Preserving a Cohesive Community in Washington Highlands

 

This is the fifth story featured in Preservation Works: LISC DC’s Role in Preserving Quality Affordable Housing.  It highlights how preserving affordable homes is not limited to keeping the bricks and mortar for residents. Preservation can also mean that  residents are able to maintain their cohesive community and sense of belonging.

It’s about a fifteen minute walk from the Southern Avenue Metro stop to the Arbor View campus. Within Arbor View, small vegetable gardens sit alongside the parking lot, and a prominently displayed “Free Food” sign points towards the bi-monthly food bank.

Outside the community center, children play on the newly renovated playground. On food bank days, a group of resident volunteers hand out groceries—tomatoes, potatoes, dry goods, juice—to anyone who stops by.

 

The sense of community at Arbor View is striking. Across generations, residents look after each other. Ms. Cora Clark, resident manager, stands out clearly as the catalyst for this deep engagement. Ms. Clark started working at Arbor View ten years ago. Since then, she started a wide range of programs to help the residents, including weekly movie nights, a summer camp, and nutrition classes.

The food bank, the summer camp, and the daycare not only serve the residents of Arbor View, but are available to the wider southeast community. This engagement of Arbor View residents, not only as recipients of services, but as volunteers themselves, positively impacts the broader neighborhood. The renovations that occurred in 2013 helped to facilitate this sense of community, by expanding and improving the Community Center— creating the physical space for engagement. The new community center contains a library, food pantry, computer lab and multipurpose room. Beyond that, the new community garden and playground reflect the culture of health and wellness that Ms. Clark and the residents worked hard to create.

Arbor View contains 156 rental garden apartments. Most of the units (105) are reserved for residents earning 60% or below of Area Median Income (AMI), and the remaining 51 units are mostly occupied by residents earning less than 80% of AMI.  The Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), which bought Arbor View from the Greater Southeast Hospital Foundation in 1994, used LIHTC and a DHCD loan to fund full repairs to the majority of the units (105), while the rest only needed minor repairs.

By 2012, in order to maintain quality living conditions, the property needed significant rehabilitation, including unit upgrades, such as new kitchens and baths, flooring, improved energy efficiency, new entry door systems, exterior building and balcony repairs, and new lighting. Some units required substantial renovation, including replacing sub-flooring, removing mold-covered balconies, and restoring sagging joists. To finance this renovation, CPDC acquired a

FHA 221(d)(4) mortgage – a federally guaranteed mortgage that is provided through a loan from a private bank. Securing this loan required completion of predevelopment in advance— meaning more upfront expenses than usual. LISC DC provided a $100,000 recoverable grant to cover approximately 20% of the overall predevelopment budget for the project; this enabled the recapitalization process to move forward.

However; by 2013, increases in interest rates created an unforeseen financing gap. The property rents could support less hard debt under the program than they could support a year prior. Further, HUD required very large reserves to be funded at closing. To help cover this gap, we provided a $750,000 loan.

LISC DC played dual roles in this project—an early supporter, recognizing CPDC’s vision, and a problem solver, assisting when obstacles arose. By investing in Arbor View, we helped CPDC to preserve and enhance affordable homes and a vibrant, cohesive community, with positive impacts for the broader Southeast community.