Green Apartment Building Springs to Life, Eradicating Crime Hot Spot in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.--Wheeler Terrace, a neglected 161-unit apartment building that had become a magnet for criminal activity in Washington, D.C., has undergone a renaissance.

Washington, D.C.–Wheeler Terrace, a neglected 161-unit apartment building that had become a magnet for criminal activity in Washington, D.C., has undergone a renaissance and emerged as a model of sustainability with LEED Gold certification on the way. A residential initiative led to Community Preservation and Development Corp. stepping in and redeveloping the complex to the tune of approximately $34 million.

A seven-building multifamily community located in the oppressed Washington Heights neighborhood, Wheeler Terrace is home to low-income residents receiving Section 8 housing assistance. Dissatisfied with the condition of the 63-year-old property and the criminal element it attracted, residents got the attention of CPDC, which deftly secured funds to upgrade the complex with a green emphasis. CPDC broke ground on the Wheeler Terrace redevelopment in 2008 in the midst of the credit crunch, so obtaining the necessary funds to move forward with the project was no walk in the park.

Despite the challenging lending market, CPDC managed to obtain a $15.4 million construction loan and an $8.4 million permanent mortgage from Union Bank. PNC Bank supplied a $12.1 million equity investment in Low Income Housing Tax Credits. “At the time when the credit market was bottoming out, PNC had already committed to the pricing,” Mark James, senior real estate development officer for CPDC and Wheeler Terrace project manage, tells MHN. “So many tax credits changed in pricing as the market was beginning to bottom out and the appetite among investors began to disappear over night. But PNC has a strong commitment to green building and to D.C.” Enterprise Community Partners Inc. also assisted with financing, providing a $4 million acquisition loan and a total of $75,000 in grants, including a $50,000 Enterprise Green Communities grant.

The firm of Wheeler Terrace, Wiencek + Associates Architects and Planners was behind the design of the rehabilitation endeavor. With a focus on green development, the project incorporated sustainable practices from the very first day. All of the existing structural elements were left intact and 80 percent of the non-structural elements were preserved or salvaged for use in another capacity. The property’s list of environmentally friendly features also includes energy-efficient white roofs, low-E reflective windows and Energy Star-rated appliances and lighting.

“Wheeler Terrace is ushering in a new era for affordable housing not because it is now safe, but because it is very healthy,” James says. “We made a commitment that we want our housing to be energy efficient, sustainable and healthy–elements that are not often included in affordable housing. By using a geothermal ground heat pump and an energy-efficient package, we’ve been able to cut energy costs at the site by roughly 30 percent, so anyone who says making the extra investment in affordable housing is not cost effective can see that it has immediate cost-saving benefits. This is a 100-percent Section 8-based project in a blighted neighborhood of D.C., so the fact that we have been able to qualify for LEED Gold Certification and meet Enterprise Community Partners’ Green Communities criteria in this environment should put naysayers to rest.”

The project marks a series of firsts. Not only is Wheeler Terrace the first project-based Section 8 affordable housing community in the region to achieve LEED Gold Certification, it is also the first U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s demonstration project to evaluate the public health impact of multifamily green retrofits on low-income housing residents. Additionally, Wheeler Terrace is now the site of the first geothermal system in an affordable housing property in Washington, D.C.

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