Washington, DC: Preserving Affordable Housing at the Atlantic Apartment Homes
One powerful tool in any effort to provide decent and affordable housing for the economically disadvantaged is the preservation and upkeep of existing subsidized projects. In Ward 8, a disadvantaged area in the southeastern quadrant of Washington, DC, developer WinnCompanies completed a comprehensive renovation of 303 affordable units on two nearby sites. The developments, previously called Atlantic Terrace and Atlantic Gardens, are now collectively named the Atlantic Apartment Homes, or simply the Atlantics, following the two-year renovation process that concluded in 2017. The accumulation of wear and tear since the previous renovation more than 30 years ago, the perception of residents and neighbors that the developments were unsafe, and a shortage of supportive services relative to need were all addressed by the developer as part of the rehabilitation. A robust community engagement process involved residents in project decisions affecting their lives, including ways to smooth the necessary temporary relocations.
Renovation of the Atlantics
The Atlantics’ 11 three- and four-story buildings, built in 1948 and 1964, underwent a major renovation in the 1980s, when WinnCompanies acquired the properties. By 2015, both properties were ready for another renovation, and for two years, WinnCompanies worked on one building at a time, thoroughly refurbishing the interior and exterior of each. Improvements made to the units included renovated kitchens and bathrooms, as well as new plumbing, wiring, and appliances. All buildings were also updated with new flooring and lighting, as well as new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Elevators were added to one building to increase accessibility.
During the planning phase, WinnCompanies engaged the tenants to determine how the renovation could respond to their needs. Through surveys, open meetings, and conversations with the tenant association, the residents generated a list of priorities for the new Atlantics community. Topping the list was the need for better security. In response, WinnCompanies installed technologically sophisticated equipment to monitor the buildings and grounds and enhance residents’ safety. Other improvements included upgraded outdoor lighting and refurbished landscaping. These enhancements changed not only the residents’ view of their own safety but also the public’s perception of the Atlantics.
In conjunction with the renovation, a $1.3 million grant from the city’s Department of Energy and Environment allowed WinnCompanies to install solar panels at the Atlantics. Funding came from the department’s Solar for All program, an initiative intended to help 100,000 low- to moderate-income families in single- and multifamily buildings in the District of Columbia benefit from the cost savings of solar power. WinnCompanies estimates that the panels will lower utility bills for 160 households by $500 annually. Just as the solar panels are reducing utility costs to residents, ENERGY STAR®-certified appliances and light-emitting diode bulbs further lower electric bills.
The renovation also included the construction of two new learning centers and one new community room, as well as the expansion of an existing community room, areas that can be used to provide supportive services for residents. WinnCompanies used its Connected Communities approach to build partnerships with local service providers to ensure supportive services are tailored to the particular needs of the community. For example, the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative and United Planning Organization conduct onsite adult education and job training. The Capital Area Food Bank, DC Central Kitchen, and a local hospital provide health care, mental health services, and affordable food. Public safety and community arts programs are supported by the Congress Heights Arts & Culture Center and the TraRon Center, which provides art therapy, counseling, and other services for people who have been affected by gun violence. In addition, several organizations provide more child-centered programming, including the Washington Nationals, the city’s Major League Baseball team, which sponsors a baseball clinic that includes free busing to and from the practice field and several hours of play, followed by a dinner.
Financing for the Atlantics
The renovation costs totaled $69.2 million (table 1). According to Brett Meringoff, senior vice president at WinnDevelopment (a unit of WinnCompanies), rental income from affordable housing often is too low to secure a loan for the inevitable big-ticket projects required for aging structures. For example, replacing all the windows throughout a development can be too expensive for typical debt servicing that relies on a substantial revenue stream. By using equity generated from the sale of low-income housing tax credits and through a renewal of the HUD Housing Assistance Payments contract, WinnCompanies secured funding that guaranteed that the Atlantics would continue to provide affordable housing until 2055. Project-based Section 8 vouchers reduce the costs borne by residents while supporting the financial viability of the Atlantics. This program targets assistance toward families earning at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), although according to Meringoff, the average income of households at the Atlantics is closer to 10 percent of AMI.
Table 1: Funding for the Atlantic Apartment Homes
|HUD subordinate mortgages||14,300,000|
|Citi Community Capital subordinated debt||4,500,000|
|District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development Housing Production Trust Fund subordinated debt||10,600,000|
|Low-income housing tax credit equity||21,200,000|
Managing Temporary Relocations
During the renovation, WinnCompanies coordinated with tenants to ensure that their temporary relocations minimized disruptions and accounted for each family’s circumstances. To facilitate the complex relocation process, which happened in phases in which 25 to 45 families — and on one occasion, up to 65 families — were relocated at one time, WinnCompanies hired a consultant to work directly with each family. Through regular communication, the consultant developed a complete picture of every family’s situation to equitably distribute the temporarily displaced households among the offsite apartments that WinnCompanies had leased to accommodate them. For example, the consultant ensured that families with school-aged children were relocated to temporary apartments near their children’s schools. Knowing which households had access to a car and which relied on transit was another factor that the consultant used to place families in suitable apartments.
With its substantial investment and comprehensive renovations, WinnCompanies is ensuring that an important affordable housing resource continues to benefit the community — both the residents and the neighbors of the Atlantics — for decades to come. Added security features, green technology, new playgrounds, modern interiors, abundant services, and a practice of resident engagement have helped uplift a pocket of Washington, DC, needing care and investment. In recognition of the transformation achieved at the Atlantics, WinnCompanies received the National Affordable Housing Management Association’s 2018 Community of Quality Award for Outstanding Turnaround of a Troubled Property.