Ensuring that all people have access to stable, affordable, and healthy homes requires innovation and creativity. In this series of success stories, we highlight innovative strategies and models for keeping housing accessible and safe for those who need it most. For a deeper dive into these models and best practices, explore Preserving Affordable Homes for Equitable, Healthy Communities.
Channel Square, Washington, D.C.
Over the past decade, Southwest Washington, D.C., has seen some of the greatest reinvestment and increases in rents in an already expensive city. Sandwiched in between the Capitol Riverfront that is anchored by Nationals Stadium and The Wharf redevelopment, this neighborhood now offers world class entertainment, outdoor recreation and job opportunities, but also very high rents. Two-bedroom apartments in this area rent for over $4,000 per month.
However, thanks to strong preservation policies (e.g., DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) and capable partners, the more than 220 families that live in Channel Square apartments have been able to stay in quality affordable rental homes in this great location. Back in 2012, the owner of Channel Square notified residents that their building was up for sale. The resident association exercised its rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act to preserve their homes and partnered with NHT Communities, Somerset Development Company, and the Jonathan Rose Companies to purchase Channel Square.
The residents and their partners developed a plan to preserve the long-term affordability of the homes. An Affordable Housing Covenant was recorded against the property to preserve it not just for current residents, but as an affordable home in a great location for future residents. This agreement:
- Limits future rent increases on all homes, treating them as if they were rent controlled
- Keeps two thirds of the apartment homes affordable to people with low incomes
- Establishes a preference for Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher holders
These protections have been successful in keeping Channel Square affordable to long-term residents like 70-year-old Yvonne Ball, who raised her children here as a working single mother and has since downsized to a smaller unit. “I feel safe. I feel at peace. Everything is convenient. One of my favorite memories here is raising children in an atmosphere where I didn’t have to worry.” The preservation of the property has also helped sustain a truly mixed-income community. Approximately one third of residents have low incomes and use a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher to pay their rent. Incomes for those households that don’t have vouchers range from $20,000-$120,000 per year.
As in many preservation transactions, speed of execution was key. The residents and their partners acquired ownership of the property with the help of an acquisition loan from the District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development, but renovation didn’t occur until 2016. At that time, Channel Square benefited from common area upgrades and new cabinets and doors for all units, installation of a very large solar power system and a significant energy retrofit supported with funding from the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility. Thanks to the energy retrofit, which will result in 20 percent cost reduction annually, and the solar power system, home is even more affordable for residents.