Revitalizing a neighborhood takes more than money– it takes patience and time. Just ask Marilyn Melkonian of Telesis Corp. When Telesis was featured on the cover of Multifamily Executive magazine in 1999, the company was still recovering from completing a 10-year effort to revitalize the Kenilworth Parkside neighborhood, a former public housing project in northeast Washington, D.C. Six years later, the company is just now laying the groundwork for phase two of the ambitious project.
"The worst neighborhood in the nation's capital is now one of the best and coming into a whole new cycle of development," says Melkonian, president of Washington-based Telesis, a for-profit provider of affordable housing that focuses on large-scale urban developments. "Parkside shows how neighborhoods change once people bring together the basic ingredients for growth: safety and stability, improved housing, and improved services."
Telesis, acting as a nonprofit developer at the time, spearheaded the redevelopment effort, joining forces with the city and a number of community groups and investors to renovate nearly 2,000 units of rental housing, plus build 100 townhomes on five acres of a vacant 26-acre parcel. "The neighborhood was a hub of the crack cocaine trade on the East Coast," Melkonian says. "Now it is a very attractive place to live."
Thanks to Telesis' efforts, Parkside is no longer dependent on subsidies for stability. Today, the balance of the vacant land is being developed by private players Bank of America Community Development Corp. and Lano International, with Telesis serving as the development advisor. Plans call for 1,500 to 2,000 rental and for-sale units, with 20 percent set aside as affordable, plus 250,000 to 500,000 square feet of office space, 30,000 square feet of retail, and a new charter high school. The developers plan to break ground towards the end of 2006.
The successful Parkside redevelopment is emblematic of the company's work these past six years. "Marilyn has always taken on projects that have a high level of community impact and a high level of financial risk," says John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow and the J. Ronald Terwilliger chair for housing at the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute. "While any developer has to be tenacious to be successful, I think she has shown a creativity and a tenacity that puts her at the forefront of the pack."
The company continues to tackle colossal revitalization efforts across the country, fervently working against dwindling government funds and a growing gap between housing affordability and peoples' incomes. "We have over 2 million people on the streets every night in America," says Melkonian. "We have to wake up and make sure we are doing enough to make sure that doesn't happen."
To support its efforts, the company recently expanded into two new areas: forming a nonprofit entity dedicated to resident supportive services and pursuing new market tax credits.
Two years ago, Telesis formed Neighborhood Associates to help run services ranging from health screenings and homeownership classes to safety patrol systems and job training. "We don't have a line item in our development budget that allows for a funding structure [for community services]," says Telesis senior vice president Laura Lazarus, who heads the nonprofit division. "We hope this will allow us to have additional funding and create more effective systems for each neighborhood we are in."
On the funding side, this spring Telesis received its first allotment of new market tax credits, which will help the company go beyond rental housing into commercial investment and homeownership. "There are only a few housing developers who have gotten into the [new market] program, so the fact that Marilyn is one of the first ones just shows that she's got a good nose for where the money is," says ULI's McIlwain. And best of all, Melkonian knows how to make the money count.