Developer EastBanc is nearly done with its Square 50 project in the West End. The building includes a new DC fire station and state-of-the-art squash facility, plus 55 units of affordable, workforce housing. When you hear about such housing getting built atop a fire station, you might assume the apartments will be priced for firefighters.
But during a recent tour of the place, EastBanc president Anthony Lanier told us: “It’s a travesty that the firemen can’t live in this building.”
Fifty-two of the Square 50 apartments are reserved for residents making no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income, meaning a single occupant cannot make above $45,660. The starting base pay for a firefighter in the District is $48,880—too much to qualify as a single person for an apartment above the West End fire station, but not enough to afford a market-rate apartment in the neighborhood, where one-bedrooms go for over $3,000 a month. Rents at Square 50 start at $1,200.
Though the building adds sorely needed affordable housing to one of DC’s most expensive neighborhoods, the quirk highlights the growing difficulty for working class residents to live comfortably in the District.
Under the affordability rules, two people renting at Square 50—which has studios, one-, and two-bedrooms— can make as much as $52,140 combined, three people can make $58,680, and so on. So a firefighter could feasibly move in with other people, as long as they don’t exceed the income cap. Three units in the building are priced for residents making no more than 30 percent of median income, which equates to $22,850 for an individual.
The city gave EastBanc the land at 23rd and M Streets, NW in exchange for the developer’s commitment to build the fire station and the affordable units. Though Lanier says he’s disappointed that the city’s math doesn’t work in the firefighters’ favor, he says he’s nonetheless proud of adding affordable apartments to the West End. When he started the project, he says he had to convince the wealthy neighbors that “we were not bringing in a fenced-in area of crime.”
Of course, Lanier himself built the homes of many of those neighbors. EastBanc’s Residences at the Ritz Carlton and 22 West are two of the highest-end condo buildings in the neighborhood. Lanier has another luxury building in the works, the Westlight, a couple blocks away.
Still, he says he believes more housing should be subsidized: “The social fabric of a vibrant city neighborhood will include policemen, nurses, and teachers walking to work and going home alongside doctors, lawyers, and bankers,” he says. “Affordable housing needs to be integrated into all neighborhoods, including the West End and Georgetown.”
Square 50 opens to residents on April 15. Here’s a look inside.