Healthy Future Fund’s Conway Center

10 min read

Housing, Healthcare and Job Training under one roof

Which of the following is most critical for improving and stabilizing the lives of low-income and homeless individuals and families?

  1. Affordable housing.
  2. Job training.
  3. Comprehensive healthcare.
  4. All of the above.

To anyone with a modicum of experience in the field, the correct answer is obviously Number 4. And if we add to those three factors access to public transportation and easily accessible neighborhood retail, we have just described The Conway Center in North East Washington, D.C.: the first project in the nation’s capital to bring all of these vital services and features to one location.

The project was accomplished through a unique funding arrangement that its participants hope can become a useful model for other organizations across the nation.

This visionary development, scheduled to open in late 2017, is owned and operated by So Others Might Eat (SOME), an interfaith, nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of the District of Columbia’s poor and homeless. They worked in partnership with LISC (the Local Initiatives Support Corporation), the Kresge Foundation and Morgan Stanley. The budget is being met through a combination of Low Income Housing Tax Credits, New Market Tax Credits, an FHA loan, DC tax-exempt mortgage bonds and private philanthropy.

When completed, the Conway Center will provide 202 units of affordable housing – 30 for families and 172 for single adults – job training for 300 adult students through SOME’s Center for Employment Training (CET) and medical and dental care for 15,000 patients per year, provided by Unity Health Care. The facility will also house SOME’s administrative offices and bring much-needed retail to the area.

“These are things that we need for our community to build a stronger community,” declared D.C. City Councilmember Yvette Alexander at the groundbreaking ceremony on July 29, 2015. The Conway Center is in her Ward, 7. “We know that when people walk in these doors, they will walk out a different person. We know that we have low-income persons that, if given the opportunity, will be productive residents, just like everyone wants to be. So I welcome this and I’m excited.”

“This will be the first facility in the District of Columbia to offer homeless and low-income women, children and men safe, affordable housing, job training and health care, all in one place,” said Father John Adams, SOME President.

The site is directly across the street from the Benning Road Metro station, making it easy for residents to get to jobs and services, and for patients from across the city to get to the health center.

SOME was founded in 1970 by Jesuit priest Father Horace McKenna, Baptist Minister Reverend Griffin Smith and an interfaith group of clergy and laypersons, aiming to address the root causes of poverty, hunger and homelessness. After graduate school, Father Adams started Christ House, which provides meals, shelter, and crisis intervention to the poor and homeless in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1978, Father McKenna invited him to become the director of SOME, where he has been ever since. Starting with a dining room on O Street, NW, the organization now manages 686 units of affordable housing and last year served nearly 400,000 meals in addition to its other services. “It was very clear from the beginning that our guests needed services that extended well beyond food,” Father Adams observes. “Our mission is restoring hope and dignity. We deal with people who need a lot of assistance. Fortunately, we have had enormous help and support.”

Father John, as he is affectionately known to his colleagues, grew up in the industrial region of western Pennsylvania, where his father worked in a steel mill. After Mr. Adams was severely injured on the job, the family of eight children became homeless, living in tents and a trailer and eventually in public housing. A graduate of Catholic University in Washington, majoring in philosophy and theology, Father John was encouraged by his religious community to get a graduate degree in the same subjects, but convinced them that social work “was much more realistic.” He has long believed that social work “is putting theology and faith into practice.” He was ordained during his time in graduate school.

The Conway project’s origins were evolutionary. “About 12 years ago, in terms of strategic planning, we felt we needed to do more housing. We set the ‘outrageous’ goal of trying to do 1,000 units; we had about 200 already,” Adams recalls. “We knew the city was changing, poor people were going to be left out and homelessness was going to continue to increase. We needed much more space for all of our programs and if we could put three important services under one roof – that would be wonderful. It became a bigger and bigger project.”

When the Conway Center opens, SOME will be more than three-fourths of the way to its 1,000-unit goal.

“It was providential that we were able to get the site on Benning Road because the previous deal had fallen through,” explains Troy Swanda, SOME’s Director of Housing Development. And it was providential that the piece of land was across the street from Unity Health Care.”

Unity was founded in 1985 as the Health Care for the Homeless Project, providing primary healthcare services to homeless individuals and families in local emergency shelters or on the streets of the District of Columbia. It has become the area’s largest primary healthcare agency, with 29 centers and a mobile outreach vehicle.

“Providential” is the type of descriptive one hears frequently at SOME, an implicit nod to Father John’s inspiration and influence. “The interfaith aspect is a large part of SOME’s ethos,” says Swanda. “We’ve managed to maintain that faith component and grass roots culture.”

LISC’s mission is to equip struggling communities with the capital, strategy and know-how to become places where people can thrive. Working with local leaders, it invests in housing, health, education, public safety and employment, bringing together key local players to take on pressing challenges and incubate new solutions through loans, grants, equity investments and on-the-ground involvement.

Oramenta Newsome, LISC Vice President for D.C. and Virginia, comments, “We’d been working with SOME for more than a decade, financing their housing projects, which had thus far been individual buildings that needed to be renovated. About four or five years ago, I was riding in a car with one of their officials, who said they had bought this piece of property, a whole city block, and had visions of bringing multiple services together and centralizing some of their operations. I said, ‘Okay, let’s talk about how we could do this.’ I met with staff and said, ‘Let’s see if we can provide a package of resources to you.’ I sent over a one-page description. I then had to figure out how to get that package together.”

The center is named in honor of Joanne and William E. “Bill” Conway, Jr. Bill was a co-founder of The Carlyle Group, the highly successful global asset management firm based in D.C. Together, the Conways have dedicated themselves to the betterment of the Washington region. After considering numerous ideas and initiatives, they concluded they could accomplish the most by helping low-income people get the education and training to secure jobs. In 2012, they announced an initial round of $55 million in scholarship and tuition assistance grants, the majority of which was dedicated to helping nursing students in area universities, children in Catholic schools, and to fund a job training program in the hard hit area east of the Anacostia River. They are long-time supporters of SOME and Bill chairs the charity’s Building Hope Capital Campaign.

The names of the facilities, such as Shalom House, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, Chabraja House and Fendall Heights – in addition to Conway – are testimony to the interfaith commitment of the SOME community.

Slowly rising out of a triangular–shaped, previously vacant and neglected lot at 4414 Benning Road, NE, the structure will occupy a full city block: 320,000 square feet, seven stories high and an additional three stories of underground parking. The area has been economically disadvantaged for decades and is federally designated as being Medically Underserved.

“Moving the job center [to Conway], we’ll be able to go from 100 trainees a year to 300,” Father Adams says. CET reports placing 85% of its graduates into living-wage jobs with benefits, with more than 70% retaining those jobs for at least one year. And each service dovetails with the others. “I would say that 20% of our staff is formerly homeless, and they’re doing great.”

Says Newsome, “You start with your knowledge of the mission, and we invested in SOME’s mission. We know whom they serve and we’ve seen them in action. It wasn’t a guess. We knew we would be proud of what the outcome would be.”

Of the $90 million cost of the Conway Center, $34 million comes from the Healthy Futures Fund (HFF), a partnership among LISC, Morgan Stanley and The Kresge Foundation, created in 2012 with the express purpose of helping connect good housing and healthcare in disadvantaged communities. The center is HFF’s single largest investment to date.

Kimberlee R. Cornett, Kresge’s Managing Director for Social Investment, who was instrumental in establishing HHF, says, “By bringing financing to bear on a problem, we unlock new sources of capital that are essential to measurably move the needle.” A project, like Conway, substantially leverages city social services dollars. With a stable home and accessible health care, individuals and families no longer need to rely on emergency rooms, shelters and other costly institutions to meet their fundamental needs.

“Taking a holistic approach when addressing community needs is essential to creating vibrant neighborhoods,” says Audrey Choi, CEO of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing.

The fact is that the center serves several distinct functions, both, complicated and expanded the possibilities for funding. “It was the most complicated deal any one of us had ever seen,” states Father Adams.

HFF leveraged LIHTCs to invest $20.04 million in Conway’s residential component and tapped another $13.5 million in New Market Tax Credits for the health center. Northmarq Capital’s Senior Director Frank Relihan and Vice President Brendan Scanlon arranged an $8.3 million FHA 221(d)(4) construction-to-permanent loan. The project took advantage of some of the District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency’s issue of $26 million in tax-exempt mortgage bond. According to Father Adams, the Conways, themselves, have contributed $10 million. (See SIDEBAR for a complete funding list on page 26.)

Relihan says he hopes Conway will be a model for other organizations.

Emily Chen of LISC, who heads up the Healthy Futures Fund, says, “It was not a cakewalk, but from our perspective, we were extremely well-coordinated in terms of grants, financing, tax credits, food, safety and economic development. Once you have your team marching at the same pace, you can try to make it as easy and pain-free as possible. Bringing all the tax credits together, with Morgan Stanley as a common investor was a great example of how these things can work.”

“Bringing three services under one roof is a natural idea, but it is still evolving,” Father Adams notes.

“We’re looking at ways to get all three coordinated,” adds Chen. “I’m interested in how this community resource is going to blossom in the years to come.” And citing the working relationship among SOME, LISC, Kresge and Morgan Stanley, she says, “We want the Conway Center project to be a roadmap for this kind of partnership; a blueprint for the kind of inventive economic development that meets a range of local needs.”

SOME is currently about $2 million short of its fundraising goal for the center. Anyone interested can donate at