St. Dennis Apartments in D.C. Re-opens as Affordable Housing

With a grand opening ceremony earlier this month, the redevelopment of the St. Dennis Apartments was completed. The property's history is an unusual story of tenacity on the part of a family of residents who didn't want to leave.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Washington, D.C.—With a grand opening ceremony earlier this month, the redevelopment of the St. Dennis Apartments in Washington’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood was completed. The property’s recent history is an unusual story of tenacity on the part of a family of residents who didn’t want to leave when the previous owners of the building sought to convert it into condominiums.

When condos conversion was the rage nationwide back in the mid-2000s, the property at Kenyon and 17th St. in Mt. Pleasant, a gentrifying neighborhood, looked like it fit the bill. Eventually, the property’s previous owner had managed to persuade or otherwise oblige all of the tenants to leave, except for Eva Martinez and her daughters, Anabell and Eva Aurora. They resisted all attempts to show them the door, and, according to a statement by the National Housing Trust, the family “remained the lone tenants in the building for more than two years, enduring broken doors and windows, demolition crews, unlit hallways and other hazards.”

With the assistance of pro bono counsel from the law firm of Arnold and Porter, the Martinez family filed several suits against the owner for failure to comply with D.C.’s right of first purchase law. The family secured a settlement in 2008 that included the option to purchase St. Dennis at market value and chose the National Housing Trust-Enterprise Preservation Corp. (NHT/Enterprise) to assist in securing the financing to acquire and renovate the property as affordable housing.

That redevelopment is now complete, with eight of the property’s 32 units reserved for use by the D.C. Housing Authority. The rest of the units, which include one- and two-bedroom apartments, are available to tenants who make less than 60 percent of area median incomes. The building is expected to be fully occupied by the end of this month—including Anabell and Eva Aurora Martinez, who have moved back in (their mother died in 2009).

Important in the early stages of the redevelopment was bridge financing from the Site Acquisition Funding Initiative (SAFI), provided by Enterprise Community Loan Fund and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) through the Housing Production Trust Fund. SAFI financing allowed NHT/Enterprise to acquire the building on behalf of the tenants. The purchase price was $3.6 million.

NHT/Enterprise also raised $9.7 million to redevelop St. Dennis, in a complicated mixture of sources typical to affordable housing projects. Rehabilitation and permanent financing sources included 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits provided by DHCD and syndicated by Enterprise Community Investment Inc. Other financing sources included historic tax credits, construction and permanent loans from Capital One Bank, a subordinate loan from DHCD, a grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta and tax credit exchange funds provided by the federal stimulus bill.

St. Dennis received nearly $4 million in renovations, including energy-efficiency upgrades. Improvements included a new roof, windows, reconfiguration of units, new individual HVAC systems, new wiring, new domestic water system, new kitchens and new baths. Joining NHT/Enterprise as part of the development were Wiencek + Associates Architects, MacRostie Historic Advisors and Hamel Builders.

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