The housing market remains in the doldrums and the legal ramifications of the market’s bubble and collapse remain in the news. Nevertheless, the Baltimore-Washington metro region has seen an ongoing commitment from lenders, investors, and construction firms within both the private and public sectors to expand green multi-family housing. Multi-Housing News Online (MHN) has recently reported on a couple of projects that are moving toward completion, even as gloom hangs over the rest of the market.
Contributing Editor Barbra Murray reported in late September on the opening of Wheeler Terrace in the Washington Heights neighborhood of our nation’s capital (NW). The renovations began as a way to stop the blight of the 161-unit building and the drug traffic it sheltered. Neighborhood inhabitants developed the Community Preservation and Development Corporation that succeeded in securing almost $34 million in funding for the renovations. Not content with making it a safer and more inviting complex, the CPDC worked with investment banks and the architectural firm Wiencek + Associates Architects and Planners to ensure the building earned a. (See also look at LEED Certification.)
Ms. Murray emphasizes the many ‘firsts’ that the CPDC and its partners achieved in renovating the building:
Not only is Wheeler Terrace the first project-based Section 8 affordable housing community in the region to achieve LEED Gold Certification, it is also the first U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s demonstration project to evaluate the public health impact of multifamily green retrofits on low-income housing residents. Additionally, Wheeler Terrace is now the site of the first geothermal system in an affordable housing property in Washington, D.C.
Baltimore is not to be outdone. Ms. Murray followed up on the goings on in Washington Heights with the the creation of “Uplands Visionaries L.L.C., a public-private partnership spearheaded by Pennrose Properties L.L.C. and Bozzuto Homes, [which] is developing the new $238 million Uplands community, which will encompass 1,100 rental apartments and for-sale homes at full build-out.” As we have learned through our many Perspectives interviews with project leaders in the housing industry, each building, renovation, or greening plan requires its own plans and enjoins its own challenges to overcome. In the case of the Uplands complex in southwest Baltimore, initial funding was collected six years ago. The credit collapse two years ago slowed development, but now the complex is on track to open in 2012.
This project is also designed to achieve LEED Gold certification upon completion, but what really sets it apart is its implementation of the latest communications infrastructure: “The most significant aspect of Uplands will be its status as one of Baltimore’s first future-proof developments, featuring community-wide unlimited bandwidth with fiber optics.” The fiber optics might change the demand for present-generation network technology (DSL, cable, or satellite) within the city, where private-sector investment has been non-existent thus far.
The developers believe the Uplands community fits a much-desired model of suburban comfort with an urban environment of proximity and convenience. They believe it will draw people who work in Baltimore, Odenton, and northern DC, especially those working in/on/for Fort Meade.
What these two communities might mean in the larger picture is that community involvement is becoming an expectation in urban renewal, and that community involvement will push the greening and communications frontiers before (at least ‘along with’) the for-profit sector. The shift might be part of the aftermath of the Great Recession, as investment bankers remain shy about investments unless they believe the local community are personally invested in the investments’ successes. It might mean that those who have been forced to reconfigure their housing situations as the banks collapsed on top of them can find better connected opportunities as well. The great success of these two public-private partnerships will provide, if nothing else, models for emulation as we rebuild.