A historically Black fraternity wants to bring some affordable housing to Ward 4’s Kennedy Street corridor near the intersection of Kansas and Missouri Avenues NW.
Phi Beta Sigma plans to rebuild its 145 Kennedy St. NW headquarters and create 35 housing units, eight of which will have permanent supportive housing (PSH). Urban Turf reported all units will be affordable for households 50% or below of the area median income. That’s a maximum of $65,400 for a family of four and $45,150 for an individual.
International President Chris Rey said the project is an evolution for the fraternity.
“Picking up trash on the side of the road … is not enough anymore,” Rey said. “Now’s it’s time for us to really put some serious skin in the game, and so projects like this are kind of the direction I want not only our national entity to look at, but then our local chapters for the future.”
The team includes the fraternity, TM and Associates, PGN Architects, and the Peebles Corporation, which is owned by honorary fraternity member Donahue Peebles.
They plan to file with the D.C. Zoning Commission by the end of October, Rey said. The fraternity will apply for a voluntary design review and request permission to construct the building 7 feet higher to add another residential story. If the request is denied, they will reevaluate to see if they can meet their intent with the project, but Rey said they are confident it will be approved.
Before going to the zoning commission, the fraternity wanted to speak with the community first, Rey said, so they met with ANC 4B on Sept. 27. The development team also met with 4B Chair Alison Brooks and residents of her Manor Park district, where the fraternity is located.
Phi Beta Sigma is a community staple, Brooks said, and it has been headquartered at 145 Kennedy St. for more than 40 years.
“It just holds a special place in peoples’ hearts,” Brooks said. “To revitalize the building in itself would’ve been major, but to then add dedicated supportive housing is amazing.”
She said the project takes affordable housing “head-on.”
“So this project begins a transformation, potentially, of housing in this community, and their goals of how they continue to support residents and be good neighbors, it’s just a wonderful example of how people should care for and treat each other,” Brooks said. “So I’m really excited about the project.”
Fraternity offices will occupy 6,000 square feet of the new building on the ground floor, and the remaining four floors will be for residents. The project will create 22 parking spaces through a combination of surface and underground parking.
A possible floor plan presented at the ANC meeting broke the units into 18 one-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units, four three-bedroom units, and three four-bedroom units.
“The idea here is that we’re providing some large, family-sized units that speaks to the affordable housing nature so families can remain and live in the community,” Sean Pichon, a partner with PGN Architects, said during the meeting.
Rey said they are targeting older tenants and ideally current residents of the area.
“How amazing would it be to have someone who’s in that area that wants to be able to continue to stay and live in that area?” Rey said. “We know the reality is we won’t be able to control that entire process. But the goal … is to make sure that we have individuals in that community to be able to take advantage of this new project.”
Rey said he hopes to replicate this in other major cities. Outside of affordable housing, the fraternity is exploring health clinics for Black and brown men and looking to address food deserts. Eventually, the goal for Phi Beta Sigma is to have its own hospital.
The affordable housing project is an opportunity for the fraternity to reinvest in both itself and the community, Rey said at the ANC 4B meeting. The fraternity was founded in 1914 at Howard University, and the Kennedy Street location has been the fraternity’s home for more than 40 years.
“Just rebuilding a national headquarters, it just wasn’t enough for us,” Rey said. “We recognized there was a need for affordable housing in the Washington, D.C., market. We recognize that we have the capacity to come to the table, to provide, to meet that need.”
The fraternity will donate part of its land value into the deal to subsidize it to keep it affordable, Neil Mutreja, vice president at TM Associates, said during the Sept. 27 ANC 4B meeting. Other financing will come from federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and 4% bond financing.
Complex financing is one of the biggest challenges to creating more affordable housing, said Melissa Bondi, state and local policy director for the mid-Atlantic region of Enterprise Community Partners. The LIHTC program essentially offers tax credits to private contributors for investing in affordable housing projects.
“And that’s the reason why the federal government has a stake in this is because they’re trying to leverage the power of private sector resources to help produce a community benefit that meets certain standards,” Bondi said.
LIHTC is the single largest tool the U.S. has to preserve and create new affordable housing, she added.
Bondi said they have seen more faith-based organizations create similar affordable housing projects, especially if they have a lot of land.
As for Phi Beta Sigma, she said it’s nice to see the fraternity plans to stay at the property.
“I will say, I’m encouraged to see more community-based organizations, and in this case a fraternity, thinking about how to take advantage of property that is within their control to do something that contributes what we desperately need as a District, which is more committed affordable housing,” Bondi said. “And if it includes permanent supportive housing, that’s even better.”