This is what I’d like in explaining Affordable Housing

So I was bopping around the YouTubies as I normally do and decided after the question of what foods are great for baby led weaning, I decided to ask, what is affordable housing. I know what is affordable housing, well its technical definition for DC. But what does it mean in real life for tenants?

Although not for DC (New York City, different animal) I came across this from a fitness Youtuber Imani Shakir.

I love how she talks about her experience with the system and how it works there.  Just going by her video this is what I learned: You need an on-line housing profile; don’t apply for everything, just apply to the buildings where you qualify; Your chances are better if you pick a building in your area; You need to respond quickly and have accurate contact info; You may need letters from your current and former bosses in addition to pay stubs as some of your application documentation when asked. You might have less than 2 weeks to get those documents together; and the biggest take away, it may take years to get an affordable unit. In her case it was 3 years.

We normally hear about affordable housing from politicians, activists, and administrators, but almost never from recent applicants and recipients of affordable housing.

So Asbury Dwellings used to be a school

Three white guys posing in front of Shaw Jr High. Circa 1967-68.

 

Okay, if you are familiar with the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and 7th Street NW you are aware of Asbury Dwellings, senior citizens’ apartments.

Well before it was housing, it was a school. It was THE school the neighborhood was named after. Just like Adams Morgan was named after two schools there, with its own urban renewal project, Shaw was named after the Shaw Junior High School. Which was named after Col. Robert Gould Shaw. So the neighborhood being named after the Col. Shaw is sorta kinda true if you’re totally ignoring the urban renewal part of the neighborhood’s history.

So behind the three white guys with rolled up posters, is the school and you may be able to make out the word “High School”. It now reads “Asbury Dwellings”. If you don’t feel like bringing up a Google street view of the place here’s a link to a Library of Congress photo of the current building. When you really look at it, it is a beautiful building.

210 P St NW-open house

210 P St NW Open HouseSo my neighbor, the former architect current artist, IT invited me to join him for an open house in the Truxton Circle neighborhood, 210 P St NW. These are the Clover Court Condos, and the start near a million dollars. There were 2 of the 4 units staged, with one being open and un-staged.

Let me start with the bad and get that out of the way. The price is in the square footage, though some of that seems wasted in some ways. IT was not in agreement with some of the layout decisions. I found a few things not up to par for the price tag. And we both spotted things that didn’t make sense for the way people might occupy the space. One of the toilets in unit #4 is is a very tight alcove where it is very likely someone is going to constantly hit the towel rack. And the alcove is super tight, no linebackers in the can here. The basement wells for unit #1 do let in lots of light but the view and space is lacking. I suggested a mural or plants. The problem with plants in that and the balcony and the roof deck is where is a water source?

210 P St NW Open HouseUnits 3 and 4 have roof deck access. IT has told me on previous occasions that roof decks need things or else they will mainly go unused. You need water and electrical outlets and it helps to have some shelter. There is a tiny room at the top of the stairs, pictured right. It needs an electrical outlet for a fridge. We did not notice any water spigots on the roof. At the price point, one might expect these things on the rooftop space.

Okay the good stuff.

210 P St NW Open HouseIt’s got a turret. You do not need to get rid of the turret (hear that 319 R St NW?!). Just clad that puppy with some metal and build a roof deck around it. We wandered into unit #3 and noticed that there is nothing on the inside to point to the turret up above. IT had looked for some glass to see if it was being used as a light source. Nope.

Oh, you probably want to know what is the good stuff for a buyer. Well as I said there is lots of space inside. Unit #1 has 1,921 square feet, unit #3 2,245 square feet, and unit #4 a whopping 2,331 square feet. There was so much space I got disoriented and lost in the units. The price is in the wealth of space. You want fancy stuff like an outdoor kitchen, or water spigots, you’re gonna have to put that in yourself.210 P St NW Open House

For unit #4, there is definitely a million dollar plus view. The top of the Washington Monument is visible and unobstructed. IT said you could have a 4th of July fireworks viewing party and charge admission. Seriously, any of you folks with private decks with a view of the monument in the TC or Mid-City Shaw wanna charge me to see the fireworks email me. Just tell me if I need to bring my own water.

Can DC be sued for gentrification?

So the District of Columbia is getting sued for gentrification.

Because of Kelo v City of New London, this probably won’t go very far.

For those who don’t remember or know, Kelo v New London was an eminent domain case where the City of New London, CT took the private property, the homes, of residents of an area of town

This is an image from Little Pink House, a movie.

so a developer could build a headquarters for the Pfizer Corporation. Ms. Susette Kelo and others sued the city, sued to protect the homes they owned, from the city taking them away and displacing them. Long story short, Ms. Kelo lost and her home was torn down. There is a movie about it out now and it will be at the E Street Theater June 1-7, and tickets go on sale on May 30.

So just as a man can legally divorce his wife and remarry a younger model, a city can take away your home and give/sell the land to a richer, more economically attractive entity. If that is so, then the District of Columbia can take properties it owns or has an interest in, or doesn’t own at all through eminent domain and give/sell them to more economically attractive entities. Unless there is something on DC’s books actually saying it can’t, but the city can undo its own rules. So I don’t think this lawsuit has a chance.

I’ve noticed there is this mindset that the city has an obligation to care for its poor over that of other interests. In my book club, our next book How to Kill a City, has this same mindset. The author seems annoyed that Detroit or any other city would choose economic development over its poorest citizens.

City governments, like DC, have their own interests. Cities, do not like being broke.  They don’t like even looking broke. They like being gleaming shining examples of whatever is in fashion with local governments these days. However classics like low crime, lots of ‘good’ jobs, and great schools never go out of style and governments will aim for those goals over others.

Let’s Play Airbnb Bingo on My Block

R and 4th Townhomes
Random townhouses in Truxton

Full disclosure: I love Airbnb. I have used it when traveling and I have hosted. I have a property (not in DC) that is being used as an Airbnb.

So I was aware one of my neighbors was an Airbnb host. The neighbor is a good neighbor and the guests in this person’s home have been fairly quiet. Then later I noticed some new people in the house of the the evil landlady and introduced myself to find out who her new victims were. They said they were only going to be there for 3 months, and I quickly figured out it was an Airbnb. So I went online to try to find the listing of she who used to constantly rent to crackheads. In looking for her, I came across a couple of other Airbnb’s on my block.

In total I located 4 Airbnb’s on my street block; the one I already knew of, the one from the evil landlady, a neighbor renting out a not exactly separate basement, and a real estate investor.

I basically figured out whose house is whose by looking at every available whole house and private rooms in a 5 block and carefully looking at the photos. The easy ones showed the front of the house, I think that was 3 of the four, so not that hard. Then I looked at what could be seen from the window and tested my knowledge of my neighborhood. Sometimes a style of door helped. That’s when it became a game, a game of guess that house. Found several houses on 3rd Street, Bates, Florida and New Jersey.

I don’t believe most Airbnb guests are bad. There is a small irony that a long time renter who has an annoying habit of having insanely loud cell phone conversations outside (sometimes at 2 in the frickin morning) is sandwiched between two Airbnbs. I pity the guests.

I don’t fear Airbnb because I lived here when there were tons of Section 8s. Various jurisdictions want to limit the number of short term rentals, but they never did the same for Section 8s. There were good Section 8 renters on our block and there were horrendously bad anti-social fk-ups whose chaos spilled out and made life difficult for neighbors. I’m thinking of Drama Mamma, who was a horrible neighbor with a violent son. Comparatively, I like the Airbnb guests a bit better, so far.

Spacepak good and bad

Vent tubes for Space Pak system
Vent tubes for Space Pak system

So our central air died about 2 years ago.

We had it for almost 10 years when it died. The image to the right are the tubes our system, the Spacepak system, used to deliver cool air to the house. Prior to that I used big honking window units. The joy of central air is not having to lug heavy as sin units up the freaking stairs AND down the frigging stairs once a year.

But then we noticed the system wasn’t working that well. Called a well known plumbing/HVAC company to come out and they said the system was leaking coolant and whatever it was the whole system needed replacing because the kind of coolant the system used is being phased out. They brought out a second person to look at the system and got the sales pitch to replace the system, at $12K. To be fair about $3k of that was to hire a crane to replace the unit on the roof.

With that quote, and knowing that most AC systems have a life span of 10 years, that’s $1,200 a year (not including power, filters, and maintenance) for the privilege of central air. For that price I could get someone from Taskrabbit or something like it to come to my house and bring the various ac window units up and down for way less. Hell for that price, I could buy new ac units every friggin year and pay someone to lug them up and down. Also our house is small, and the bedrooms, kitchen and living/dining space is less than 800 sq feet (not counting baths and hall). We don’t need a super system. So not going to replace the system this year, not at that price. Besides, we replaced the roof last month, so that was our big capital project of 2018.

The Spacepak system, when it was running, I really loved it. There were no bulky vent structures and the vents in the ceiling kinda blended in. When the system was on, everywhere, except our bedroom was fairly quiet. Above our bedroom there was a lot of the mechanicals.  We never never had the system below 75F, I hate the cold. I continued to love the system until it died.

It did have it’s faults. The kitchen vent was above a cabinet and I don’t think any air really got in there. As a consequence, I avoided using the oven in the summer. I have my doubts we could have gotten the house ice cold with the system. It, like our heating system, took its sweet time getting to the temperature we set.

I don’t believe the people who quoted us were familiar with small duct high velocity systems, and the price tag was probably for a whole new bulky duct system. We did contact another company that did have some familiarity and after the technician came by they never got back in touch with us, and I didn’t follow up. So alas we are doing window units.

I am playing with the idea of scrapping the system for mini-splits. I have a tiny house (not on wheels, just a tiny townhome) that I put mini-splits in, one unit for each floor. It does heating and cooling. Since the house was ridiculously tiny, I used images of Honk Kong apartments as inspiration and noticed these mini-split systems all over the place. The major downside is appearance, but I’d want one in the kitchen just to deal with the fact that it is the hottest room in the house in summer.

No need for developer hate- who built your house?

So I was reading, okay skimming, through a lot of web posts and articles about housing and there was a fair amount of hate on developers, real estate developers. Apparently all developers care about is money. Okay, but didn’t a developer build your house? Your apartment?

So the newly historic landmarked Wardman Flats were built by a real estate developer Harry Wardman, which is why it is landmarked… Okay it was landmarked because a present day developer threatened the turret at 319 R Street and landmarking is a hammer people can use. Wardman did not build the houses on Square 519 (btwn 3rd, 4th, Florida, and R Streets NW) for charity. He was a builder, that’s how he made money. He built a lot in DC, mainly, for the money.

Bates St Turn of the century A few years  before Wardman built in Truxton Circle and a few blocks over the Washington Sanitary Improvement Company (WSIC) built flats between North Cap, Q, P, and 3rd Streets NW.  Paul Williams has a wonderful blog post about WSIC, so there is no need for me to rehash that history. WSIC wasn’t completely all about the money, more about ‘business philanthropy’. I’m not completely sure, but my reading is that this type of project was to provide dividends to stockholders. So doing good and making money?

My own house is over 140 years old and as far as I can tell, was built by a guy who rented to poor black labors. Can’t find anything that shows he built my house for anything other than the money.

There is no public housing in Truxton Circle. There is HUD subsidized housing, but no public housing. But even city supported or federally subsidized housing involve developers as well. I don’t have any good history about that so, this is where I’ll end this post.

319 R Street NW- a sign

319 R St NW, 20001So what’s new? A sign.

I attended the Bates Area Civic Association (BACA) meeting on Monday and a neighbor from that block said she spoke with the owner/developer. That person informed her that they would be keeping the place a single family home. Even though they purchased the property back in June 2015 for $750K, they could break even, or profit, by giving it a super interior renovation and exterior restoration.

For those of you just joining us in this story, here’s the quick summary. Back in the 00s a Korean church bought the property to do inner city mission work. Then they sold it to a developer, who then proposed to knock off the turret and build a 3rd story in order to make a 2 unit condo. They hinted that if they were not allowed to do so they would demolish the whole building, as a matter of right. They played chicken, and lost. A hundred years prior, developer Harry Wardman built almost all the buildings on the block 319 R sat on, and this was the reasoning that was used to make the whole square a National Historic Landmark. The landmark status prevented the developers from making any exterior changes. This probably could have been prevented if the turret was respected or if the architects who drew the second proposed drawing incorporated the turret, instead of plopping on a dunce hat on the proposed 3rd floor. It had been done before around the corner on 4th St where a 3rd floor was added and the problem didn’t go past BZA.

Considering Harry Wardman built all those townhouses as 2 story flats, I don’t see why it cannot become a 2 unit building. The building has a tad over 2,000 square feet, so dividing it into half wouldn’t create two too tiny units. But there are costs to dividing up a single unit structure (character preservation vs affordable housing, ‘nother topic for another day) and it appears a nicely (not impressive but nice) renovated corner house like 319 R St NW would sell for 1.something million dollars. One point four if I were a betting woman. The house across the street for $1.25 mil is under contract, and 319 conceivably has 1 parking pad and those are worth gold!

So we’ll see what happens and keep an eye on it.

Affordable Housing

NorthWest Coop at 3rd and R NW“Affordable Housing” gets thrown around a lot in DC, as in there isn’t too much of it. HUD (Housing & Urban Development) defines affordable housing as, “In general, housing for which the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than 30 percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities. Please note that some jurisdictions may define affordable housing based on other, locally determined criteria, and that this definition is intended solely as an approximate guideline or general rule of thumb.” Unfortunately for me, DHCD (Dept of Housing and Community Development) doesn’t have such a nice glossary, or at least one that I could find, and as HUD hinted, the locality may have other criteria.

What DHCD does somewhat define are Affordable Dwelling Units (ADU). According to the website, “Affordable Dwelling Unit (ADU) is an umbrella term applied to for-sale and for-rent homes that are locally restricted for occupancy by households whose income falls within a certain range. ADUs are generally offered at a below-market rate. The DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) monitors and enforces compliance with ADU requirements in the District of Columbia.” The income ranges depend on size of household, not makeup (ex. a 2 person household could be 2 adults, or 1 adult and child).

The 2017 income limits and ranges and all that can be seen in a PDF at this link. If affordable housing or a proposal for affordable housing is the subject of an upcoming community meeting in your neighborhood, print out the latest on affordable housing income limits and bring it to the meeting. Typically when I bother to ask the developer or whomever the representative is for some proposed project about income, they are unsure what the limits are. They do know that they are supposed to have X number of units out of Y number of units at 50% or 30%. Sometimes they mention how many bedrooms per unit and let’s say no one is building units for large families.

I feel I need to also define ‘public housing’ as I tend to see comments on DC related blogs and sites referring to a housing complex taking vouchers (sometimes called Section 8) as public housing. The Northwest Cooperatives for the 10 zillionth time are not public housing. Why do I have a picture of the NW Co-op? It is affordable housing as they do take section 8 vouchers and the housing was built with the help of HUD subsidies. The DC Housing Authority has 56 public housing properties it maintains and you can see that list here. If it isn’t on that list, it’s not public housing.

Senior Citizen Deduction on Real Property

I just need to post something and people keep forgetting about this very generous deduction for senior citizens who own their homes. The DC government does take into account low income homeowners as well as low income senior citizens, but I’ll talk about low income in another post. This post is about old people. The thing is they need to apply, it is not automatic. You don’t get a deduction on you 65th birthday. DC government is not tracking you, it is not that organized.

So you’re old (65+) and you own your home but the property taxes keep going up and up, what are you to do? One, are you getting a homestead exemption? If not, why not? Are you not living in a residential property? If you live above your liquor store that you run, sorry no deduction for you. That’s a commercial property, probably. This is for a house, a townhome, a duplex, a triplex (and anything 5 units or less) or a condo. But most importantly this residential property must be your primary residence. The homestead deduction should take off $73,350 from the assessed value.

Okay so you have the homestead deduction. Great. Are you 65 or older? Here is what the Office of Tax and Revenue says,” When a property owner turns 65 years of age or older, or when he or she is disabled, he or she may file an application immediately for disabled or senior citizen property tax relief. This benefit reduces a qualified property owner’s property tax by 50 percent.” 50%!! Half off from regular priced taxes. Old timers whose house is worth over a million dollars will be taxed like their house is over HALF a million dollars. But what if it is a couple living in the house and one is 65 and the other is say 35? There are things I could say but they’re judgey and not polite. As long as the 65 year old owns 50% of the house or condo or whatever it’s still good.

But wait you say, “I’m 65 years old and on a low fixed income, half off does not cut it.” Well guess what, you can have your taxes deferred. I understand the 0% deferral, not so much the 6% deferral. I am familiar with ‘deferring’ things like student loans, it just means you don’t have to pay now, but it’s gonna get paid. With seniors I figure it just means those taxes have to get paid when grandma goes to the great beyond. Maybe that’s why this particular program needs your lender’s okay. Anyway, low income means a household Federal Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $50,000 or less. You get the 0% deferral if you are 75 years or older, have lived in your home 25+ years and make no more than $12,500 from dividends and interest. But you get nothing if you don’t fill out and send in the application (Word .doc file).

So if there is an old timer complaining that all these young white whippersnappers are moving in and raising their taxes, ask them if they have taken advantage of the real property programs for seniors and offer to help them fill out the application. Also remind them that nursing homes are friggin’ expensive and Medicare doesn’t cover everything, so having an ever increasing in value asset is a good thing…. provided their pot head daughter doesn’t blow all the proceeds from the sale of the house once she gets power of attorney…. Yes, apparently I’m still pissed off with my sister in law.