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HUD Secretary, DC Mayor Join Advocates to Break Ground on New Housing for Homeless Veterans

November 12, 2014 | McCormack Baron Salazar

HUD Secretary Julián Castro and DC Mayor Vincent Gray joined advocates and housing professionals Monday to break ground on the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence, a 124-unit mixed income apartment building. The distinctive building comprises 60 units of permanent supportive housing for veterans exiting homelessness and 64 affordable and low-income units.

It represents an unusual effort to bring top quality architecture and design to housing for low income and homeless populations. Located on North Capitol St NE between L and K Streets, the project will diversify and contribute to the ongoing revitalization of the booming NoMa area. It is a collaboration between Community Solutions, a national non-profit organization, and McCormack Baron Salazar, Inc., a leading property development firm.

Last week, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development released the 2014 Homeless Point-in-Time Count, showing that 406 veterans experienced homelessness in Washington, DC on a given night in January of 2014. That number has fallen 22 percent since 2010 due to the committed work of local advocates and government officials.

“We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. “In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans. Today’s opening is the latest step on the path to ending veteran homelessness in Washington, D.C. and across the nation. HUD will continue collaborating with our federal and local partners to ensure that all of the men and women who have served our country have a stable home and an opportunity to succeed.”

“On the eve of Veterans Day, I am delighted to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for this vital project as it serves our brave men and women who put their lives on the line for the sake of our freedom,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “We must continue to work diligently to ensure our veterans have the services they need to be productive citizens in a society that continues to benefit from their sacrifices. Moreover, I am pleased that the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence will complement my administration’s progress in increasing affordable housing for all.”

The architecturally striking building was designed by Sorg Architects a firm that is internationally recognized for its commitment to sustainability and public interest design. The building will have 14 stories and house 124 efficiency apartment units. Among these units, 60 will serve as permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless veterans, 47 will be prioritized for individual households making no more than 60% of the Area Median Income ($45,120 for an individual in 2013), and 17 will be prioritized for tenants making no more than 30% of the Area Median Income.

The building’s silvery white metal paneling and distinctive “stacked blocks” shape will create complementary contrast with surrounding buildings. Other key design elements include sustainable building materials and an extensive glazing system to enliven the apartment interiors.

“The building’s distinctive architectural features are no accident. High quality, sustainable design is one of our top priorities when developing affordable and permanent supportive housing,” said Nadine Maleh, Director of Inspiring Places for Community Solutions. “Too often, homeless and low income populations are overlooked when it comes to good design. We chose Sorg for their commitment to bringing state of the art, top quality architecture to a broad cross section of the population.”

“My team and I are honored to be part of this important project,” said Suman Sorg of Sorg Architects. “I believe that design for human habitation can be a great equalizer, with the power to surprise, delight and to support human dignity regardless of the social/economic status of the users. In the design of the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence, the concept we developed of stacked, staggered blocks takes advantage of views to the south and west towards the Capitol and the National Mall. Breaking the building down into smaller vertical blocks also reduces its scale to create the intimate residential spaces within. We endeavored to use inexpensive materials in an innovative way for a thoughtful and practical realization of the design in keeping with the mission of the project.”

The building’s 60 units of permanent supportive housing will employ the proven “housing first” model, in which people experiencing homelessness are connected immediately to permanent housing and supportive services. All tenants will have leases and pay affordable rents based on their income. Professional case managers will work onsite to help tenants address health, employment and mental health needs in collaboration with the DC VA Medical Center.

“The District has needed a building like this for a long time,” said Chapman Todd, a DC resident who has advised Community Solutions on the project. “What I appreciate about Community Solutions’ and McCormack Baron Salazar’s approach is that they worked closely with the community to identify our key needs and to develop a locally supported approach.”

“The community is so excited to see this project come to our neighborhood! We have experienced a massive amount of development in NoMa, and it is so important to have a project that will serve many who might otherwise be forced to live elsewhere or even on the streets,” said Tony Goodman, Commissioner of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C (06). “As a bonus, this building has a spectacular design which will be a landmark tower at the top while enlivening the ground floor with an active retail or community space.”

The building is named for Jill Ker Conway and her late husband, John, a veteran of World War II. Mrs. Conway is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoirist and Harvard-trained historian who currently chairs the Community Solutions Board of Directors. She was the first female president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, a post she held for ten years. Her lifelong concern for veterans was influenced by the experiences of both her husband and her father. John Conway was awarded the Military Cross for heroism as a Company Commander with the Canadian Infantry in World War II, during which he lost his right hand to a grenade. He went on to teach history at Harvard and Toronto’s York University. Ms. Conway’s father, William Ker, lost sight in one eye while serving in the Australian infantry in the storied World War I Battle of Passchendaele.

“People ask me all the time if I really believe we can end veteran homelessness. The research couldn’t be clearer-- this really is a solvable problem!” said Community Solutions President Rosanne Haggerty. “The John and Jill Ker Conway Residence adds to DC’s stock of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing for veterans at a crucial moment. It’s a big step forward in the fight to end veteran homelessness in our nation’s capital.”

“This is not just a model for the District but also a national model for an inclusive, sustainable, supportive community for veterans and other at-risk, lower-income individuals,” said Richard D. Baron, Chairman and CEO of McCormack Baron Salazar. “Together with our partners, Community Solutions, we have created a solution with high-quality design, top-rate property management practices, and supportive services and programs that will result in a stable environment to help people and families work towards their highest potential.”

The total cost of the building is $33 million. Financing includes a mix of public and private sources. Public sources include Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, tax-exempt bonds, Federal HOME funds provided through the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, and support from the DC Housing Finance Agency and Department of General Services. Private sector financing sources include Chase Community Development Banking, Royal Bank of Canada, Citi Community Development and FHLBank Pittsburgh. Significant philanthropic support comes from The Home Depot Foundation, The William S. Abell Foundation, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and others. A list of all project partners can be found at the end of this release.

“This groundbreaking is symbolic of JPMorgan Chase and our nation’s ongoing commitment to help returning service members and veterans find quality, affordable housing,” said Peter Scher, Executive Vice President and head of Corporate Responsibility at JPMorgan Chase. “We are honored to be a part of this effort to provide 124 affordable homes, including 60 to homeless veterans who have served our country.”

The building will be managed by McCormack Baron Ragan Management Services, Inc. Additionally, local non-profit A Wider Circle will fully furnish the building's 60 units of permanent supportive housing, ensuring that they are move-in ready. Klein Hornig is legal counsel to the project and Holland & Knight is zoning counsel. GCS-Sigal is the general contractor on the project.