Checking Out Housing Types for Park Morton

Following up on the Park Morton development workshops, I’ve begun to look at other mixed income developments to see what has worked, and what hasn’t, in those projects. One that caught my attention was The Townhomes on Capitol Hill. This development replaced the Ellen Wilson housing project and is located between 6th and 7th Streets, SE, just north of the Southeast freeway.

Ellen Wilson Dwellings was one of the first public housing developments in Washington, D.C. It was named for President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife and constructed in 1941. Originally, Ellen Wilson was built to house white public housing residents, while nearby the Arthur Capper dwellings were constructed for African American residents. The original Ellen Wilson development consisted largely of low-rise (two- and three-story) garden-style apartment buildings and contained 205 living units. This was reduced to 134 units in 13 buildings after a portion of the development was demolished during the construction of the Southwest freeway.

In 1993, Washington’s Department of Public and Assisted Housing (DPAH) received a $15.6 million HOPE VI grant to fund the revitalization of the former Ellen Wilson Dwellings, which had been vacant for five years at that time.

Three things in particular drew my attention to the Townhomes on Capitol Hill development. The first was that it is constructed of townhouses which compliment the surrounding Capitol Hill Historic District. I’m hopeful that rowhouses can be one of the building types that make up the final Park Morton redevelopment plan, especially in the areas zoned R-4 and abutting historic rowdwellings. The second thing that caught my attention is that the Townhomes on Capitol Hill did not result in a 1:1 replacement of the public housing units that were razed to make it happen — a criticism I’ve heard of HOPE VI developments in general. This also drives home the importance of having a build first component to Park Morton. And finally, the resulting development which had its first residents move in in 1999 is still considered to be a successful mixed-income development. You can read more about this develpoment in a 2013 Washington Post article.

In walking around the Townhomes development recently, I liked what I saw. Below are some of the types of houses built to complement Capitol Hill.

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