Howard University, Amazon celebrate renovation of D.C. apartment … – The Washington Post

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Howard University administrators, Amazon representatives and D.C. officials celebrated Friday the renovation of 80 apartments in a hulking brick building on the edge of campus, an effort they said aids the District’s push for affordable housing in a city with limited options for low-income families.

A bright-red carpet ran up the stairs and into 73-year-old Howard Manor, which for dozens of years housed university workers and low-income families — the last of whom were shaken out of the rent-controlled building more than five years ago amid efforts to renovate, and sell off, the crumbling structure.

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Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund underwrote the renovation with a $31.3 million low-interest loan, officials said.

“There was a time when Howard Manor was a jewel on Georgia Avenue,” Howard University President Ben Vinson III said at a news conference outside the building Friday. “We are standing on the foundation of new hope … and new community promise.”

Officials linked the project, which sits at the corner of Girard Street and Georgia Avenue NW, to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) standing goal to create 12,000 more affordable-housing units by 2025. They also thanked Amazon’s affordable-housing project, which invests in such housing to counter fears that the megacorporation’s presence in the D.C. area will drive up home prices and displace lower-income families.

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, and the newspaper’s interim CEO, Patty Stonesifer, sits on Amazon’s board.)

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Howard Manor’s renovation began after Howard partnered in 2021 with UIP Companies, a real estate investment firm, to redevelop the building. UIP has pledged to transform Howard Manor into a mixed-use property with storefronts and retail on the ground level.

Several former residents of Howard Manor said the tactics used to get people to move out were harsh and forced some families to abandon the neighborhood — or the city entirely — in search of more affordable accommodations. “They got rid of us so they could do what they were going to do,” said Lestor Liburd, who lived at the Howard Manor building for nearly 20 years.

But on Friday, university officials announced that two of the building’s former residents would be moving back in once the project is complete. Howard administrators did not provide details on which tenants had been offered the option to return or on what terms.

Inside the building, studios and one- and two-bedroom units will be rented out to low-income families who qualify at 60 percent of the median family income for D.C. or below. For a family of four, that means an annual income of about $85,400, according to limits set by the federal government.

“The Howard Manor development project is a shining example of what is possible when public-private partnerships work for our people,” Vinson said. “It will provide housing, affordable housing, to dozens of Washington families.”

The spectacle around the building attracted onlookers Friday in the heart of Shaw. Among them was Shontá High, whose apartment building at the Park Morton public-housing complex, less than a mile up Georgia Avenue NW, is being torn down as part of the District’s controversial New Communities Initiative.

The city launched the initiative in 2005 to solve the problem of redeveloping public-housing projects without displacing residents. Under the plan, the city committed to preserving every unit of public housing in four neighborhoods established in the program while adding other affordable and mixed-family housing options. The old buildings were to be torn down, with residents dispersed and then welcomed back into new, mixed-income complexes.

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High said she’s worried about that commitment holding up — and how long it might take before she’s able to move into whatever replaces Park Morton. So, on Friday, she and her 8-year-old daughter, Amarissa, opened cabinet doors and peered into closets in the newly renovated apartments at Howard Manor.

“Wow,” Amarissa said, her voice swelling in the empty, tiled bathroom. She peered into the mirrored vanity, a blue light display glowing with the time and temperature. “This looks like a bathroom for a rich man!”

The building, which opened in 1950, long provided affordable housing for graduate students, retirees, young faculty members and others affiliated with Howard’s many initiatives, including its hospital and grounds.

But as the area around the school gentrified, and property values shot up with seemingly no ceiling, the university began to make efforts to sell real estate to ease financial strain. Selling empty buildings typically nets more money than structures still filled with residents, and so, in 2017, Howard worked to move dozens of low- and moderate-income tenants out of the building.

Originally, the plan was to transform the building into a market-rate structure that would lease units at the going rate for the neighborhood, said Anthony Freeman, an assistant vice president and special assistant to the president of Howard University. According to listing aggregator RentCafe, the average cost of a lease in Shaw is about $2,770 per month.

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But then UIP brought in Amazon’s housing equity arm as a leasing agent, and the prospect of making the building affordable seemed within reach, Freeman said.

“We felt it would meet our community’s needs,” he said in an interview after the news conference Friday.

The decision to make the building affordable at the 60 percent range of median area income was made jointly, Freeman said, and based on what the university and Amazon considered to be in line with the kind of workforce that building stakeholders hope to see in the complex: university faculty, hospital workers, maybe even some graduate students.

The vast majority of Amazon’s housing equity funds have been used to erect or preserve affordable housing that caters to families at 60 percent to 80 percent of the area’s median income. This leaves out some of the District’s poorest residents, who do not make enough to qualify for apartments like those in Howard Manor.

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