Brookland Manor is set to be re-developed into a more upscale housing complex and residents have mixed feelings about that.
Brookland Manor is a 20-acre, 19-building housing community that is located at the corner of Rhode Island Ave., N.E. and 14th Street., N.E. in Ward 5. Brookland Manor is located close to the economically-booming Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station and the housing and retail surrounding it.
Mid-City Financial of Bethesda, owner of Brookland Manor, plans to replace the Ward 5 housing complex with a larger building. (Courtesy photo)
Brookland Manor’s owners, Mid-City Financial of Bethesda, Maryland. want to build their property to be more amenable to affluent residents but its spokesperson, Robert Johns, told the AFRO that there is a popular misconception that the low-income and working-class residents that live there will be displaced.
“All current residents who are housed at Brookland Manor are involved in the process of development and they will not be displaced,” Johns, who serves as Mid-City’s director of community affairs, said. “We have the assurances in writing that will not take place and that includes the Section 8 residents who are here.”
Section 8 is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that pays most of the rent of low-income people at selected housing projects. Brookland Manor, whose resident pool is predominantly Black, also works with another HUD program where the department pays the rent above one-third of each tenant’s income.
Mid-City plans to tear down the existing buildings, some of which are decades-old, and build 1,760 new units.
HUD would retain control of 373 of the new units and the remainder would rent out at market rate.
Presently, Brookland Manor contains 535 affordable units, including three, four and five-bedroom units that accommodate families.
In May 2017, the District’s zoning board approved a significant portion of MidCity’s Brookland Manor plans. With legal wrangling from some residents who don’t like MidCity’s plans, breaking ground on the new development could take up to two years.
The Brookland Manor Residents Association, the tenant’s association, has requested that Mid-City do three things for the residential project. First, it wants the preservation of the 535 units of affordable housing that currently exist on the site at the current bedroom sizes and current subsidy levels.
Second, it wants the tenants to have the right to remain on the property during the process of redevelopment and they want the redevelopment done in phases and third, it wants tenants to have the right to be employed on the building project.
Brookland’s residents association has received the backing of Organizing Neighborhood Equity DC (ONE DC), an advocacy organization for low and working class residents who seek fair and affordable housing in the city. ONE DC housing coordinator Yasima Mrabet has been working with the tenants at Brookland Manor and is skeptical of Mid-City’s plans to keep the low and working class residents there after the redevelopment is done.
“One D.C.’s position is that Mid-City’s plans are not inclusive and it negatively affects the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Brookland Manor,” Mrabet told the AFRO. She said that MidCity’s plans are a detriment to working-class Black families there.
Mrabet said her organization has been working with the tenants to have MidCity meet the above mention demands of the residents association.
“We want to make sure that the same number of affordable housing units preserved and that current bedroom sizes also remain the same,” she said. “It is my understanding that the bedrooms sizes will be reduced from five to two-or three bedrooms. If that happens, hundreds of families will be expelled from Brookland Manor.”
Mrabet isn’t in favor of MidCity’s plan to restrict 200 of those affordable units to senior citizens that are 62-years-old and older, either.
Johns said residents’ concerns are unfounded.
“Everyone who has a voucher will remain in place at the same rate,” he said. “Those residents have guaranteed housing. The only way we will raise the rent is if their income changes.
Our first priority is to take care of our residents.”
Johns said that one of the goals of redeveloping Brookland Manor is to make it a mixed-use community with townhouses, new apartments and retail space.
“We want an actual community that is thriving,” Johns said. “We want to make sure that people who are in Brookland Manor are here to stay in D.C. and not moving to Maryland.”
Johns said that his company has engaged in partnerships with groups such as Concerned Black Men to help residents deal with issues such as literacy, academic tutoring, health and wellness and job and career training. He said that homeownership and computer classes sponsored or co-sponsored by MidCity are on track to be offered, too.
“We want to make sure that we have solid resident programs,” he said. “These programs will be ongoing and not flash in the pan.”
On Nov. 18, 2017, MidCity co-sponsored a career fair at nearby Israel Baptist Church with the offices of D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) participating with local companies.
Cecelia Rhodes is a resident of Brookland Manor and supports MidCity.
“My family has lived in this area since 1978,” Rhodes told the AFRO. “I think what MidCity wants to do is great and awesome and I think we need a new development here. For this area, this is a step in the right direction.”
Rhodes said some of her neighbors who don’t support the redevelopment are confused.
“There are some who say that we will be displaced and that is misinformation,” she said. “They are going on their own assumptions. There have been a number of meetings on this and some of those folks don’t attend meetings.
“If you don’t attend, you don’t know.”
Thaddeus James, a 14-year resident of Brookland Manor, agrees with Rhodes.
“I support this project 100 percent,” James told the AFRO. “This project will get rid of the concentrated poverty and racial segregation that is here. People with higher incomes in this area will lift up the low-income residents and make them want to do better.”
James said the “new” Brookland Manor will bring “better housing and amenities.” He said the programs that Johns spoke about will “make people more self-sufficient” and “improve their health and wellness.”