Rufaro Jenkins still fondly remembers celebrating her daughter’s first birthday at her home at Parkway Overlook Apartments in Washington, D.C. — along with the birthdays, proms, and graduations of the other kids who lived there. She and other residents were forced to relocate when poor living conditions and failed inspections closed the buildings in 2008. Even so, Jenkins and others have fought for the last 10 years to bring the apartment community back to life — and keep it affordable.
“I feel like a mother who watched her troubled child in school finally graduate from high school,” said Jenkins, who is now a homeowner. “I used to tell them in meetings that Parkway Overlook was one of my children. Mothers protect their children, and I was going to protect Parkway Overlook.”
Cynthia Eaglin, Parkway Overlook Tenants Association:
It was a good, loving community. I remembered proms, I remember children graduating from high school. My children interact with other children.
We would leave our door open all day. Kids could run in and out of each other’s houses.
Rufaro Jenkins, Parkway Tenants Association:
I moved into Parkway Overlook September 1992.
I moved into Parkway Overlook April 1991.
The violence that came during the time that I lived there — it wasn’t people who lived here. And I think that a lot of people had a misunderstanding in reference to Parkway Overlook.
Kevin Hall, Wells Fargo Community Lending and Investment:
There’s a middle school that’s a couple of blocks really from this property. By volunteering there, I’ve gotten to know some of the students, gotten familiar with the neighborhood from driving back and forth there, so I had seen this property probably eight years ago, and honestly, it was shocking because it was in utter disrepair.
You had units where cabinets were hanging down, hanging off. It was water damage. You had units where it was mold.
Merrick Malone, DC Housing Authority:
As a result, they continued to fail the HUD REAC — which HUD comes in, they inspect. In 2007, after it failed again, the Section 8 was canceled. In 2008, I believe, all of the residents were relocated.
Jennifer Knox, Washington Interfaith Network:
Over time, even after the property was closed, it changed hands from different government agencies multiple times. Ms. Eaglin and Ms. Jenkins were essential to the redevelopment of the property. They really, from the beginning, wanted to make sure that the property would remain a place where all sorts of families could come back.
Fighting for them to keep it affordable and to redevelop it, I knew that it had to look beautiful. Even though throughout the process I became a homeowner, I still wanted the former residents to have that right.
So in 2015, the DC Housing Authority set about planning a gut renovation of these 220 units.
Just to have gotten to know individuals who were attending that middle school, see the neighborhood that they lived in, to be part of the solution to provide the financing, that was really exciting to me, because it literally was going to make this neighborhood better.
Wells was just really instrumental in helping us to be able to do that. I mean, to provide the construction financing, and the debt and the equity side of it was remarkable and very, very helpful. Without we could not have done Parkway Overlook.
It’s a really awesome feeling and it gives back hope to the people.
I hope that the new community at Parkway Overlook will realize this development is here because it was people who really loved this place and loved the community.
After a 10-year process to secure approval and funding to rebuild the community, the renovations to Parkway Overlook are currently underway, and construction is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2019, providing 220 apartments of affordable housing for families in Ward 8, considered one of the district’s poorest areas. While Jenkins and former resident and fellow Parkway Overlook Tenants Association member Cynthia Eaglin are happy about the redevelopment, it’s been a long journey.
Working together to rebuild Parkway Overlook
Over the years, Jenkins and Eaglin worked with Washington Interfaith Network, or WIN, a grassroots organization that brings citizens and residents together to develop solutions for communities — in this case, coming up with a strategy, bringing former residents together, and meeting with local leaders. The biggest hurdle, though, was getting funding to redevelop Parkway Overlook, said Jennifer Knox, lead organizer for WIN.
In 2014, Mayor Muriel Bowser, then chairwoman of the city council’s Committee on Economic Development, brokered a deal with D.C. Housing Finance Agency and District of Columbia Housing Authority to take control of the property and finish the renovations, said Merrick Malone, director of the Office of Capital Programs for the District of Columbia Housing Authority.
Ultimately, Wells Fargo provided the construction loan and equity for the project development, D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development provided $20.1 million in financing toward the project, and the D.C. Housing Finance Agency provided bond financing in the amount of about $38 million and low-income housing tax credits.
While planning for the renovation, the housing authority worked with Jenkins and Eaglin, who shared feedback from other former residents. One of the areas Jenkins and Eaglin felt strongly about was keeping the apartments affordable. “We built relationships, but we let them know we are not going nowhere, and you’re going to keep this affordable, and you’re going to make sure that the former residents have the first right to return,” Jenkins said. “What’s happening in this city, we want it here, but we also want it to be affordable, so do whatever it is you need to do.”
As a result, the one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments will be affordable to households making up to 50 percent of the area median income, and 11 of them will be reserved for households at or below 30 percent of the area median income. In March 2018, Jenkins, Eaglin, and others who worked hard to redevelop Parkway Overlook participated in a groundbreaking ceremony. Malone said that, while the groundbreaking was amazing, he is excited for the ribbon cutting because it will signify hope for the neighborhood and the commitment to get the project done. Eaglin agreed.
“It was well worth that 10-year fight, and we’re not stopping there,” Eaglin said. “So yes, we would like to see the day that they cut the ribbon for the new community. I will probably shout for joy, praising God — I know I will — but I’m excited about that, and I know for Ms. Jenkins and I that fight wasn’t for us. It’s for the people, and it includes us, but it’s for the people, because God has blessed us. He has blessed us, and he has given us the strength to do what we need to do, and I truly thank him.
“The day when we had groundbreaking, it was awesome. My heart was so filled with joy, and just from Ms. Jenkins and I standing there and looking back at the fight that we fought to get to where we are today, it’s a really awesome feeling. And it gives back hope to the people, because a lot of folks did lose hope and didn’t think the place would be redeveloped.”
While Eaglin, like Jenkins, has become a homeowner since Parkway Overlook closed in 2008 and will not live in the newly renovated apartments, both are excited for the new residents. “I want the new community at Parkway Overlook to love Parkway Overlook the way we loved Parkway Overlook,” Jenkins said, “and to know by doing that, to respect that this development is here because it was people who loved this place and loved the community.”