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.”
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.”