Low-Income Condo Residents Say D.C.’s Demand That They Pay for Restoring Historic Balconies Will Force Them Out of Their Homes

Washington, D.C. – Historical preservation officials are asking for expensive renovations to condo buildings to overcome the opposition of low-income residents.

The issue is 25 falling balconies that have sprouted from the third story of the Kenesaw Building in Mount Pleasant, a 115-year old building. They are a danger to safety and must be replaced or completely removed.

Replacing balconies could cost as much as $1.5million. Special assessments would be applied to all residents, ranging in value from $10,000 up to $28,000. It could lead to a triplet of condo fees paid by 15 low income households in the building, who are currently paying below market rates and don’t believe they will be able afford it.

Neha Desai (president of the Renaissance Condominium Association) stated that “the only way they could afford to repair the damage is to leave.” DCistThis story was reported by the Associated Press earlier in this week.

So, the Renaissance Condominium Association (which owns 29 out of the building’s total 87 units) and Kenesaw Phoenix Cooperative (which has the remaining units) have proposed affordable repairs. This includes the $750,000 budget to replace 25 balconies with ornamental railing.

It seems plausible enough.

Problematizing matters is that Kenesaw Apartment Building is situated in both one and two historic Districts. To ensure that the work proposed is compatible with the historical character of the area, applications for building permits must be reviewed by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB).

These restrictions allow neighborhood preservationists and government officials to see the plans that Kenesaw residents have for their building. Each group is determined to stop the Kenesaw’s removal of its balconies.

Fay Armstrong of Historic Mount Pleasant testified that it would significantly affect the architecture of the building and character of both historic districts in which it is located.

Staff from HPRB recommended to the board that Kenesaw not remove or replace 25 of these balconies. They wrote in a report that “the balconyies are an original and distinctive feature.” The property would suffer from a loss of character if the balconies were removed.

Residents of Kenesaw made their pleas for flexibility to the board.

“As an owner/senior on fixed income, I am [concerned]In a letter addressed to the HPRB, a resident stated that the project would have a significant impact on low-income residents.

The building’s spirit would be destroyed if long-term residents were forced to leave due to financial hardship. One person said, “I love the balconies but not at this cost.” It would be better if DC could sub-finance the repairs rather than making residents bear a huge cost. Please allow for the removal of the costs if they can’t.

These appeals were ineffective. The HPRB voted unanimously on September 1 to deny plans to eliminate the 25 balconies.

It is not supposed to balance preservation and functionality. Kenesaw’s residents applied to the mayor’s representative. If they feel that denial of a permit would lead to “unreasonable hardship,” then the HPRB can be reversed.

Late January will see a public hearing in which building residents may present their case.

A D.C. City Council emergency bill also allows the Kenesaw Building to be eligible for $250,000 grant funding.

DCist According to reports, the fee hikes are not affordable for low-income families even if they receive the grant. Fees increase based upon a property’s square footage and not on its income.

To cover infrastructure costs or public projects, governments often ask for special assessments.

Typically, these assessments are for projects that provide a particular benefit to the property owners being charged—say a new sidewalk in front of someone’s house. Owners can be upset at the fact that they were charged for something they did not ask for.

Even more offensive is the inflated special assessments Kenesaw residents are receiving. Benefits of replacing the balcony with a $1.5 million one are mostly aesthetic. They only benefit a small number of residents who enjoy looking at it.

People who are living in the building might find it difficult to pay for a longer stay.