|An Onyx on First apartment in Navy Yard|
Yesterday I wrote two editorials addressing how raising the income levels east of the river is essential in improving the economic development we want to see in our communities. Right now the focus tends to be on building more "affordable" and subsidized and/or transitional housing east of the river (and thus keeping the economic base depressed). The reality is that what is desperately needed here is market rate rental housing with enough amenities and conveniences to attract those higher incomes that are flocking to our neighbors to the west.
|Flats Atlas on H Street|
Amenities include: on site gym, basketball court,
swimming pool, game room, garage, bike concierge, just
to name a few
To be honest, I already know the answer to this but I decided to take a stab at this anyway so consider this an experiment in fact vs. myth.
I decided to look at this as someone who was not familiar with Ward 8, a single professional woman with a dog looking for rental housing. Someone with a car but who would like the idea of being close to public transportation and amenities such as a grocery store, dining options, a dry cleaners, a dog park, and some entertainment options. Someone who has seen The Onyx on First in Navy Yard (studios start at the upper $1600's), Flats at Atlas on H Street (studios start at $1500), and the 7th Flats in Shaw (studios start at $1850) and was impressed with their properties and was looking for something similar in Ward 8.
The way I (and most apartment hunters) would go about it would be to do a search online. I decided to start with www.apartmentguide.com and searched everything in the 20032 zip code.
I am posting the results below and frame my commentary as someone who was not familiar with Ward 8. Please keep in mind I am not writing this as myself now but as someone who was not familiar with Ward 8 and was looking at housing options --- if you happen to live in these apartments please do not be offended by my comments. I am just being honest and trying to get us to look through the eyes of someone else who had seen market rate and high end apartments in other parts of the city. People are making these judgements every day and they are deciding not to live here and like it or not, that is impacting our community negatively. Ask yourself, "how do we in Ward 8 stack up?"
118 Galveston Street SW
Rents: From $850/month for an efficiency up to $1870/month for a 5 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment
Comments: While the apartment in the photos look clean and is staged well there is no getting around it -- this is an older building without the "bells and whistles" I saw in the other apartments. No stainless steel appliances, the kitchen is outdated, and it doesn't have the "modern" feel I am looking for. No washer and dryer in unit. On the upside it does have a pool and allows pets (breed restricted). However as a single person I am really looking for a building with other single professionals and this seems like much more of a family building - there is a playground in the courtyard and at up to five bedrooms there seems like a lot of potential for noise. Also, according to the map attached to the listing I don't see any other amenities nearby and there isn't a metro stop in walking distance.
Verdict: Take a pass.
Royal Courts and Savannah Heights
3719 4th Street, SE
Rents: From $1080/month for a 1 bedroom up to $1475 fir a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment.
Comments: This looks like a newer development. The grounds look well-maintained, there is parking, the units themselves look roomy yet...this seems very much like a suburban complex, not really the "urban" living I was looking for. Again, this seems like a place for families, the playground was a dead giveaway. And while this building does have a nice looking community room it really doesn't have the "bells and whistles" and other amenities I saw in the other properties like an on site gym, a bike room, a pool, etc.
Verdict: Despite the positives this isn't really what I was looking for. Also this is an "income restricted" property and my salary takes me over the cap. Must keep looking.
Wingate Apartment Homes
4660 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE
Rents: From $933 for a 1 bedroom up to $1300 for a two bedroom/2 bathroom.
Comments: One of the best staged listings I have seen of all the apartments I have looked at during this search. The apartments seem roomy and airy and the staging has that modern feel yet...there is something about the scale of this building and the surrounding buildings that is a little intimidating. It seems too big -- also the exterior of the building is clearly outdated. Also, for something of this size it would have been great to see retail on the bottom floor. There is a swimming pool and a pet park but again no washer and dryer in the unit -- not a complete deal breaker though. The building is pet friendly. But according to the listing the closest metro is Anacostia and that is 10 minutes away. I get home late at night and that is not a walk I would be comfortable doing and to be honest I don't think I could walk that in 10 minutes -- that seems to be a 10 minute drive or bus ride. Last but not least this seems like another family building -- another playground in the courtyard.
Verdict: Not a bad place but again not what I am looking for. It doesn't stack up to what I saw at the H Street Flat and the rent for an efficiency there is not that much lower to allow for the lack of the amenities in this building, even with a bigger space. Also, it is near the Maryland border. I was really looking for something closer to the city and with nearby amenities. According to the map attached to the listing I don't see a grocery store, restaurant, or entertainment space in walking distance.
116 B Irvington Street SW
Rents: $700/month for a studio up to $1180/month for a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom.
Comments: Not bad looking, just another suburban looking complex though. The finishes in the kitchen are not particularly nice. No "flash" and again no real amenities in walking distance. No gym in building or any of the other perks I saw at west of the river complexes.
Verdict: No pets allowed so this is not an option.
3647 6th Street SE
Rents: From $825 for a 1 bedroom/1 bathroom up to $1180 for a 3 bedroom/1 bathroom unit.
Comments: At this point I have real estate fatigue. Thank goodness this is the last listing in the search results! From the photos it is clear this is not what I am looking for. The units look outdated, the finishes sub par, and I am confused at why there appears to be a classroom (maybe it is a community room???) listed in the gallery. The units are staged like a retirement home -- so maybe this is a retirement home???
Verdict: This is not it for me. Also the "Call for Policy" under the "Special Features" section was a huge red flag. This must be either income or age restricted or something else like it.
End of ExperimentOf course this was just a fictional story, an exercise in the reality of rental options in the 20032 zip code. Ward 8 isn't for everyone, and I still believe that if you are looking to own an affordable home there are a lot of options here to do that. The problem is that not everyone is ready to own and the demographic that we need -- middle income singles in their 20's and 30's are looking for rental options. Rental options with the amenities we don't have to compete.
So I have to ask, with what we have available in rental stock (and from the looks of it the rents are pretty low) and with what we need (higher incomes), "why on God's green earth is there a rush to build even more affordable and subsidized housing?" Particularly in spaces (like around metro stops) where we could finally attract some higher incomes? In order to compete with other neighborhoods to get even a sliver of the market share of middle income professionals we can't expect them to make the move to Ward 8 when we have no place for them to move. I can't seem to find one single apartment unit in all of Ward 8 (and I suspect Ward 7 too) that could compete with what is currently being offered across the bridge - why is there no push to create that here? I am not saying transform Congress Heights into the next Navy Yard or Georgetown but there should at least be a single building over here that can act as a catalyst for some retail and businesses that would lead to jobs for our residents. We can't keep insourcing poverty and exporting jobs and expecting to have a vibrant community.
I am not a real estate professional, or a developer, or a housing advocate but I am someone with good sense and it seems to me that the narrative that Ward 8 needs more affordable housing is not true. In fact that is the last thing we need (that and group homes, transitional facilities, and homeless shelters). What Ward 8 needs are better options for all -- and that includes people with a higher income who may want to move here and bring jobs and businesses with them.
We have to change the narrative because our community is suffering because of it. We can not continue to allow well-meaning (but misguided) social service nonprofits to dictate the commercial and residential real estate market east of the river. I understand that DC government has ceaded control but it is time to get it back and if they aren't ready to step up I implore my fellow residents to stand up, cause a scene, and put their foot down! This poverty pimping can not continue! With every one step up on the economic development ladder we take we can't allow us to be pushed back three more. Now THAT is a roundtable discussion I would be interested in participating in.
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