Covid funding could help restore ‘Green Book’ lodging in Parker Gray

1022 Pendleton Boarding House (image via City of Alexandria)

The owners of an Alexandria rooming house could have gotten a significant paycheck from developers for the property, but the home owner is working with the city to keep it affordable.

At a City Council meeting last night, the Council unanimously authorized to pay $1.95 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act grant funding to renovate and preserve a rooming house at 1022 Pendleton Street.

For over 100 years, 1022 Pendleton Street has been owned by a local family that’s used it to provide housing — at times offering shelter to those kept out of hotels by segregation.

“When it was used as a family home, it provided Green Book-style lodgings for Black entertainers and notables who were not able to stay in hotels due to segregation,” Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing, said. “In the 1970s, the ten bedroom house was converted into rooming house and operated as modest housing.”

The home was owned by a local businesswoman named Corrine Dixon.

According to the city report:

Ms. Dixon, who is deceased, was a prominent black businesswoman and local philanthropist in the second half of the 20th century. Her grandfather, known as “Baker John”, bought the Pendleton Street- Parker Gray neighborhood property around 1910 and turned the house, with a separate commercial space, into a 10-bedroom family home with a successful bakery attached. Ms. Dixon was well-known in Alexandria’s black community for her generosity in supporting the personal needs, educational attainment goals, and professional aspirations of her extended family, as well as members of her church and the wider Parker Gray neighborhood.

Each household in the building has a separate bedroom, but shared bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and living room areas. The property is not committed affordable but is considered market-rate affordable.

McIlvaine acknowledged Dixon’s daughter Janice Howard could have sold 1022 Pendleton Street to developers for significantly more than the city is investing in maintaining the property.

“While the property is unique, Ms. Howard, who represents the entity who owns the property, may be even more unique,” McIlvaine said. “She had many more lucrative options for what she might do with 1022 Pendleton, but in honor of her mother, a local philanthropist, Ms. Howard decided the right course was to continue with 1022 as a haven for those with the fewest housing options.”

The staff report said low rents will continue and a referral process will be created for the residences:

The operation of the property as a rooming house will be recorded via a restrictive covenant in the City’s land records to maintain this arrangement. On behalf of the Jackson family, Ms. Howard has confirmed the desire of other descendants to continue this use. Via the loan and grant documents, the City will retain the right of first refusal to acquire the property if, and when, it is sold in the future.

The renovations will focus on enhanced accessibility, livability and safety. McIlvaine said the residents in the rooming house will have a right to return once the renovations are completed in approximately twelve months.

City leaders called the investment a unique opportunity and unanimously approved the funding, taking a moment to acknowledge the moral fiber it took to keep that housing affordable.

“So often we’re talking about the tension between preservation and affordability and how unfortunately they sometimes end up pitted against each other,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “This is one of the situations where preservation and affordability are running in dovetail here and [there’s] an opportunity to bring them together.”

City Council member Sarah Bagley said the city is getting a significant return for investment in preserving the eight units.

“I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what this investment means for the people living there and to point out the value for dollar,” Bagley said. “$1.9 million to house eight households is an incredible return on investment. We talk about the cost of an affordable unit and it can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a phenomenal use.”