Carpenter’s Shelter, AHDC project breaks ground

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Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Mayor Allison Silberberg, Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia State Sen. Adam Ebbin, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilor Tim Lovain, among others, break ground at the future site of Carpenter's Shelter/The Bloom (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)
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By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

The effort to build a new Carpenter’s Shelter has been years in the making. Construction on the new shelter and 97 units of market-rate affordable housing called The Bloom, a collaboration between the shelter and the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, officially kicked off Wednesday at a groundbreaking attended by Gov. Ralph Northam, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Mayor Allison Silberberg and other city officials.

Work on the project is expected to begin shortly after Labor Day and take between 17 and 18 months, AHDC Executive Director Jon Frederick said, with move-in anticipated for early 2020. Contractor Whiting Turner, which has overseen previous AHDC projects, will handle construction of The Bloom and Carpenter’s Shelter.

The groundbreaking caps years of planning between the shelter, AHDC and the city. It comes nearly two years after city council approved the project in December 2016.

AHDC Executive Director Jon Frederick and Carpenter’s Shelter Executive Director Shannon Steene said the groundbreaking culminates years of collaboration between the nonprofits and their partners on this multi-faceted project.

“I think it just highlights the importance and the prominence of this deal, with two nonprofits working together, state and national trust fund dollars, housing tax credits, funding that is very far-reaching into all levels of government,” Frederick said. “In the end, it’s a project that will serve a lot of purposes for the city.”

Steene said the partnership was a perfect match.

A rendering of Carpenter’s Shelter from the northern elevation (Courtesy image)

“It’s really, for us, rooted in that homelessness is a lack of housing, so, as we’re looking to rebuild the building, to be able to pair the shelter with long-term housing options, that’s been a real win-win,” Steene said.

The idea of collaboration followed an initial plan to redevelop the shelter, which had long been located in a former DMV on 930 N. Henry St., that fell through at the start of the Great Recession in 2007. AHDC emerged as a potential partner in the years after and, by the time Steene took the helm in 2015, the plan was well underway.

“We’ve been fortunate to be in a building that we own for many years now – almost 20 years,” Steene said, “but it is a retrofitted DMV, so to be in a space that we’ve planned for, to make sure that we’ve got some private meeting space for working with our residents as they’re figuring out what their next steps are [and provide] basic safety and suitability, all one on floor, where there aren’t going to be mobility issues. … We’re just excited to have that purpose-built space.”

The finished product will stand seven stories tall on the ground that Carpenter’s Shelter long occupied. The 97 affordable units include studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments that range in size from 400 square feet to 1,300 square feet. Of the 97 units, 10 will be permanent supportive housing units devoted to former Carpenter’s Shelter residents making less than 40 percent of D.C.’s median income as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The median income is $110,000 for a family of four, while 40 percent would be $46,880 for a family of the same size. Residents of the permanent supportive housing units will also have access to wraparound services, which will be based on each person’s needs.

“Those residents will have access to the services and support of Carpenter’s Shelter in order to stay stably housed there, so, for each of them, that’s probably going to mean different things,” Steene said. “Services are individualized. We customize the support to what’s needed by that particular individual.”

The shelter itself will take up most of the first floor, and will have a similar capacity to the

A rendering of Carpenter’s Shelter’s main corridor (Courtesy image)

former shelter. AHDC will have a lobby for The Bloom on the first floor, as well as a secure package room and a mail space. All other units at The Bloom are capped at 60 percent of the median income, which would be $70,320 for a family of four, according to AHDC Communications and Development Associate Kayla Hornbrook.

Applications for the units would open about six months prior to completion of the project, though timing depends on a variety of factors. After all units are filled, additional applicants will be placed on a waiting list. Although lower-income individuals are frequently associated with industries like retail and food service, Hornbrook said many professions fall under the 60 percent median income threshold, including medical assistants, security guards and Alexandria Police Department officers.

“We are talking about retail and hospitality, but also many entry-level positions, especially within nonprofits, charitable work and even civil servants,” Hornbrook said.

The units come with vinyl planking that mimics hardwood floor, tiled bathrooms
and a washer and dryer in each unit. Each bedroom has its own closet and each apartment has general storage areas. All units also will have EnergyStar appliances to help reduce utility and electric consumption. The building will have a 76-space parking garage for both the Carpenter’s Shelter and The Bloom.

The project represents a number of successes for AHDC and Carpenter’s Shelter, including being awarded $1.6 million in combined state and national Housing Trust Fund dollars. The project was also awarded $2.2 million in tax credits from the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program in 2017. The development was the first in Alexandria to receive both Virginia and national housing trust fund dollars, a feat announced by Northam in January.

The Bloom from the southern elevation (Courtesy image)

The groundbreaking was a time to celebrate those funding victories, as well as a successful partnership between two city nonprofits. It also marks a success in bringing affordable housing to a part of the city that’s steadily growing and increasing in cost.

“First and foremost, it allows Carpenter’s Shelter, our partner in this, to remain in this part of the city – a very valuable part of the city. This project is going to allow us to build a modern, purpose-based shelter that will serve the community for years to come,” Frederick said. “… Braddock Metro is [a] rapidly growing part of the city that has added several … units to the city over the last several years – not many of those units are affordable. [The Bloom will create] 97 units that are affordable to families making $60,000 a year, and they’ll be in a transit-friendly area.”

The name of the development, The Bloom, speaks to this idea, Hornbrook said. It’s named after the physical growth of a planned community garden at the development that will yield free produce for residents and for the metaphorical growth of providing affordable housing in an increasingly unaffordable area. The name also, perhaps appropriately, hints at the growth of relationships between multiple partners in the nonprofit and corporate sectors. Steene mentioned by name the Howard Hughes Corporation, the Carpenter’s Shelter’s landlord at its temporary space at Landmark Mall, and HH Logistics, which managed the move from the old shelter to the temporary space.

At its core, though, the partnership between AHDC and Carpenter’s Shelter has been the most significant, and Steene said he’s excited to see that take shape.

“There is great excitement about officially launching this venture. We’re entering some of the most visible stages of our partnership …” Steene said. “AHDC has been a solid partner throughout all of this. Real estate development is not our core business. We know how to get people who are homeless permanently housed, so I think part of the power of this partnership is we do what we do well and they do what they do well and, together, this is going to be a great service for the community.”

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