WASHINGTON, DC. - It seemed like an impossible dream when residents of two of the worst public housing projects started talking about redeveloping their section of Anacostia in this city’s southeastern quadrant.

Nine years later, thanks to a concerted, community-wide effort and a $30 million HOPE VI grant, many of those households are enjoying new townhouses in a mixed-income community where 53 percent of the units are for ownership and where all adult residents must be employed or in job training.

Developed by Mid City Urban, LLC, and The Integral Group, Henson Ridge replaces the Frederick Douglass and Stanton Dwellings public housing projects, originally built in the 1940s as army barracks. The project and surrounding area were plagued by high poverty and crime rates.

Mid City/Integral enlisted community leaders to help stop violence among the youth of the two projects and to convince residents to “commit themselves to working together on the rebirth of their community.” A total of 600 units is planned at a development cost of $135 million.

As of April 2007, two phases had been completed, a 124-unit rental phase and a 152-unit homeownership phase. A third phase of rentals is scheduled to be completed in November, with the final homeownership phase due in 2009. A 10,000-square-foot community center is planned. Of the first 124 rental units, 68 are for public housing tenants with an average income of $13,100, and 56 are tax-credit eligible.

Henson Ridge uses the proceeds from market-rate sales to cross-subsidize low-income units. The Housing Choice Voucher program has been used as a subsidy for purchasing a home. As of April 2007, 17 homes at Henson Ridge had been settled using a voucher.

In addition to Sec. 8 vouchers, assistance for low-income homeowners includes second mortgages, and for returning public housing residents, third-position loans. An extensive homeownership counseling program is also provided.

The two rental phases were financed with a total of $13.5 million in tax credit authority, or about $48,311 per unit.

The project required about $40 million for the construction of new infrastructure, such as roads, water lines, and a separate storm sewer system and sanitary sewer lines. To help defray that cost, the city kicked in a grant of $10 million from its Capital Improvement Program and CDBG funds.

The project used $17.6 million in tax-exempt bonds issued by the District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency. From the D.C. Housing Authority, it obtained a grant of $2 million and annual operating subsidy of $757,200.

The development will include close to 400 three- and four-bedroom units, as well as 20 five-bedroom units.

Tax credit rents for the first rental phase range from $800 for a one-bedroom to $1,275 for a four-bedroom.

The redevelopment also incorporated green building measures, and made a major effort to preserve wood flooring, brick, cabinetry, and copper piping from the demolished public housing, for sale on the retail construction materials market.

Additional project information, as provided in application by the nominator.

Q. Why does the nominated project deserve to be recognized based on the award criteria of this contest?

A. Henson Ridge is a leading HOPE VI public housing development in Washington, D.C.’s long-disinvested, severely blighted, socio-economically depressed Anacostia community. It boasts large-scale, high-quality development and innovative financing that allows the new development to serve a wide range of income levels. One of the first locations in the country to use Section 8 as a subsidy to purchase a home, Henson Ridge is transforming the area. Already 17 households at the development have settled with Sec. 8 vouchers, almost all of whom are returning residents of the former Stanton and Frederick Douglass Dwellings located on the site; they now have the opportunity to move from public housing with almost no assets to homeownership.

Henson Ridge is a truly green community. During demolition, developers Mid-City/Integral remediated extensive asbestos and lead paint materials, while preserving hundreds of tons of wood flooring, brick, cabinetry, and copper piping to sell on the retail construction market. Mid-City/Integral employed and trained over 83 local workers for this recycling program. Following demolition, the development team embarked on major infrastructure installation, bringing in new electric, gas, water, sewer and sanitary, and telephone services. New underground storm water vaults serve the site and surrounding neighborhoods, relieving the area’s longtime severe flooding issues.

The development’s new bungalows, stacked flats, and town homes are highly energy-efficient; each unit is equipped with ENERGY STAR-rated appliances, HVAC systems and water heaters, and water-saving devices are used on all faucets, showerheads, and toilets. Each design feature provides cost-savings to residents, and lowers the project’s environmental impact. The majority of units are town homes with front and rear entries, as well as individual yards, which give residents a sense of ownership and privacy while enjoying the energy-efficiency of town-home living. This is a significant savings over the energy costs of detached single-family houses with large areas of exterior skin. Walls and ceilings are well insulated, and all windows are double-pane. In 2006, Henson Ridge was recognized with an Environmental Award by the Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association.

Henson Ridge was developed with coordination and the required approval by and between the D.C. Comprehensive Plan, the Board of Zoning for PUD Approval, public utilities, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, D.C. government, D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), and most importantly, residents of the former Stanton/Douglass Dwellings. A formal steering committee was formed from many community members, and representative from the DCHA and Mid-City/Integral, and the deputy director of the Federal City Council. The committee vetted each aspect of development, which was later vetted at communitywide meetings, and further refined by the Mid-City/Integral and the steering committee.

The Henson Ridge model relies on a cross-subsidy of homeownership proceeds to offset below-market rental housing and infrastructure development. This increased value to renters and homeowners, and decreased the need for external subsidies, creating a replicable, cost-effective model for urban redevelopment and production of affordable housing.

Q. How does this project represent an innovative solution to a specific development challenge?

A. Perhaps the greatest development challenge Mid-City/Integral overcame was the fact that residents from the Stanton and the Douglass Dwellings were at war. Youths from the adjacent buildings were killing each other, bringing further devastation to an already-blighted, socio-economically collapsing community. Through the community planning and steering committee process, Mid-City/Integral engaged community leaders to work together to bring peace between residents of the two public housing developments. Residents committed to working together on the rebirth of their community, and over the course of the planning process, built strong relationships that continue to benefit Henson Ridge.

Henson Ridge also needed to serve former Stanton/Douglass residents—very low-income families, earning less than 15 percent of the AMI—while attracting households earning from 50 percent to 115 percent of AMI, through both rental and homeownership product types. Extensive research and work with former public housing residents allowed Mid-City/Integral to develop the best models for Henson Ridge. Together they found that large homes with front and backyards, large recreation rooms, and ample space for large families, have the potential to create an attractive community of great value for families of all income ranges. Creating product types that internally cross-subsidize each other allowed both renters and homeowners to enjoy homes up to 2,100 square feet and five bedrooms in size, to accommodate all sized of families.

Finally, Henson Ridge needed to accommodate residents with disabilities in a town house community. Mid-City/Integral provided disabled-accessible units by installing elevators, fully integrating these units into the community without any product or locational segregation.