Case Study

Malcolm X Elementary School in Washington, DC

6 min read

Congress Heights Development Aimed at Housing Teachers

Teachers will be returning to Washington, DC’s Malcolm X Elementary School, which closed in 2013. The city is renovating the old school to put in place a permanent home for an “early college” high school. But now they will also have the chance to live adjacent to the new school in a new development, as part of a District initiative to boost housing for educators.

And since the new housing will be right next door to the Bard High School Early College, on the corner of Alabama Avenue and Congress Street, that could make for a very short commute for those teachers.

It’s not clear yet how many of the units of affordable housing planned to be built there will go to educators, according to Omar A. Karim, president of lead developer Banneker Communities, but educators will definitely have priority. The city asked for that emphasis in its request for proposals, and Banneker will market to teachers aggressively.

Banneker also is developing another 81 units not far away on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., with groundbreaking planned for July.

“The Mayor’s goal has been to keep teachers in the city and make the city affordable for all residents. Teachers have been forced out of the city because of high housing prices, and the Mayor and her team have been really prioritizing changing that trend,” says Karim.

“This just makes sense, the twinning of a brand-new public school with brand new affordable housing. We think a significant number of teachers at the Bard School will be residents of the Wilhelmina Rolark at Congress Heights Metro project.” Rolark was a longtime Councilwoman representing DC’s Ward 8.

The District has awarded a redevelopment contract for the 45,000-square-foot Malcolm X housing parcel to Congress Park Community Partners, made up of Banneker, District Development Group, and Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corp. (CHCTDC). It is a separate development from the 110,000 square foot Bard High School Early College renovation, which Banneker is not involved in.

District Development Group is a Washington-based developer located in Congress Heights. CHCTDC, also based in Congress Heights, is a community development corporation that has been a leader in providing economic development services, such as entrepreneurial training and financial counseling to the Congress Heights community since 1988.

Karim says the total development cost for the project will be north of $60 million. Design is being worked on now, and then zoning approval will be sought. It should break ground in the summer of 2023 and be completed 20 months later. The project is located adjacent to the Congress Heights Metro Station, making it a transit-oriented development (TOD).

LIHTCs in The Mix
Low Income Housing Tax Credits will be part of the capital stack, Karim says, as 100 percent of the housing will be affordable to residents who earn between 30 and 80 percent of the area median income. In addition to four percent LIHTC equity, traditional debt and a deferred developer’s fee will also be in the financing mix, but no subsidies from the city. “We are fortunate that the project does not require a single dime from the city,” he notes.

“In addition to new housing and commercial space, we hope to be able to upgrade the infrastructure around the site as well,” Karim says. New streetlamps, new sidewalks, greenery and bike racks will be part of the mixed-use project, which will have 9,500 square feet of commercial space on its first floor.

Prospective tenants include a daycare center and a fresh food concept, something Karim says is greatly needed in the neighborhood. The Cedar Tree Academy early learning center and a fresh salad fast-casual concept, are the potential tenants. Forty-two parking spaces will also be included in the project, according to the city.

The housing will consist of studios and one- to three-bedroom units.

Banneker, which has offices in the District and in Silver Spring, MD, and employs more than 40 people, is a builder, as well as a developer and will do the construction. Karim says he likes the ability this gives the company to hire locally.

Banneker, named after an African American surveyor who helped initially map out the District more than 200 years ago, has a philosophy that is as easy to state as it is ambitious.

“We want to solve the affordable housing problem in the country,” Karim says. One way Banneker is tackling that comprehensive problem is to develop best practices to reduce all of the costs of affordable housing: “legal, financing, development, construction and everywhere in between.”

The company has been in business for 16 years, and “we’ve learned on every project,” he says. “We learn what works in each community.”

Another driving philosophy for the firm is community engagement, “an investment in the residents,” he says. And in return, “The community is overwhelmingly supportive” of the teacher housing project at Malcolm X.”

Over the years, Karim has gotten great satisfaction from hiring local contractors and seeing their businesses grow. “Somebody who just had a truck, now they have a fleet. Somebody who was just a small paint contractor now is a general contractor. Somebody who didn’t know what an 8(a) certification was with the U.S. Small Business Administration now is doing millions of dollars of business with the federal government. That took an investment on our part and it’s really paying off.”

Investing in the People in the Community
Banneker has also invested in the people in the community, to the tune of more than $1.5 million, starting the Banneker Foundation in 2016 to encourage young people to get involved in STEM. As he spoke to Tax Credit Advisor, Karim was finalizing a large-scale gifting of bicycles to residents of Ward 8. Banneker has also given away hundreds of backpacks annually and is involved with emergency housing, outreach to homeless residents, utility bill assistance and other charitable ventures. Banneker staff live in the community and the company has an office on Good Hope Road in the Anacostia neighborhood, he notes.

In the housing projects themselves, Banneker offers residents financial fitness programs, job training and small business development workshops. “It takes affordable bricks and mortar, but it also takes investment in the residents,” he says.

Other real estate projects Banneker has been involved with include the Residences on Euclid Street, a 34-unit development in Columbia Heights, The Residents on Georgia Avenue, an 18-unit development across from Walter Reed Hospital, and Foundry Lofts at the Yard, a mixed-use project of 170 apartments and commercial space at the old Washington Navy Yard in the Baseball District.

“It’s an aggressive goal,” he says of the 200 units the firm is developing at the Malcolm X site, “but if you aren’t aggressive, you won’t ever get anything done.” Karim says the development is seeking to maximize unit density there in support of the District’s goal of 36,000 new housing units by 2025, including 12,000 affordable units.

“It was aggressive to bring a baseball team to Washington, DC,” he notes. “It was aggressive to send a man to the moon. Any challenge is difficult. But anything can be accomplished with focus.”

Story Contact:
Omar A. Karim, President, Banneker Communities
Washington, DC and Silver Spring, MD

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.