Amazon Loans Howard U. Millions for Affordable Housing Project

WASHINGTON BUSINESS JOURNAL: Howard University is advancing plans to renovate and re-tenant Howard Manor, a vacant, former rent-controlled property near campus, thanks to funds from Inc (NASDAQ: AMZN).

The university announced Friday it has received $31.3 million from the Amazon Housing Equity Fund to renovate the 80-unit 654 Girard Street NW as affordable housing, including an $8.8 million permanent loan to acquire the building and another $22.5 million for development work.

“Howard University has a long-standing reputation of empowering its community through education and outreach,” Senthil Sankaran, managing principal of the Amazon Housing Equity Fund, said in a statement. “Through this partnership, the preservation of Howard Manor is a unique opportunity for both organizations to expand that community impact and increase the affordable housing stock in Washington D.C.”

A press release does not name the project’s developer, however, Howard, which owns the land beneath Howard Manor but not the building itself, entered into a ground lease with Urban Investment Partners in 2020. On its website, UIP lists the Howard Manor project as “current,” with renovations to include unit upgrades, HVAC and updates to the lobby, halls and roof. It is unclear if UIP remains the university’s developer.

Howard University has sought to modernize and monetize Howard Manor, a 75-year-old property, for years, as part of a larger strategy to update its vast real estate holdings. All but a few of the 70 residents had moved out by 2017, but the remaining few sued the school alleging it aggressively sought to move them. That year, the school reached an agreement with the District that it would build between 80 and 100 units of affordable housing for households earning up to 60% of the area median income. 

Howard Manor’s 80 units will be maintained at that affordable threshold for 99 years with the Amazon funds, Howard said, and the building’s 3,000 square feet of ground-floor retail will be restored. Howard President Ben Vinson III said the housing units will be aimed at families, as opposed to student housing, and noted a relative dearth of affordable units in Pleasant Plains, where Howard Manor is located, and neighboring Columbia Heights. Ward 1 has seen just 644 new units of affordable housing built since 2015, third-lowest of D.C.’s wards, per a D.C. tracking database.

Amazon’s Housing Equity Fund has invested more than $1 billion to create or preserve 7,300 units of affordable housing in Greater Washington, the company has said, accounting for more than half of its nationwide commitment of $1.7 billion for 14,000 homes across its three office hubs — D.C., Nashville and Seattle. The company credited these programs with boosting the local stock of 99-year covenants on local units by 22%.

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