Abe Pollin to Build 120 Affordable Houses for DC Employees
In his latest act of philanthropy for the city he loves, Washington Wizards and Verizon Center owner Abe Pollin tells me he is deep into negotiations to build 120-130 stand alone houses for DC employees who are on the front lines of serving the community, such as police, firefighters, and teachers.
In an exclusive interview with Bisnow on Business, Pollin said, “These are the people who make the city work, yet they are the forgotten people. And that’s wrong.” He tells me he would build and operate the housing on a non-profit basis, sell or rent units to deserving city employees, and deliberately make no money on the project. “The bottom line,” he says, “will be to make rates as low as we can make them so these valued employees can afford to live in the city that they serve so well.”
A deal for the land, the location of which Pollin declined to identify due to the delicacy of ongoing negotiations, has not been finalized; and details of the program, such as how selections of beneficiaries would be made, have not been developed.
But the land, Pollin disclosed, is in DC, he is near to closing on it, “and I’ll build 1000 houses in DC if I can find the land.” Pollin says he looked in vain for land in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, and in close-in Virginia, but identified land in DC. If negotiations are successful, he hopes to break ground this summer, and have construction complete within a year thereafter. He tentatively expects to make some units available for purchase, and others as rentals.
Asked for comment, John Tydings, former longtime president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, told me, “I’m not aware of anything that’s ever been done like this. It’s a landmark initiative. Abe is the real McCoy, a classic civic leader, and he’s doing something for an extraordinarily important sector — for those people who make it safe for the rest of us.”
Stephen Fuller, Director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, told me, “I don’t know of any case where a city has been the beneficiary of this sort of arrangement. Abe Pollin is really quite remarkable. He has proven over and over again his commitment to the District of Columbia. It’s his town, he’s invested in it, and he’s given back so much. It’s hard to find people like that today.” Fuller notes that possible models for Pollin to consider in developing the program are subsidized housing and housing allowances sometimes made available for university, military, and church personnel.
Pollin tells me he has been thinking about the initiative for several years as Washington home prices soared. He is already well acquainted with a more extreme housing crisis in the area. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, he shepherds his team players on a tour of needy local areas to distribute turkeys and toys to people living in what he calls “deplorable conditions only blocks from downtown.”
He says the location for his planned development is a “nice area,” with buildings already on it, but that the housing would involve all new construction. And he says he has a number of “people both inside and outside” his organization looking for additional land on his behalf.
Born in Philadelphia, Pollin came to DC at the age of eight, living originally at First and W, NW, from which he could walk to Griffith Stadium (where Howard University is now located), then 5th and Quackenbos, and finally 16th and Colorado. When he got married, he moved to Silver Spring, and now lives in Bethesda.
“Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to give to our community, should give,” he says.