Pioneering Mixed-Income Project Provides a Model for Solving D.C.'s Affordability Crisis

When the Townhomes on Capitol Hill replaced the Ellen Wilson public housing project 14 years ago, mixed-income housing was a novel strategy. Now that such projects are common, what lessons can the Townhomes provide for developing affordable housing?

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November 5, 2013, 10:00 AM PST

By Jonathan Nettler @nettsj


"After the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $25 million grant [PDF] to a neighborhood group in 1993 to tear down 134 abandoned units at Ellen Wilson and replace them with an equal number of mixed-income homes, many civic leaders doubted whether middle-class professionals would live in the same development with public housing tenants," writes Jessica Schulberg. "They clearly have, with a third of the Townhomes’ residents now making market-rate monthly payments that subsidize those of people such as [resident Juanita] Jones who pay much less."

Though the Townhomes' scale is too small to make a dent in D.C.'s growing affordability crisis, the award winning project is seen as a model for citywide efforts. As Schulberg explains, a design that blended the development seamlessly into the surrounding neighborhood was a crucial element in the project's success. 

“'We knew that Capitol Hill worked,' said architect Amy Weinstein, who designed the development by meticulously emulating the Victorian townhouse aesthetic of Capitol Hill in the new townhomes. She also proposed two new streets through the former Ellen Wilson property. The resulting I Street SE and Ellen Wilson Place knit the Townhomes back into the surrounding neighborhood."

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