Build-first redevelopment at Greenleaf Gardens may be moving out of reach

A photo of the Greenleaf Gardens housing community

Greenleaf Gardens in Southwest. Photo by Nena Perry-Brown

This article was first published on May 20 by Greater Greater Washington.

In November 2020, the DC Housing Authority selected a co-development team including Pennrose, EYA and Bozzuto to redevelop the 15-acre Greenleaf Gardens housing community in Southwest. Their goal was to use the “build-first” model in which new units for the public housing residents are delivered before razing and redeveloping their current units, so as to not leave them scattered and displaced.

[Disclosure: A GGWash board member is an EYA employee, and currently works on the Greenleaf Gardens redevelopment project.]

The co-development team initially presented two build-first options in their proposal: a surface parking lot at the nearby Capitol Park Plaza & Twins apartment complex and a portion of the development planned by Westminster Church a couple of blocks away. Both sites are attached to members of the development team.

DCHA’s 180-day negotiation period with the co-development team is now in its last trimester. At this point, both of the build-first options previously identified for the redevelopment of Greenleaf Gardens are in doubt, and the powers that be are pushing for a different approach.

Meanwhile, Greenleaf residents are contending with issues regarding miscommunication from both DCHA and the co-developers, which is adding anxiety to an already haphazard process.

Build first or move first?


In March, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission that encompasses Greenleaf voted unanimously on its position regarding the mixed-income planned unit development (PUD) currently under zoning review for Westminster: the 123 affordable senior apartments being proposed for the project should not be build-first, but should be a net increase of affordable housing for the neighborhood.

Westminster Church and Bozzuto agreed to comply with this request, which seemingly took build-first off the table at the site. However, the development team has since been suggesting that the remaining 99 units included in the PUD, currently being pursued as market-rate condos, could be a potential build-first opportunity instead.

Such a drastic change for this portion of the development would obviously require a major shift in financing strategy for the project, and would also require that the PUD application be modified (no such modification has been filed yet, and the Zoning Commission will reconsider the PUD in June). In either case, achieving build-first here is far from guaranteed.

At an April meeting, the Greenleaf Neighborhood Advisory Council learned that because the co-owners of Capitol Park put the property up for sale, this potentially closes the window for any future public housing-related development on the site unless the lone co-owner on the redevelopment team is able to buy out their partners.

A month later, Jack Lester of EYA (another partner on the development team) informed ANC meeting attendees that Capitol Park was not, in fact — nor had it ever been — a build-first option for Greenleaf Gardens. Instead, if the team is able to build the up-to-100-units that may or may not be feasible on that site, that new building would simply be a welcome addition of affordable housing to that complex. No word on where that would leave the previously-shared interim option for Greenleaf residents to move into already vacant units at Capitol Park.

A map of the Greenleaf Gardens development plans
Make-ready units plan. Image by DCHA

Newly added to the build-first options is what DCHA is referring to as “make ready.” The agency plans to renovate 48 vacant units, half within the Greenleaf footprint north of L Street SW between 3rd and Delaware and Half Streets and half at the James Creek public housing complex east of King Greenleaf Recreation Center. Current Greenleaf residents in the block south of L Street (“Block A”) would have the option of moving into those units this fall, possibly freeing up Block A for razing and redevelopment. This build-first opportunity seems to be the most achievable.

But that also begs the question: if one of the criteria for RFP respondents was for the development team to have build-first sites under their control, does the shrinking window of possibility for the previously-proposed sites not disqualify the co-development team? The answer: apparently not.

Residents grow frustrated with miscommunication


As the uncertainty of the build-first plan and details of their relocation looms, Greenleaf residents are also growing restless with the slow pace of repairs — even after DCHA announced a roughly $6 million budget that would go toward capital repairs to Greenleaf properties this fiscal year, in addition to the make-ready plans.

Residents have also criticized the quality and thoroughness of communication from the agency and the co-development team. In recent months, numerous community leaders have echoed the sentiments of residents and called for sharper communication.

At the April Board of Commissioners meeting, Greenleaf Gardens Extensions and Additions Resident Council President Dena Walker read a statement calling out the current redevelopment effort as the latest example of DCHA’s “empty promises” to not displace residents before moving them to new build-first units. Walker is currently working toward issuing a resident-led RFP for one of the blocks in the Additions/Extensions, with hopes that residents can co-develop where they live.

At the May ANC meeting, Greenleaf Midrise’s acting Resident Council President Patricia Bishop noted with the recently-formed Greenleaf Resident Advisory Group having met with DCHA and the development team twice, residents have felt disregarded and disrespected, particularly when it comes to their attempts to get answers about needed capital repairs and unsafe living conditions. Along with the slow or lacking response to short-term needs, there also seems to be a disconnect between what information is relayed to stakeholders and what is relayed to residents.

ANC Commissioner Rhonda Hamilton, whose single-member district includes the Greenleaf Midrise and senior buildings, reiterated this point during the May ANC meeting, as well. “I’m glad that you all are making a lot of efforts with this redevelopment process, which I hope will be successful and I hope that you all will include us,” she said. “But I’m just very bothered by the meetings that I’ve sat in and attended — how the staff has been disrespectful to the residents, how we don’t hear the concerns that they’re bringing up every month. We don’t hear anything about how they’re being addressed, and they feel like no one is really listening to them.”

In response, DCHA officers say they are communicating as much as possible and the redevelopment is moving forward full steam ahead, with no options off the table. “I’m sorry if you feel as though my team has been dismissive of the residents,” Director Tyrone Garrett said at the ANC meeting.

“When we talk about make-ready units… when we talk about wanting to push up opportunities for build-first, all those things are trying to create a warp-speed approach to getting things done and moving people into safe spaces so that we don’t have to hear about deplorable conditions,” he continued. “Sometimes [our] hands are tied because [we] don’t have anywhere to move them to, nor do [we] have the capital money to make the improvement in the particular unit, and we don’t want that. None of us do.”

What’s next for Greenleaf?


Since the clock started in January, DCHA has just under two months remaining to put an operating agreement in place with the co-development team.

The Board of Commissioners does not vote to approve operating agreements, nor is it a requirement that specific development sites be identified in order to execute an operating agreement. This means that in early July, DCHA expects to transition seamlessly into a new 180-day negotiating period, this time for a Master Development Agreement (MDA).

DCHA expects to share a draft of the revitalization plan with the public in September; the Board of Commissioners would vote on the plan in October. The subsequent MDA will deliver more clarity on the development components, phases, timeline, and details like the number and distribution of replacement units.

If nothing changes between now and the creation of the updated revitalization plan, some questions still remain. Do the existing proposals meet the build-first requirement? What would happen if the Board of Commissioners rejected an MDA whose only proposed build-first was within the Greenleaf footprint?

The public would likely have to wait until next January to find out, and a lot could happen in the meantime, especially with Garrett’s resignation effective in June.

Issues |Development|Housing

Region |Southwest|Washington DC

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