A New Home for “Grandfamilies”

Innovative D.C. housing combines wisdom and youth

Tonya Carter and her granddaughter Akira were among the first residents to move into Plaza West, a unique affordable housing development in Washington, D.C.’s Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood. Of the 223 units at Plaza West, 50 are set aside for “grandfamilies” – older adults raising grandchildren or other young relatives.

According to the U.S. Census, as of 2017 there were 2.6 million grandparents raising their grandchildren in the United States. This phenomenon isn’t new, but what is new is the late realization that providing housing to accommodate families like Tonya’s is challenging. Plaza West is the first grandfamilies development in D.C. and one of only a handful of such developments in the U.S.

“It’s like a dream come true,” Carter, 58, says. “I was the second family to move in and I’ve been here on the 11th floor since August.” She loves the apartment and amenities, but much of what she loves involves safety and community. Akira, 11, can walk around the neighborhood without her grandmother worrying about her safety. And there are support services and events at Plaza West that both enjoy.

“It just doesn’t stop with shelter,” says Jamarl Clark, the Grandfamily Community Life Program Manager at Plaza West, who names wisdom as the top benefit older adults bring to raising kids. Clark describes providing residents with support for trauma and twice-weekly tutoring. Additionally, Howard University’s School of Social Work now hosts a grandfamilies support group at Plaza West.

Plaza West was completed in 2018 by Mission First Housing Group in partnership with Golden Rule Plaza Inc. In addition to financing the construction loan and purchasing Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to make the development possible, Capital One also left in place a $200,000 social purpose grant, which is helping to pay for on-site support services for residents.

“I feel very supported,” says Carter, who has full custody of Akira. “Without this place, I probably would have been working three jobs just to live somewhere that was safe.”