Who’s Leading the Redevelopment of Barry Farm?

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Now in its 13th year, the process to redevelop Barry Farm, a 34-acre, 444-unit tract in Southeast publicly owned and operated by the DC Housing Authority (DCHA), has involved continual collaboration between city and federal housing officials. Despite a recent DC Court of Appeals ruling to vacate plans approved by DC’s Zoning Commission (ZC), redevelopment remains fully active thanks to a 2017 authorization for demolition by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as additional city funding.

What initially began as a city-led effort to revamp public housing during a time of federal budget cuts became a unique partnership of city and federal housing offices that has overseen the development of four District neighborhoods. Pending ZC reapproval of a new planned unit development (PUD), Barry Farm will be the latest plot to be transformed by the New Communities Initiative (NCI) of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and DCHA. Their dual approach is intended to stimulate Southeast DC and socially support its communities.

By the time many Barry Farm residents discovered they would need to relocate, redevelopment plans had been in flux for over a decade. Former resident Nicole Odom began receiving notices on her doorstop three or four years ago from the DCHA, announcing plans for a new mixed-income neighborhood promising one-to-one replacement. The notices disappeared for a while, she recalled. “Out of sight, out of mind. And then they started coming again, two years ago, and this time we’re getting notices on our doors about meetings.”

While residents like Odom were just learning the news about their neighborhood, DCHA, in partnership with DMPED, had already secured a developer and had even approved an application for the first stage of a PUD, offering a window into what this new community would become.

New Communities Initiative
DMPED’s New Communities Initiative (NCI) began under Mayor Anthony Williams in 2005 as a reaction to Bush-era budget cuts that threatened critical public housing resources. One such HUD-led program, HOPE VI, was a fundamental initiative to tackle public housing in urban areas – and one of the programs frequently found on the cutting-room floor of Bush administration budget packages.

NCI was developed to emulate and localize HOPE VI. It targeted four DC “hot spots” – Northwest One, Park Morton, Lincoln Heights and Barry Farm, with the aim of leveraging city, federal and community resources to create mixed-income neighborhoods and prioritize social initiatives. The 2006 NCI proposal approved by the DC Council also features insights and goals on reducing crime, boosting adult education and employment, improving community health and more.

By the time the program received approval, NCI had already conducted a site-specific analysis for commercial and residential markets. Before a proposal for a new Barry Farm could receive formal approval from the Zoning Commission, it would need the neighborhood itself to weigh in on its future. 

DCHA and NCI Partnership
NCI is considered a funding and policy partner to DCHA, which owns Barry Farm and has played a major role in securing a developer, authorizing demolition and assisting residents with housing vouchers and additional resources in the relocation process. Following NCI’s approval in 2006, DCHA and NCI convened several community meetings for residents and additional community stakeholders to offer input for the redevelopment proposal. While NCI worked on a formal plan, DCHA managed a competitive bid process to find a developer.

In 2013, DCHA settled on Baltimore-based A&R Development and Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) to head the the master planning and development team for Barry Farm’s redevelopment. This team would continue meeting with residents on the redevelopment proposal, as well as begin pooling private investments.

Formal approval of NCI and DCHA’s redevelopment plan needed the Zoning Commission to approve changes in population density. By late 2014, the plan received the go-head, which paved the way for DCHA to submit an application with HUD for the property’s demolition by summer of the following year.

Nearly 10 years after NCI’s initial founding, DCHA and DMPED were nearly ready to begin construction – a slower process than most, said Monica Warren-Jones, director of Capital Solutions for Enterprise Community Partners. Warren-Jones leads DC business development efforts with developers to assist in financing affordable housing projects.

Warren-Jones notes that the DCHA-DMPED partnership was presented with significant funding gaps that had to be filled by federal grants, public-sector financing tools and significant investment from the private sector. Of the New Communities projects, she says, private financing is attracted to strategically located communities like NoMa, which allows the area to be redeveloped quickly, while a less convenient neighborhood like Barry Farm did not get the same investment attention.

That said, considerable investment has been made in projects with proximity to Barry Farm, including Sheridan Terrace on Suitland Parkway. “In order for you to make a private investment, there has to be a market return,” Warren-Jones said. “At Barry Farm, there wasn’t a similar level of attraction [as NoMa] on the private sector side to jump start [redevelopment].”

According to an August 2017 white paper, Barry Farm development costs have reached over $120 million, while NCI offered $36.6 million in gap funding. DCHA continues to leverage federal resources from HUD, including a 2012 Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) planning grant offering $30 million.

What’s Next?
Last April, the District’s highest court rejected the ZC-approved redevelopment plan, which rocketed NCI back to the predevelopment phase. Later that year, the program scheduled four meetings with community stakeholders on a new plan, with intentions to present a revised proposal to the ZC by this spring.

However, in March 2018, DMPED offered an additional $25.6 million for predevelopment financing, $10 million of which would fund demolition. Throughout the rest of 2018 and into early 2019, almost all remaining families on the property were relocated through housing vouchers and additional assistance from DCHA.

According to DCHA’s 2019 Move to Work plan, the agency is managing the demolition process of Barry Farm and is considering applying for a HUD CNI implementation grant.