetings to ensure that the entire community is represented on this issue, and not just those that could travel to the Petworth Library; and,
  • Ultimately, the ANCs will need to consider the position of the community and take up resolutions advocating for what is best for the District of Columbia as a whole.

In summation, there is a lot of work still to do here.


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13 Comments on “Notes From the 1125 Spring Road Surplus Meeting”

  1. JM Says:


    Thank you for the extensive notes. I agree that it would have been nice to hear the DGS presentation rather than jumping into QA.

    However, I did hear several things that concerned me:

    (1) DCHA said that they would develop and manage the property. Essentially they expected the investors to be “silent” partners, as the primary interest of the investors would be to secure tax credits associated with construction of affordable housing. This to me is indistinguishable from “public” housing at a practical level. Regardless of who owns the building on paper, the reality is that DCHA will be managing the property and making the decisions on tenancy and operations. That doesn’t give me a lot of confidence given DCHA’s track record in other parts of the city.

    (2) If DCHA agrees to a particular mix of income levels & uses, how can that be codified, and then enforced in the future? What is to prevent them from simply changing the mix two or three years from now? At a minimum, it seems like we need a formal agreement between the ANC’s and DCHA.

    (3) It was never explained why DCHA needs to be involved at all. Why couldn’t DGS simply issue an RFP for redevelopment, with a particular set aside for affordable units? Seems like that’s the current “best practices” model for building mixed income communities.

    (4) I’m still unclear how the various levels of “affordability” would be managed. For example, if a target number of units are reserved for families making between 30-50% AMI, does that mean that they cannot be rented to lower income levels? My hunch is that the mix of affordability levels is only a target, and there is nothing to prevent this from evolving toward exclusively low-income housing if the demand is high.

    Probably also worth noting that many (most?) of the audience was strongly in favor of Senior housing.

  2. Cliff Says:

    I did not attend the meeting, but have a lot of experience with such issues. It is important to remember that any development has to take Choice Housing Vouchers, which are counted as income. This is how advocates for extreme affordable housing trick people into thinking something at $50-60,000 is workforce.

    On the same note, mixed income is a very successful model that our neighborhood should be supporting. If 1/3 were reserved for workforce, and 2/3 for market rate then the proposal would be good for the neighborhood. If not, then it is a negative. I see nothing wrong with the community demanding planning that has factual data proving viability.

  3. Julia Says:

    Thank you for advocating for larger units. As new developments continue their focus on junior 1 beds and studios, family-sized housing that is affordable for people earning DC’s median income or below is dwindling. Our neighborhood would really benefit from families in the $50-90k income range putting down roots.

    I agree that a survey would require clear definitions of terms and a lot of heavy lifting to ensure neighbors knew about and could respond to it. There are a lot of badly written and poorly executed surveys out there; if they are going to make decisions based on survey data, they need to take the time and put the money into doing it right.

    I was not able to attend but will look out for future meetings.

  4. JS Says:

    Kent –

    I was at the meeting too and appreciate the write up, but I feel that there are some things missing from this write up. First, a quick aside – the building is 85,000 square feet, not 8,500.

    1) I feel your description fo the proposal as “workforce housing for families making up to 60K” is a bit disingenuous. The proposal isn’t to develop the building as 100% workforce housing; it’s for a range of income levels UP TO $60,000 for a family of four. That’s a big difference. When DGS was asked if they were considering market rate housing, they replied “not at this time.” DGS stated that the income mix would come from very low income up to the $60K cap. Quite frankly, this is unacceptable. As Cliff stated, succesful redevelopment models mix subsidized and market-rate housing. I can’t support a DGS proposal that doesn’t include a market-rate component.

    2) If you do the math based on the square footage of the building and the number of proposed units, the average unit size is quite small. Too small for a family of four to live comfortably. Therefore, it’s not correct to say the majority of what is proposed is family workforce housing; it seems DGS is trying to cram as many units into building as possible. This will result in a building with a character much different from what DGS says their proposal is.

    3) As Cliff said, there’s nothing to prevent the units being rented to indivduals using vouchers to cover the entire rental cost. You can quibble with semantics, but I agree with JM – using low income tax credits to construct the building and then renting to tenants whose main source of income is a housing choice voucher = public housing. This also seemed to be the opinion of the community members present at the meeting. While you highlight one person speaking in the support of the plan, that one person was the only person to speak during the entire meeting that supported the plan. There’s just not community support for plan as currently presented.

    4) DGS didn’t discuss their plans for the Robeson school. If Robeson is redveloped into a market-rate building (most likely in a tear down/new build scenario) that takes full advantage of the zoning available to it, then DGS’s plan for a low-income building becomes more understandable. However, wouldn’t it make sense to mix the income levels in both buildings if that is in fact the ultimate plan?

    5) Someone mentioned the idea of a limited equity co-op. This in my mind is a far superior alternative to the rental housing plan as currently proposed. Giving families an owernship stake in their community is a surefire way to allow them to build roots and invest in their communities. DGS should explore that option going forward.

    Finally, why no mention of ANC 1B’s request to delay the surplus legislation until after the November elections? I fully support that. I don’t like the idea of lame-duck legislators making this decision with no accountability.

  5. tom12hours Says:

    Conducting a professional survey of residents can be a highly effective means of determining the sentiment of the neighborhood about how this property should be developed. Obviously, this survey would need to be available in both digital and paper formats and distributed widely in order to get a truly representative sample of the community. Likewise, each survey question would need to be carefully formulated and vetted to ensure that they are clear and easy to understand. As we’ve found in our public meetings, terms like “affordable housing”, “workforce housing”, “senior housing” are vague and often unhelpful terms. A well-written survey would eliminate such ambiguity and get an accurate gauge of neighborhood sentiment. Ideally this survey would be conducted by an independent third party in order to ensure objectivity and quality. There are plenty of organizations in DC capable of doing this, and I hope that our DC government will avail themselves of this opportunity before they commit themselves to a particular development plan (particularly one that is unpopular with the majority of the neighbors).

  6. mbk Says:

    Thanks for the summary Kent. Although I am not sure a more detailed presentation would have made much difference. DCHA/DGS have not been forthcoming to to the ANC just on the Hebrew Home but its actually additional sites. Based on the current zoning they could probably build an additional 5-6 story building on the Robeson site. that would be a significant amount of low income housing clustered. Agree with previous posters that DGA/DCHA are not very straightforward on the income levels either. I can’t believe that DCHA would move forward on this without considering for replacement housing for Park Morton. I just don’t trust an agency that has failed at every single development. They mentioned Cap Quarters as their “Success” story but after 10 years they still have not built the remaining 400 units of public housing. I really think the surplus legislation needs to be tied to using the site for some of the replacement housing for Park Morton or else that site may never move forward.

  7. tom12hours Says:

    One thing that didn’t get mentioned here is the concern about parking. Since street parking is already tight, it seems like it will be a critical issue to address regardless of how the property is developed. But one thing that I’ve noticed, however, is that building more parking spaces does not necessarily fix the problem. The Park Place apartments have several hundred underground parking spaces, but about 80% of them sit empty every day because they are so expensive. If we really want to address the parking problem near the Petworth metro, why doesn’t DC just buy those parking spaces and lease them to residents for a reasonable price? I think they currently cost over $100 per month.

  8. juano2310 Says:

    I agree with tom12hours. Parking is very tight, specially on street cleaning days, it could take me up to half an hour to find parking.
    How will this development affect current residents?

  9. Ed Says:

    The bottom line is that I got the feeling most people wanted some market based condos along with some senior housing. The buzz word of the night was Park Morton. Looks to me like DCHA got ahead of themselves and now are trying to backtrack. The neighborhood is fired up and engaged on this like I’ve never seen.

  10. Annette Says:

    Hi, I did attend the meeting. A few quick comments.

    First, I raised the parking issue during the discussion, as I too am quite concerned. They said the requirement based on current legislation would be one space for every three units (given the proximity to the metro). I suggested that this is not realistic if the tenants are expected to be families and members of the workforce. The person from DCHA acknowledged the concern that 1 to 3 would not be enough for this development. That doesn’t mean they’ll change it, but I did feel like he heard what we were saying on this issue. I agree with the earlier poster that parking fees will also be important.

    Second, I went into the meeting with an open mind. I am concerned about the potential use, but willing to hear more about what “affordable housing” would mean. I left feeling more pessimistic. One reason is that I feel like they were very disingenuous with the use of the term “mixed” (as others have noted). Mixed with a cap of $60k for a family of four is not what most people typically think of as mixed.

    I also left more pessimistic than when I arrived because it was blatantly clear that they were not going to take into account our feedback. How was it clear? Because they were not taking notes. At one point, a few people asked about whether the minutes would be posted. The communications person from DGS stated that the presentation would be posted. Realizing that wasn’t the question, she then added that the minutes would also be posted. But up to that point, not one of them had written down a single word. After that point, one women jotted a few notes here and there on their print out of the presentation. But it was clear that no one was taking minutes, i.e. carefully recording the numerous questions, requests, and concerns coming from the floor. More than anything they actually said, the fact that they weren’t taking minutes made clear to me that they intend to do what they want without considering community inputs.

  11. MC Says:

    Folks, a survey was already completed on April 1st when Jim Graham was soundly rejected by the voters of Columbia Heights. His 16 year pursuit of dense affordable housing projects in Columbia Heights while at the same time ignoring homeowners resulted in being defeated 41% to 59%. Jim Graham got the message, but apparently DGS and DCHA did not.

    I live several blocks away from this project, therefore I don’t really have a horse in the race. But I would I urge those of you more closely affected to tirelessly mobilize. Taking a page from the DNC and RNC, here is a 5 point plan to defeat this project (or get it built with a majority percentage of market rate housing):

    1. Get the contact information all of the decision makers and send them targeted messages expressing your concerns.
    2. Get the names of those that support the project and let them know your opposition.
    2. Get the names of those that are undecided on the project and bring them to your side.
    4. Get the names of those that agree with you and have them get 10 more.
    5. Repeat 1-4.

    Yardsigns with a website to bring in more allies should also be produced. Your mobilization efforts need to be relentless. And let April 1st be your guide that the community is behind you.

  12. […] Department of General Services sent out an email on the evening of July 7th as a follow up to the surplus process for the Old Hebrew Home property. The message (in its entirety below), informed recipients that DGS has posted the Surplus Hearing […]

  13. […] a follow up to the public surplus meeting and the community survey, Councilmember Bowser has scheduled a community meeting for Tuesday, […]

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