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.

Is DC interested in keeping the Black middle class? IDK

1900 blk houseSo I’ve read the report out of Georgetown University’s report State of African Americans in DC: Employment,  and as a member of the black middle class there is nothing, zero, in the report about keeping the middle class Afro-American families in DC. The purpose of the report (PDF), as stated on page 2, is to analyze trends and “offer ideas about how to halt the flow of African Americans out of Washington, D.C.” However, the report I read was about attempting to support low and no income people in DC, who in our city are primarily people of color.

There is an error everyone makes, even I make this mistake from time to time, and that is the equation: Afro-American=Low Income. Yes, the median household income of African American households is less than White American households, but the median income is not necessarily low income.  But to be fair this related to the Mayor’s Commission of African American Affairs, and its mission is primarily focused on low-income African Americans.

The report doesn’t completely ignore the Black middle class, it mentions the flight of the AfAm middle class from the city and a decline in the Black middle class. It also mention’s the former Marion Barry’s contribution. Before he was known for crack and sex, Barry did grow the Black middle class in DC with contracts requiring minority businesses and hiring a lot of people for DC government jobs. Unfortunately, many of those middle class DC government workers wandered across the border to PG County. The problem with making DC government offices a Black employment program are a lot of people who didn’t answer the damned phone when you needed city services, but I digress.

This report, because its focus is not creating and keeping a Black middle class, doesn’t even suggest doing what Barry did (at least with the creation part).

I should also mention that DC lacks a white low class community, so like the error of equating black with poor, there is the habit of equating white= middle class/ rich. Therefore, most programs for low income populations will be for people of color, and more often African Americans.

Yes, I am faulting the report for being something other than what I would like it to be. I want it to show how DC can grow and keep a Black middle class. DC seems like a place with racially diverse workplaces so I’m not sure what more DC DOES, can do for equal opportunities for the kind of jobs being created in the city. The Project Empowerment doesn’t seem to work with the kind of careers that lead people to the middle class. SYEP is hit or miss on the path to the middle class.

The report does say: “The city must create a pipeline from its high schools to careers such as nursing, radiology, EMT, and physician’s assistants, which typically pay a living wage or better. D.C. can start by reconfiguring the Career Academies and CTE programs administered by DCPS to be geared toward these careers.” Yes, something beyond a living wage to a thriving wage should be a goal.

Regarding housing there is nothing mentioned for the Black middle class. There is a program, actually a whole DC agency that could help the Black middle class become homeowners. The DC Housing Finance Agency has HPAP, which helps with the downpayment, with strings…… DCHFA has various homebuying assistance programs which can help people buy their first home in DC and homeowners are more likely to stay, or stay longer than renters.

I think it is a good thing to try to keep a sizable African American population in the District, for the sake of keeping the city a comfortable place for people like me and bi-racial families like mine. I think DC does itself a disservice not to try to make sure that a chunk of the AfAm community is middle class and figure out how to keep them/us.

 

Why your townhouse or condo rent costs so much

Row of Townhomes in TruxtonThis is not about rent in a large or even small apartment building, there are different things at play. Nope, this is about the English basement, or the whole townhouse, or house or condo that you or someone you know might be renting here in the city. It might seem that the rent is too darned high, and maybe it is, but there are things that contribute to the price of your rent that you may want to be aware of.

How much did it cost for your landlord to get the place where you live?

Some people are investors who purposely choose landlording, and some people are regular people who accidentally wandered into it. How do you accidentally become a landlord? You buy a house/condo and then 2+ years later get a job on the other side of the country or in the case of many, many people I know, you get married/partnered/pregnant and the place that worked for you as a singleton doesn’t work now. When faced with these life changes they sell or decide to rent. Some people rent at a loss, where the mortgage, insurance, fees, and whatever exceeds market rents, even if the market rents seem extra high. Some people just break even and others make a range of profit from a little to a lot.

Renovation
So you want to make sure construction workers are paid a living wage? You gotta pay them more and that increases the cost of construction, which gets passed on to the occupant of the workers’ labor. That and Home Depot don’t give away quality stuff for free.

This is not just purchase price that you can find in city records, this is also the price to make it a place habitable. A lot of people buy houses that are move in ready, maybe with a legal rental unit included. Yet there are others who bought cheap, or cheaper than now, renovated, and maybe bothered going through the hassle of permits and contractors so you could have a place that doesn’t get enough light. Or did something similar only to later rent out their whole house or condo. Good contractors cost money, so do bad contractors in their own special way.  These costs get passed on to the renter if the market supports it.

Taxes

Because we live in our home our property taxes are a little above $2k. If we were renting our house out, it probably would be somewhere around $3K without the homestead exemption.  Three thousand a year is $250 a month in taxes. The larger the house and nicer the neighborhood the higher the taxes.

Insurance

There was a time I was thinking of dropping the insurance on a house in Florida I own. I didn’t have a mortgage on the house, so there was no bank telling me I had to have insurance, and the darned thing was so cheap, with insurance it was worth more to me on fire.

Insurance protects the landlord, not the renter. If the property were to catch on fire the landlord would get a check, not the renter, unless the renter had renter’s insurance.

The cost of this varies. I used to pay (back when it was worth more on fire) about $900 a year. Found a cheaper insurer, which I might regret should something happen, and pay around $600 a year, $50 a month that the rent covers.

Fees

If someone were to rent out their house, there is a fee to be paid to the DC government. If they choose to leave the management to a company, the company takes their cut. If it is a condo, that fee needs to be paid, and some condo fees are in the $500-$600 a month range. Unless the landlord has to rent at a loss, those fees get passed on to the renter in the form of a higher rent.

Other stuff

There are other things a landlord is supposed to consider like vacancy ( when no one is renting and the mortgage and condo fees still need to be paid) repairs, and maintenance/ maintenance plan. If the landlord is not renting at a loss, the renter is going to cover those costs in the form of a higher rent.

Most people don’t become landlords to rent at a loss. In time those who rent at a loss don’t last long, maybe they wind up in foreclosure or maybe they rip off the band-aid and sell at a loss. Low rents, affordable rents, outside of some larger apartment buildings and beyond the wizards of the Section 8 and like subsidized programs, are not sustainable if all the costs don’t make the prospect of affordable housing profitable.

There was a time in Shaw when it seemed there were nothing but Section 8 (current name is Housing Choice Voucher Program, but hardly any really calls it by that name) houses. Landlords were making money off of those houses by making them just habitable enough to pass inspection then skimping on the maintenance. The Section 8 program also housed a lot of people who made lousy neighbors, so much so that “Section 8” was synonymous with crazy, loud, trashy, drug addicted, anti-social people. Ah the early 00s, but that’s another post for another day.

Are you really middle class?

4 bills and changeSo the Post has an article about middle class incomes rising and mentioned the national median income for 2016 was $59,039. Keep in mind that is for a household, this will become important later.

The median income for the DC Metro area is way higher. Twice as high, at $110,300 for 2017 according to HUD. You might be thinking, I don’t make that much, who the hell is making that money? Well remember this is for households, those incomes are typically for a four person household. This may be two working adults and two kids, or one extremely well paid working adult and 3 dependents.

If you’re a singleton, the AMI is $77,300, pat yourself on the back you are definitely middle class in DC.  If you’re single in DC making $52,550 or less you are low income (80% AMI). An annual income of $38,650 or less, you are very low income (50% AMI) and $23,200, you’re poor (extremely low income).  I will leave it to you to decide if at 80% AMI  (Area Median Income) you are middle class or not.

Using the Federal government’s salary table the good news is for the DC-Baltimore area there are no full time poor workers. Same thing for MPD police who are in the union, the base salary for a Class 1 officer (2015) is $53,750. That puts them in the 80% AMI region if they have 1 dependent. A starting teacher for DCPS with just a BA should get $51,359 annually. So when someone promoting workforce housing proposes having income limits at the very low income level (50% AMI) and says it’s for teachers and police officers, they are full of $hit. Even a family of four would make too much at the 50% level after the lowliest teacher’s 5th year or for a teacher with a MA 2nd year of service and a cop’s second year, assuming their spouse (if any) wasn’t working.

Being in the 80% AMI range can be a pretty sweet spot. Just before I bought my house I was below the 80% AMI and was able to qualify for a bunch of housing programs. There was a property tax abatement I qualified for that lasted about 5 years until I made just a smidge too much and the low interest rate mortgage from DCHFA. Neighbors at the 80% AMI are the kind of people you want. If they are young it is only a few years before they are at or above the AMI.

What you need is a time machine

4 Tardis PlateRegarding housing, I recently heard someone remark, or sigh, that one of those mansion-sized townhomes in Logan Circle was only $200,000 back in the 1980s or 90s, and today those type houses sell for around a million -2 million plus. Then there are the remarks others make about affordable housing, because now, unlike the 70s, 80s, and 90s hardly anyone is building affordable housing. My thoughts? If you want a cheap mansion or affordable apartment houses, you will need a time machine.

A one way time machine would be better.

The thing newer residents don’t seem to appreciate, is although we bought our houses in the neighborhoods you now can barely afford, they were affordable when some of us showed up. They were affordable because of the crackheads, the crack dealers, the prostitutes, the nightly gunfire, the break ins, the homeless guys peeing and pooping on your steps, and the odd dead body. Let’s not forget the schools that were so crappy DCPS made retired Army General Julius Becton, a man without a background in secondary education, school superintendent. He stepped down after 16 months. Not only was the housing affordable, the city was barely bearable.

Now if new residents would be fine with stepping into a time machine and restart their 20s and 30s in the Shaw or Columbia Heights of say 1995, maybe they will see that the price of our housing is more than dollars. Not only do I have some sweat equity, my youth, lack of peace, anxiety for my visitors & their property, and years of lost romantic opportunities* are also tied into the price of this house. Time and progress has healed those wounds.

Houses are affordable in parts of the District that are unfashionable. Gentrification is slowly making its way across the river. And here is the opportunity to jump in the time machine.

 

Side story= The Help, the man who is now my husband, was a very platonic friend when I bought my (now our) house. He had helped me move somethings into my new house and as he drove away he said to himself, “Is she that desperate for homeownership she’d live here?” He has told me this story several times and we do enjoy the irony?/humor of it. The Help could not have imagined living here, and enjoying it, anytime before, say 2008. Between breaking up with a boyfriend and dating my now spouse, I had been on 1 date in a ten year span. Daters would discriminate based on location.

I provided the gun but I didn’t shoot him: Historic Landmarking of Sq. 519

319 R St NWSo I got a comment accusing me of wanting historic designations for other’s properties but not my own.

Yay a comment that isn’t spam. I’d prefer a critical comment over 10 comments selling snake oil and condos in Mumbai.

What is it all about? Well there is an application with the Historic Preservation Office for the whole (with a few exceptions) block of Square 519, which is bounded by Florida Ave, 4th, R, & 3rd Streets. It is Case 17-18 Wardman Flats.  The DC Preservation League, not I, nominated the block for Historic Landmark status. What does this mean? It means that the developer for 319 R Street can’t go forward yet and the turret on the corner is protected from demo by DC historic preservation law.

I’ve been busy with a property in Baltimore, MD the past month, so I haven’t had much involvement with 319 R Street NW beyond a few blog posts, tweets and showing up at BACA meetings. I’ve been consumed by that (because of a bad contractor experience) and have neglected a lot of things here in DC. So what has happened with 319 R St NW and the rest of the block, was not of my doing.

I will admit, proudly, that I did provide the tools for the application. There is a badly outdated website I created called TruxtonCircle.org . There you can find the census information for every man, woman and child who lived in the area known as Truxton Circle from 1880 to 1940. It has been up since 2012. A paper I wrote sometime ago, “Ethnic Divides in an 1880 DC Neighborhood” was referenced in the application. I’ve been researching the history of the neighborhood for well over a decade and sharing it, so if someone wanted to use it for other purposes, they can.  But if someone tries to make Truxton Circle a historic district, I will fight them.

I can totally understand if the residents of Square 519 are mad. They’ve been swept up in something stirred up by the developers of 319 R St NW. If they hadn’t threatened to raze the building, or if they had their architects create a second drawing incorporating the existing turret (as opposed to throwing a new one on top like an ill fitting dunce hat), it probably would not have come to this. The owner of 1721 4th St NW added a 3rd floor without getting the National Register of Historic Places involved and triggering something like this.

But why drag everyone else on the block into this? Whelp… it appears to be a stronger case when taking the block as a whole because, with a few exceptions, it is a Harry Wardman block. So everyone else on the block has this hanging over them because the developers of 319 R Street NW threatened the corner turret.

In this I’m like the person who provided the gun, but I didn’t shoot the guy. And if you’re wondering if I’ve left any other historic weaponry around for anyone to gather and use in an landmarking application, then yes, there is more. People of Bates Street, be aware.

Don’t get cray cray with your nostalgia

150X3rdSt.jpgThis is an old photo, probably from 2003, but I’m not sure, of 1508-1514 3rd Street NW. Those houses all boarded up in the photo now have real windows and doors and people. As you can probably see and guess, no one was displaced in the revitalization of those vacant houses. Guess what Shaw had a lot of back in the late 1990s and early 2000s…. boarded up nasty vacant houses.

This photo is from the “good old days” or the end of the “good old days” in Shaw. These are the “good old days” I guess some people are getting nostalgic about. It seems to be the same nostalgia that people in New York have about the old Times Square, back when it was filled with hookers, muggers and peep shows. I would like to remind you that the good old days, no one would deliver food to the house, you almost had to trick cabbies to drive you home and the local businesses were greasy carry outs, hair salons, dirty liquor stores, and unlicensed independent corner pharmaceutical distributors. Back in 2003 we would have killed to have a $30+ entree sit down restaurant to bitch about.

But it is 2017 and we have the luxury of complaining because we are hot stuff, for now. Who knows if there will be another middle class flight from the cities? It has happened before, it could happen again. Mansions have been split up to become rooming houses, and later rehabbed to become condos. History has taught me the good times do not last forever, neither do the bad.

Yes, those vacants in the photo above ‘might’ have been affordable to buy. Might, depending on the level of work needed to make them safe and livable. Might, depending on the dependability and skill of the contractor and the workmen. Might, provided it wasn’t a lead encrusted, termite riddled, pile of crumbly bricks with jerry rigged wiring and asbestos lined pipes. ‘Cause fixing that stuff costs money.

I will blog about the good/bad old days to remind you how far this neighborhood has come. I will blog to remind you not to get too crazy with your nostalgia.