Kenilworth Courts, an aging public housing complex in Ward 7, is being replaced with town homes people of varying income levels can rent or buy. The development should help the community attract new residents, bring in new retail, and become safer.

Kenilworth Courts today. Image from the DC Housing Authority.

The Kenilworth-Parkside community where Kenilworth Courts stands is nestled in the northwest corner of Ward 7 between the Anacostia River and Kenilworth Avenue/295. The community has been in a slow moving renaissance for the last 25 years.

The most recent round of development began in the mid to late 2000s with the renovation of Mayfair Mansions, the Parkside Planned Unit Development and construction of the Pollin Memorial Community. Development has been gathering pace in recent years, with the completion of the Pollin Memorial Community and more Parkside buildings breaking ground in 2015.

Most of the new development has happened in Parkside, on the south side of Kenilworth. But the DC Housing Authority is working to change that by rebuilding Kenilworth Courts, an aging public housing complex.

A public-private partnership between DCHA, Warrenton Group, and Michaels Development Company, under the umbrella name of Kenilworth Revitalization, will handle the Kenilworth Courts project. Kenilworth Revitalization plans to redevelop the area in three stages to mitigate displacement, and Kenilworth Courts is the first step of the first stage. Within the communities it’s working on, Kenilworth Revitalization will replace each unit of old public housing with a new one.

The red areas are developments completed since 2000, the purple ones are existing rental properties, the blue ones are existing homeownership communities, and the yellow ones are developments planned or underway. The area outlined by the bold white line is Kenilworth Courts. The big purple line is I-295, and the yellow one is the Orange Line tracks. Image by the author.

Here’s what the project will look like and how it will help the community

DCHA aims to replace the 14 acre, 298 unit complex with a mixed income, new urbanist style development. It will upgrade the site to 530 residential units divided up between replacement public housing units, tax credit rental units and workforce housing units for sale and rent. The development will consist predominantly of town homes mixed with small apartment buildings.

Rendering from the developer.

The design also calls for somewhat larger buildings along Kenilworth Avenue. One of the buildings will serve seniors. The new development will also feature an aquaponic garden.

The PUD could solve many of the problems that have plagued the community for decades. Kenilworth, already isolated by its geography, is further isolated from its neighbors by a poor street layout, which the coming project should change.

The street as it is now. Image from the developer.

The street as it will be. Image from the developer.

The residents of Kenilworth Courts will benefit from dramatically better living conditions, and a more conventional street layout will keep people safer.

Overall DCHA’s revitalization builds off DC’s other investments in the area, such as the Anacostia River Trail and the new Kenilworth-Parkside Rec Center.  The increased density and massive reinvestment should make northern Ward 7 more appealing from a retail and services standpoint.

The community still needs more options for buying food and getting around

Although dubbed mixed-use, the mixed portion is comparatively small (only 4500 sq feet has been set aside for flexible use). Northern Ward 7 is a food desert by most definitions. Research conducted by DCPNI indicated that many residents had 40 minute commutes to reach the closest grocery store.

The District government also needs to support the area with improved transportation infrastructure. Although close to the Deanwood Metro station and 295,  connectivity is limited by aging and dangerous infrastructure. The walk to the Deanwood Metro is intimidating, and 295’s daily gridlock often overflows into the neighborhood and traps residents in their homes. In addition, the community needs better bus service and infrastructure like shelters.

Here’s more on the history of Kenilworth and its neighbor, Parkside

Constructed in 1960, Kenilworth Courts resembles most DC public housing from the era: squat barracks style apartments arranged in superblocks.

In 1988, the complex became notable when residents, under the leadership of Kimi Gray, organized the Kenilworth Parkside Resident Management Corporation. KPRMC rallied the support of Marion Barry and the Reagan Administration to take ownership of part of the complex. Although KPRMC didn’t achieve all of its lofty goals, today the KPRMC buildings are in relatively good shape compared to their neighbors across the street.

Kenilworth’s redevelopment has been in the works for around five years. It previously was part of one of DC’s Bids for a Choice Neighborhood Grant.  Although the Housing Authority wasn’t awarded the federal grant, it did benefit from the extensive community charrette process required by the program. DCHA has opted for a more modest redevelopment plan that excluded the KRPMC portion of the community.

The result is a community designed by Torti Gallas, that draws on many of the themes used in the Pollin Community in Parkside. Both communities share similar design vocabularies and scale. Interestingly enough, portions of this vocabulary have been adopted up by at least two other developments underway in northern Ward 7.

Torti Gallas designed the newly created Kenneth Jay and Linda Joy Pollin Metrotowns Memorial Community. The new Kenilworth Courts will feature some of these characterisitcs.

Justin Lini is a Senior Specialist with the American Physical Therapy Association. He serves as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the Paradise and Parkside communities in Ward 7 and is a CAC member on the Transportation Planning Board. In his spare time he paints, does graphic design, and enjoys reading up on DC history.