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St. Dennis Apartments, Wash., D.C.
Tenants Persevere to Save Affordable Housing

Photos: Lloyd Wolf

On November 17th, 2010, residents, neighbors, and community developers joined to celebrate the ground breaking of the St. Dennis Apartments in Washington, D.C.’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Low income families, many of whom had endured deplorable living conditions at the property, will soon be able to enjoy fully renovated, energy efficient affordable apartments. The preservation and renovation of the St. Dennis was made possible due to the tenacity of the Martinez family who refused to be forced from their neighborhood when their landlord sought to convert their apartment building to luxury condominiums.

"Our fight has been for affordable housing for low-income people" said Eva Aurora Martinez, the matriarch of the Martinez family, as she described the struggle to save her home in an April 2008 Washington Post article.

The Martinez family refused to give in when the previous owner emptied the building through poor management and “buy-offs” in order to convert it into market-rate condominiums. Eva Martinez and her two daughters remained the lone tenants in the building for more than two years, enduring broken doors and windows, demolition crews, unlit hallways, and other hazards all because of their staunch belief that low income people deserved the right to remain in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. With the assistance of pro-bono counsel from the law firm of Arnold and Porter, the Martinez’s filed several suits against the owner for failure to comply with D.C.’s right of first purchase law. They secured a settlement that included the option to purchase the property at market value and chose the National Housing Trust-Enterprise Preservation Corporation (NHT/Enterprise) to assist in securing the financing to acquire and renovate the property.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a quality community they’re proud to call home,” says Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust. “Saving housing like St. Dennis is essential for maintaining diverse, vibrant, and mixed-income communities that include easy access to public transportation, jobs and other needed resources for low-income families.”

Critical to the success of this project 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 by a court mandated settlement date back in 2008. The Housing Production Trust Fund, which is funded from a portion of the deed and recordation taxes from housing sales in DC, has recently suffered sharp reductions because of the decline in the housing market. This lack of funding has made it increasingly difficult for nonprofit affordable housing developers to compete with market-rate developers in D.C.’s rebounding rental market and save affordable housing like St. Dennis.

Despite the challenges in securing funding, NHT/Enterprise has put together a $9.7 million redevelopment budget for St. Dennis that utilizes multiple funding sources. Rehabilitation and permanent financing sources include 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits provided by DHCD and syndicated by Enterprise Community Investment, Inc. Other sources include historic tax credits, construction and permanent loans from Capital One Bank, a subordinate loan from DHCD and tax credit exchange funds provided by the federal stimulus bill.

"Enterprise and NHT/Enterprise have a strong history working together to preserve housing affordable to low and moderate income residents across the country," said David Bowers, vice president and Washington, D.C. impact market leader. "Enterprise is proud to have provided loan and equity support for the sustainable redevelopment of the St. Dennis. The courage and perseverance shown by the Martinez family reaffirms the real meaning and importance of providing affordable housing and preventing involuntary displacement of hard working families. We look forward to continuing our efforts with NHT/Enterprise in other developments."

St. Dennis will undergo nearly $4 million in renovations including significant energy efficiency upgrades. Improvements include a new roof, windows, reconfiguration of units, new individual HVAC systems, new wiring, new domestic water system, new kitchens and new baths. There are several historic features that will be maintained including the hallway marble terrazzo flooring and facade features. Joining NHT/Enterprise as part of the development team are Wiencek + Associates Architects, MacRostie Historic Advisors, and Hamel Builders.

The rehabilitation of St. Dennis Apartments will meet the Enterprise Green Communities Criteria as required by the District of Columbia. Residents will enjoy significant health and economic benefits as a result of utility saving and environmentally friendly improvements.

Property at a Glance

St. Dennis Apartments is historic housing in D.C.’s Mt. Pleasant neighborhood that will be fully renovated and made energy efficient while remaining affordable to low and moderate income families.

Location: Washington, D.C.

Acquisition and Rehabilitation Financing Sources:

  • D.C. Site Acquisition Funding Initiative
  • 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credits
  • Historic tax credits
  • Construction and permanent loans from Capital One Bank
  • Subordinate loan from D.C. DHCD
  • Tax credit exchange funds provided by the federal stimulus bill