In gentrifying Logan Circle, affordable housing meets hate crimes

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Ted Puntanen (Photo: Jay Westcott)

On the fast-gentrifying 14th Street strip north of Logan Circle, Ted Puntanen is a regular. Puntanen works the sales desk at housewares shop Go Mama Go!, displays his oil pastels on the shop’s walls, and stops in for treatments at the Whitman-Walker Clinic. One day in April 2009, Puntanen was making his rounds when he noticed a party on the 1400 block of R Street.

Long story short

For two gay men, life on R Street was affordable and dangerous.


“I saw the mayor right up the street, celebrating the opening with all the councilmembers,” he says. The “opening” that Puntanen refers to was not another high-priced grocery store or a luxe condo building. Quite the contrary: Mayor Adrian Fenty and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans had gathered with residents and developers to toast an anti-gentrification milestone. Residents of the R Street Apartments—a series of five four-story buildings on the south side of R Street—had banded together to secure affordable housing on the block for the next 40 years.

To make it happen, the D.C. government partnered with the National Housing Trust and the Hampstead Development Group to funnel $24.5 million into the project. The D.C. Housing Finance Agency called the effort “a testimony to the power of the human spirit.”

“What we are doing is celebrating with folks who were here in the hard times and are now here in the good times,” then-DCHFA executive director Michael Kelly told the Washington Post.

But the complex’s success also depended upon attracting new residents to the block, people who were a little bit more familiar with good times. The trick was to usher in the positive effects of gentrification—lower crime and more resources for the tenants, higher rent checks for the developers—without forcing older tenants out. So along with the 124 units of affordable housing (all dedicated to households earning less than 60 percent of the area median income), the buildings also offered six units at market rate.

The National Housing Trust describes R Street’s market-rate aesthetic as “an Italian loft in an English basement.” Units top out at over $2,000 a month. Along with the thoroughly European basements, the $24.5 million also paid for: buildings-wide free high-speed wireless Internet; energy-efficient amenities like low-flow toilets, "green" carpets, and front-loading washers; afterschool programs for K through 8th graders; fitness, computer, and community rooms; children’s yoga classes; an “updated” security system; and a weekly Friday-night movie screening.

In other words: The reopening signaled the all-clear that a building previously reserved for low-income black residents was now open and welcome to gentrifiers. Puntanen—white, gay, 47—got the signal. A year later, “I went into their office, and they showed me this great apartment,” Puntanen says. This past June, he inked a lease for a studio on the second floor of the building at 1432 R Street. “I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ It was perfect.”

That same month, Stanley R.—white, gay, 54—happened to walk into Go Mama Go! with a freshly broken nose, a constellation of facial fractures, and stitches over his right eye. Stanley had recently moved into R Street Apartments, too. “He better think twice about signing that damn lease,” Stanley, who did not want his full name published in this story, told shop owner Jonathan Chudnoff. “I’ve been attacked there, and I’m not staying.”
Chudnoff got the message to Puntanen. But nothing could dampen Puntanen’s excitement for the new apartment. “He loved the place,” Chudnoff says. “It looked really good on paper.”

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