What's Holding Up Redevelopment of a Church-Owned Affordable Apartment Building in Shaw?

  • December 10th 2021

by Nena Perry-Brown

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Rendering of the proposed development. Click to enlarge.

This spring, UrbanTurf reported on a proposed redevelopment of a church-owned apartment building in Shaw.

Since then, however, plans have been in limbo.

The Foster House at 9th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW (map) was built 50 years ago through the efforts of civil rights leader and former New Bethel Baptist Church pastor Walter Fauntroy. Recently, the church's Housing Corporation (NBHC) partnered with Evergreen Urban to manage the 76-unit building as they work toward redeveloping the site. The new development would provide 76 deeply-affordable units, enable current residents to return, incorporate on-site support services for the lower-income households, and deliver another 122 market-rate units along with shared amenities.

However, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is pursuing legal action against NBHC and Evergreen Urban in order to enforce housing code violations. While an agreement to remedy those violations was reached in March, OAG continues to assert that the property management has not delivered the necessary repairs according to the agreed-upon timeline, and has documented over 700 violations outstanding as of last month.

From NBHC's perspective, repairs are completed regularly, but they are insufficient to address the property's infrastructural needs, and the legal battle with the city has undermined their ability to proceed with work to maintain and redevelop the property. (NBHC shared the redevelopment plans with OAG prior to any legal action being taken.) 

Conclusion of the case with OAG wouldn't immediately remove all barriers to redevelopment. The Foster House Tenants' Association sued NBHC to enforce the residents' Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) rights in 2019, and although the suit was dismissed, an appeal is still ongoing. NBHC recently filed a new TOPA notice after a previous one was nullified by Covid emergency protections. The TOPA clock is still running, and in the meantime, OAG plans to continue pursuing its case.

“OAG takes legal action to hold landlords accountable and improve conditions for tenants when we see a pattern of dangerous housing code violations—particularly when violations threaten the health and safety of vulnerable residents, like the many disabled and low-income seniors who live at Foster House," an OAG spokesperson told UrbanTurf. "A plan to redevelop a property does not exempt landlords from their legal responsibilities to existing tenants.”

In the meantime, New Bethel announced this week that it will be launching the New Bethel Baptist Legal Defense Fund in order to help the church continue to pay its legal fees. The Defense Fund is also envisioned as a resource to protect other historically-Black churches in DC who own or may want to develop affordable housing from legal tactics they deem as predatory.

“Over the past year, New Bethel has been the target of unfair practices that leverage governmental authority at the expense of affordable housing,” New Bethel Pastor, and NBHC president, Dexter Nutall said in a statement.

OAG filed a motion in October for a court-appointed receiver to oversee the repairs process; a hearing on the receivership motion is scheduled for Monday.

CORRECTION: For clarity, we have removed the word "seemingly" in regard to the agreement and have noted documentation of the current violations since publication.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/whats-holding-up-redevelopment-of-a-shaw-church-owned-affordable-apartment-/19039.

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