Field Trip to Plaza West: A Refuge For Grandfamilies

Innovative affordable housing solutions help grandfamilies remain part of a growing, connected, and healthy community

Recently, we teamed up with CityLab DC, an event bringing together mayors, policymakers, business leaders, artists and activists for two days in Washington, D.C. From mobility planning to environmental justice to affordable housing, the event explored solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing city leaders and residents alike.

Because affordable housing is close to our hearts at Capital One, we wanted to dive deeper into this topic.

Our Commitment to Affordable Housing

Creating a successful affordable community is about more than just putting a roof over someone’s head. It’s about meeting a resident where they are in life and making sure they have access to an interlocking suite of services required to stay successfully housed and remain part of a growing, connected, and healthy community. 

Finding innovative solutions to complex problems is best accomplished by bringing a broad group of talented people to the table. It’s how we work at Capital One and it’s how we think strides will be made in solving the country’s affordable housing crisis. So, it was great to see representation from so many people in government, the nonprofit sector, and our community at CityLab DC. We were especially excited to discuss affordable housing and take attendees on a field trip to Plaza West, a housing community that reserves 50 of its apartments specifically for grandfamilies, or family groups consisting of older adults raising related children not their own. 

A Refuge for Grandfamilies 

Across the U.S., millions of families define themselves as grandfamilies. In Washington, D.C., alone, over 1,000 families define themselves this way. 

Grandparents raising children – often on a severely limited income – do not qualify for many forms of subsidized housing. A solution was needed to help grandparents raise kids in safe and affordable housing and we have been delighted to work with Mission First, a nonprofit housing developer to bring this vision to life through Plaza West.

"It's very difficult for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren on their own to find decent housing," said Ed Delany, a Capital Officer for the Mid-Atlantic region at Capital One who arranged the financing the bank provided. "There's a huge need, both nationally and in the District, for this type of housing." But that housing is rarely affordable. And when it is, Delany says, it's often sub-standard. Capital One wanted to ensure that grandfamilies in D.C. not only had a place to call home, but a place where they'd be proud to live.

In order to achieve this, Capital One provided a $7.5 million construction loan and purchased more than $35.5 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits to help Mission First make the development of Plaza West possible. In addition, Capital One gave a $200,000 social purpose grant to help provide on-site support for the residents.

During CityLab DC, Jamarl Clark, who is the Grandfamily Community Life Program Manager at Plaza West, shed light on some of the difficulties the children in these families have faced. “In many cases, their parents have passed away, been incarcerated or abusive, or have abandoned them,” Clark said. “Adverse childhood experiences leave them more likely than the general population to have negative health outcomes like substance-use disorders, mental health problems, and engaging in aggressive or risky behaviors. But, housing for grandfamilies - a demographic that has been left out - builds community and refuge for these children.”

At the Heart of Innovation

Before Plaza West, a community of its kind had never been done in the D.C. area. But when things aren’t working – as they weren’t for local grandfamilies – innovation might be your best option. And what did we learn? We learned that we want to do it again. And hopefully we can do it a bit better each time. We want to increase the sense of community among families on this journey, and provide new educational tools and technology to enhance their experiences. We see a lot of room to innovate here, and after seeing and hearing the stories of Plaza West’s grandfamilies, we are motivated to keep pushing forward on our affordable housing mission.