D.C. affordable housing advocates call on court to support $97M Bruce Monroe project

Several affordable housing advocates that support the long-planned Bruce Monroe mixed-use development banded together this month to file an amicus brief with the D.C. Court Appeals in hopes of moving the $97 million project forward.

The project is one of dozens of planned-unit developments that have stalled due to appeals by local citizens or groups. The Bruce Monroe case is before the court, but there is no set timeline for a decision.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, which filed the brief with policy research firm D.C. Appleseed, the Park Morton Residents Council, Enterprise Community Partners and the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, is asking the court to consider how the development will “affect citizens who need access to quality affordable housing.”

At issue is a project led by a partnership between the District, the D.C. Housing Authority and private developers Dantes Partners and The Community Builders. It was formed to redevelop the Park Morton public housing development and nearby Bruce Monroe Park with mixed-income projects.

The Bruce Monroe and Park Morton PUDs represent the fulfillment of long-overdue promises to the community, and provide a model for how the District and other cities facing the pressures of rising housing costs can preserve housing and economic opportunities for all residents,” the amicus brief stated.

Cheryl Cort, policy director of the coalition, said it could take months to hear back from the Court of Appeals. But she said the amicus brief is important in convincing the court to affirm the Zoning Commission’s decision on Bruce Monroe. PUDs are considered ideal because they provide community benefits and amenities in exchange for greater density that can result in more affordable housing.

“We want the court to re-establish a predictable process for planned-unit developments,” Cort said. “We think there are a lot of meritless appeals going forward.”

The Bruce Monroe project is particularly significant because it would provide 273 affordable units, including 189 in an apartment building, 76 in a senior building, and eight townhomes. Of the 273 units, 90 will be Park Morton replacements. The remaining 109 low-income units would be affordable at 60 percent of the median family income, while 70 would be market-rate. The site is to be anchored by a 1-acre park.

The Zoning Commission approved the project in April 2017, but four nearby neighbors appealed the decision in May, leaving the development plans in limbo. The neighbors object to the height of one of the development’s buildings.

Delaying the project further will be detrimental to affordable housing goals, said Angie Rodgers, director of the District’s New Communities Initiative, a government program whose mission is to replace public housing units one-for-one and integrate those units into new, mixed-income neighborhoods.

“We are certainly anxious to see the court move along with this process,” Rodgers said. “We hope that we can get resolution this year.”

Despite the appeal, the development team behind Bruce Monroe continues to work on designs for the project, Rodgers said. The project will be funded by a combination of low-income housing tax credits, private loans as well as up to $37 million in gap funding from New Communities.

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