After half a century, construction has begun on a vacant, eight-acre parcel owned by local real estate developer Joe Horning at the junction of Pomeroy, Elvans, and Stanton roads, overlapping the Hillsdale and Fort Stanton neighborhoods in Southeast.
Stanton Square consists of an upper and lower campus. The upper campus at 2375 Elvans Road SE will house a 57,000-square-foot commons, where Martha’s Table and the Community of Hope will locate. It will also provide space for community meetings and events. The lower campus at Pomeroy and Stanton roads will have 120 affordable rental units (one, two, and three bedrooms) at 30 percent, 50 percent, and 60 percent of area median income (AMI), including 13 units reserved for families supported by Community of Hope’s permanent supportive housing. There will be 42 market-rate townhouses for sale.
Joe Horning and his wife Lynne, through the Horning Family Fund, have contributed $10 million toward the construction of The Commons, which broke ground this spring. Although a man of significant means, Joe never forgot where he came from and where he started. He waited half a century to realize his vision, but, as they say, good things come to those who wait.
East and South Washington have been waiting a long-time for equitable development. In Hillsdale and Fort Stanton the wait will soon be over.
A Storied History
Names like William C. Smith, Douglas Jemal, and the Curtis Brothers are well known throughout Southeast DC. A lesser-known name, but of no less consequence, belongs to developer and philanthropist Joe Horning, a native Washingtonian in his 80s. Recently he shared the story of his beginnings with East of the River.
“In 1958, I started looking for sites where I could start building housing,” he related. “Being a history buff, I had read of the section of Washington on the east side of the Anacostia River with its core population of African-Americans.”
He toured the neighborhood and realized that the housing was attractive and well-maintained and conveyed a strong sense of community. “While new housing was rare, I felt that was driven by the lack of interest of developers who did not have confidence in the viability of this market. From my perspective, east of the river was a market waiting to happen. I felt it was the right place to put in practice, on the business side of my life, my philosophy of taking the road less traveled.”
For his first project, he looked for some suitable vacant land. “My goal was to start small, building a walkup three-story apartment building. I was told about vacant lots that the city had foreclosed on because of non-payment of real estate taxes. I found a site bordering an abandoned railroad track, but facing a block of well-kept houses.”
Horning paid the taxes and built a walkup apartment, followed during the next eight years by more than 500 units east of the river. “My confidence from building new apartments in Ward 8 over an eight-year period motivated my stepping up and looking for larger sites to build a full-service housing community.”
Jim Banks, then head of the DC Department of Housing, was a Ward 8 resident. “He knew of my work and thought I’d be interested in an eight-acre vacant site. The history of the site was fascinating. Washington was a Southern city, best exemplified by the covenants across large sections of the city preventing African-Americans from purchase of lots for housing. To compensate, Congress provided funding to be used to buy land east of the Anacostia River. Jim told me that although a few small houses had been built, there were only vacant lots, and Jim felt owners were open to selling.”
Banks told the owners about Horning’s background in Ward 8, and when the land sale went through, the site was assembled for development. “The year was 1968. As we began pre-development planning, the historic civil disturbances of 1968 began across many sections of the city.” Funds dried up and interest flagged and did not revive for another 40 plus years.
Community of Hope
In 2012, The Horning Family Fund and Community of Hope (COH), a DC nonprofit, began collaborating. According to COH CEO Kelly Sweeney McShane, “Our presence at The Commons is a natural extension of the services we have been providing for Ward 8 residents since 2006,” said McShane, “especially the last three years at our Conway Health and Resource Center.”
Asked what the new location would mean for Fort Stanton and Hillsdale, McShane replied, “Our new neighbors are gaining a whole group of partners, advocates, and resources to help them achieve their goals of a thriving community.”
COH plans to bring to the area “a robust counseling program that will serve the eventual residents of Stanton Square, families served by Martha’s Table, and over 1,000 other community residents.” Counseling will provide support for emotional wellness for persons afflicted with trauma, anxiety, stress, or depression. Additionally, COH will support the community through programs that work on housing stability.
“When we opened our Conway Health and Resource Center we realized this community was ready for us to partner in a lot of ways,” explained McShane. “We found new strengths and new needs and have been excited to extend more services than we originally planned. The Commons means we get to broaden our services in an environment where the community is strong and the partnerships are solid.”
For more information visit www.communityofhopedc.org or call 202-540-9857 for medical or dental appointments.
Since 1979, Martha’s Table has been a community anchor on 14th Street NW between V and W streets. Thirty-seven years later, Martha’s Table is on the edge of one of its biggest transformations. Widely respected as a family services organization throughout the city, Martha’s Table plans to open a 43,000-square-foot facility in the new Commons campus.
“We were lucky to know Joe Horning of Horning Brothers, who has been developing property in DC for 55 years with a focus on community,” said Ryan Palmer, chief external relations officer. “Joe and his wife Lynne wanted to be very intentional about developing it into a place where children and families could thrive.”
Martha’s Table will relocate its headquarters at The Commons, while opening a new satellite location in Columbia Heights. “We have carefully conducted community assessments, formed authentic neighborhood partnerships, and have kept parents and community leaders at the table throughout the transition process,” confirmed Palmer. “We hope to be a valuable resource for local families, and we will be responsive to their needs above all else.”
At The Commons, parents will be able to enroll children in early childhood education programs and neighbors will be able to receive no-cost groceries. “We’ve been working in Wards 7 and 8 since 2015 through the Joyful Food Market program (now in 29 elementary schools east of the river) and our Martha’s Outfitters location on MLK Avenue,” Palmer said. “Our expansion is an extension of the spirit that led Veronica Maz, our founder, to set up a hub for resources in an epicenter of great need.”
“These partners welcomed us into their neighborhoods and we are eternally grateful,” noted Palmer. “This isn’t just about Martha’s Table. It’s about all of us.”
For more information visit www.marthastable.org or call 202-328-6608.