Over the past few months, reports have trickled in warning about Howard University’s fiscal health. The news is not good. The school’s enrollment had dropped, its annual Congressional appropriation has fallen, and the hospital is furloughing workers to make up for large losses. On the bright side, Howard’s capital improvement program is underway and several cranes tower over three active construction projects on the campus (more on that later).
As for fiscal issues, the first warning came in June, when a Howard University trustee warned, “Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now.” Whether the trustee was exaggerating Howard’s fiscal straits due to internal politics remains unknown, but a potential sequester of the university’s Congressional appropriation adds to the unease.
Since its founding in 1867, Howard has received an annual appropriation from Congress much the way state universities receive appropriations from their state legislatures. The appropriation has remained steady over the past few years, but sequestration is expected to reduce the amount. Federal funding accounts for a sizable 27% of the university’s operating budget, meaning any change will be noticeable.
Furthermore, the recession, which hit black Americans especially hard, is often cited as a major factor contributing to last year’s 5% enrollment decline, further depriving the university of tuition revenue. Tuition for the 2013-14 academic year is set for $22,783, excluding housing, a difficult stretch for most families.
In June the university announced it would layoff 75 employees and earlier this month, the hospital announced it will furlough 1,700 staff for eight days. The hospital has suffered a sharp decline in patients and revenue.
Money problems are nothing new at Howard. In fact, tight university finances are a theme that appears in The Black Apollo of Science, the biography of Ernest Everett Just, a 1920s and ’30s Howard biology professor and LeDroit Park resident. The university has survived tough times before and it is rare for large universities in the U.S. to shut down.
Some of the bad news is more than just financial. Late last month, news leaked that the university and its development partner had parted ways on the Howard Town Center project, further delaying the mixed-use development project the university has been planning for years.
Lift every crane and build
But there’s good news, too! Visit LeDroit Park’s newest Capital Bikeshare station and you’ll spot the cranes that tower over the Howard campus. In fact, the university is currently constructing three new buildings: two new dorms on 4th Street and an interdisciplinary STEM research building at Georgia Avenue and W Street.
The two dorms at 4th and College Streets NW and 4th and W Streets NW are part of the university’s plan to improve and increase on-campus housing. By making 4th Street NW a residential spine, the university hopes to keep its students in newer buildings physically close to academic buildings. The proximity is expected to boost academic performance and the newness of the housing is expected to attract top-performing students.
At Georgia Avenue and W Street, Howard is constructing a new building for STEM research. The new high-tech facility is expected to boost the university’s research profile and its ability to win research grants that require advanced research facilities. The LeDroit Park Civic Association supported the zoning relief necessary to build this building.
Though the university’s fiscal woes make headlines, several important capital improvements are well underway.
Flooding, student behavior, and Capital Bikeshare are on the agenda for Tuesday’s civic association meeting. The meeting will be on Tuesday, September 25 at 7 pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church.
Here’s the full agenda:
- Howard University’s plan to address student behavior in off-campus housing
- An updates from the Flooding Task Force
- The new Capital Bikeshare station coming to LeDroit Park
- Public Safety in our neighborhood: How to keep our streets safe and clean
- Neighborhood events and activities
Everyone is encouraged to attend.
In reviewing Howard University’s proposed campus plan, we started to take account of all of the property in DC that the university owns. Up until 10 years ago, Howard University was accused of being LeDroit Park’s biggest slumlord, owning numerous properties in the neighborhood and letting them lie vacant, blighted, and decaying.
Under the reign of university president H. Patrick Swygert, Howard made a significant and commendable effort to rehab and sell many of its vacant properties in the neighborhood.
For instance, the university owned all but one house on 400 block of Oakdale Place. It let these houses lie vacant, blighted, and boarded up. Under Pres. Swygert, the university renovated the houses and sold them to employees. Today the 400 block of Oakdale Place is fully occupied and a new condo building is nearing completion on the western end.
In other cases, the university renovated properties but has retained ownership. 531 U Street NW looked terrible in 2004 (right), but now looks very nice. We can’t quite tell if the house is occupied, but it consistently appears to be in good condition.
Elsewhere on the 500 and 600 blocks of U Street, Howard built historic infill houses (below) on vacant lots it owned on the north side of the street. The result is a block with with a continuous wall of housing on the street’s northern face. The houses’ façades are of high quality, with detailed brick work, ornate porches, and a variety of detailing.
The job is not entirely done, however, and Howard University retains ownership of a few properties that raise eyebrows. Let’s look at these three:
649 Florida Avenue (left) sits as a vacant lot, frequently collecting trash and debris. A university official told us that long ago Howard had considered using the lot to create a delightful pedestrian path to the university from the Shaw Metro. That never happened and now the lot sits vacant.
408-410 T Street (center) was the home of Walter Washington, DC’s first elected mayor. The university owns the property, and though it’s not blighted, it may be vacant. With some renovation work, this would make an excellent rental home for a Howard professor or anyone else for that matter.
326 T Street (right) is the Mary Church Terrell House, future home of the Robert and Mary Church Terrell House & LeDroit Park Museum and Cultural Center. Though it’s vacant and undoubtedly meets the District’s definition of blight, we are willing to cut the university more slack in this case since the eventual outcome will be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the campus plan does not specify any additional Howard funding to restore the site.
In addition to the properties above, Howard owns a few more properties in LeDroit Park:
- Gravel parking lot at the SE corner of 5th and W Streets. (Square 3072, Lot 818). Campus plan does not mention any change to this lot.
- Carver Hall, 211 Elm St NW (Square 3084, Lot 830). Campus plan mentions the dorm’s decommission, but no reuse plans.
- Slowe Hall, 1919 3rd St NW (Square 3088, Lot 835). Campus plan mentions the dorm’s decommission, but no reuse plans.
- Howard University Hospital daycare, 1907-11 5th St NW (Square 3090, Lot 41)
- 420 T St NW – a house that appears to be occupied (Square 3094, Lot 800)
- Howard University Hospital (Square 3075, Lot 807)
- Parking garage bounded by 4th St, Oakdale Pl, 5th St, and V St. (Square 3080, Lot 73)
- Parking garage bounded by 4th St, V St, 5th St, and an alley. (Square 3072, Lot 52)
Though Howard retains a few problematic properties, it’s important to note the great strides the university has made in taking responsibility for its property portfolio in the neighborhood. A plan for these few remaining properties, even one in which the university retains ownership but leases, would put residents at greater ease.
At Tuesday night’s meeting of the LeDroit Park Civic Association, the association voted 11-2 to support the Howard University Campus Plan. Since several issues in the plan remain unresolved and unspecified, your author voted against supporting it.
Among many concerns are the several vacant properties that Howard University owns in the area. Though Howard has made a commendable effort to refurbish and sell many of these properties in LeDroit Park over the past decade, we are worried that the university, after it moves students out of Slowe and Carver Halls might leave these two dormitories vacant for several years.
The university has been very adept at finding excuses for keeping several of its properties vacant in decades past.
For current vagueness in the plan, university officials say they haven’t determined a use yet or that they haven’t found the financing or that everything is the economy’s fault.
That may be true, but vacant buildings attract trouble. They become safe-havens for criminals, vagrants, and rodents. Some vacant properties become truly blighted with windows covered up with plywood or metal covers. This blight drags down property values and lowers the quality of life.
For most private property owners, vacant properties (class 3) face a steep 5% annual property tax and blighted buildings (class 4) face a 10% annual property tax. These punitive tax rates are meant to urge owners of vacant and blighted properties to return their properties to good order and productive use.
As a university, however, Howard pays no taxes on its land, so a punitive 5% or 10% tax on $0 is still $0 . As such, the neighborhood needs a legal mechanism to ensure the university does not vacate Slowe and Carver Halls and then blame the economy as they board up the buildings for several years.
Whether the university keeps the buildings as student dorms or converts them to faculty housing is fine either way, but vacancy and blight threatens the progress the neighborhood has made over the past decade.
To prevent this, your author moved “To amend our support [for the campus plan] to prohibit vacancy of Slowe and Carver Halls for more than one year.”
The motion was property seconded and passed unanimously.
The civic association will submit this language to the Zoning Commission and urge the commission to attach it to the legally enforceable order that ratifies the campus plan. This will ensure that these two large dormitories do not sit vacant for an unreasonable length of time over the next decade.
Howard University’s campus plan is an ambitious and mostly good plan, but it’s important that point out its shortcomings and to ensure the university does not get away with undue burdens on neighborhoods and the District.
Exemption from property taxes is a privilege, not a right, and residents are wise to ensure this exemption is not abused to the detriment of the public interest.
Mark your calendars. The LeDroit Park Civic Association’s final meeting before the summer recess is Tuesday at 7pm at the Florida Avenue Baptist Church (enter at the rear on U St).
This month’s agenda:
- Ward 1 School Board member Patrick Mara
- Representatives from Metro. Police and Fire to discuss safety/crime
- A discussion on the Howard University project, and how it will benefit our neighborhood
- A discussion about the living conditions at Kelly Miller and our call for action to DCHA
- An update on the new Park
Howard University is inching closer to finalizing its draft campus plan.
As you recall, each university in DC is required to submit a decennial campus plan to the Zoning Commission for approval. The campus plan is a legally binding plan that commits the university to certain enrollment caps as well as plans for future physical changes to the campus.
Please note that this is a draft and the university is getting closer to finalizing the plan it intends to submit to the Zoning Commission. There will continue to be many opportunities for community input and the Zoning Commission will likely decide on the final plan in the fall.
If you missed Tuesday night’s civic association meeting, never fear! We have copies of the Howard University housing presentation, which focuses on the two proposed dorms the university wishes to add on campus along 4th Street NW.
Additionally, we also have a draft of the executive summary of the campus plan.
This is just a draft, mind you, and the university expects to submit its final campus plan proposal to the Zoning Commission by the end of June. We have been assured that we will receive a copy of the full proposal before the university submits it to the Zoning Commission.
Even though the university will submit the proposal by the end of June, we will have to wait until the fall until the Zoning Commission holds hearings and votes on the proposed plan.
We will post more, including the final draft of the full plan, once these documents become available.
Howard University will present details of its draft campus plan at Tuesday’s meeting of the LeDroit Park Civic Association. The university is required to submit a plan every ten years and the university is currently finishing its draft that it will submit to the Zoning Commission in the coming months. This is your chance to learn about the future of Slowe Hall and Diggs Hall, as well as future dorms on 4th Street and buildings along Georgia Avenue.
Tuesday, April 26 at 7pm in the basement of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, 623 Florida Ave (enter on U street)
Also on the agenda:
- Park update— it’s nearly finished!
- Vote to support the liquor license application of Shaw’s Tavern
- Nominating committee for the coming civic association elections
All neighbors are encouraged to attend.
Representatives of two large projects of local interest will appear at Thursday’s monthly meeting of ANC1B.
First, Howard University will give a short presentation of its draft campus plan (right). The university is finishing up the draft that it intends to submit for public review and Zoning Commission approval in the coming months. The draft we’ve seen shows positive steps for development along lower Georgia Avenue. We will post more details later this week.
Second, the city and its architects will present the concept design for the renovation of Cardozo Senior High School. The historic school building opened at a time when girls and boys were separated within schools. As a consequence, the building has two small gyms, rather than one adequate gym. The architecture team proposes appending a new gym to the west side of the building and partly burying it into the hillside. Burying the structure into the hillside allays residents’ previous objections to any additions that would obstruct the spectacular views from Clifton Street NW. The roof of the gym will serve as a parking lot and may provide a fireworks view (not launching!) platform for future Independence Days.
Two liquor licenses are on the agenda, too:
- Sankofa Café, 2714 Georgia Avenue NW – New tavern. “Live entertainment and a Summer Garden. Total seating is 86. Total occupancy load is 136. Summer garden 40 seats. Hours of operation: Sunday-Thursday 7 am-2 am, Friday & Saturday 7 am-3 am. Hours of sales/service/consumption of alcoholic beverages: Sunday-Thursday 5 pm-2 am, Friday & Saturday 12 am-3 am. Hours of live entertainment: Sunday 6:00 pm-2 am, Thursday through Saturday 6 pm-1 am. Summer Garden hours of alcoholic beverage sales/service/consumption: Sunday 12 pm-12 a,. Monday through Thursday 3 pm-12 am,Friday & Saturday 12 pm-12 am. Summer Garden hourse lf live entertainment: Sunday 6 pm-9 pm, Thursday through Saturday 6 pm-9 pm.”
- H2 LLC Voluntary Agreement
The monthly meeting of ANC1B will be Thursday at 7 pm at the Reeves Center at 14th & U Streets NW.