Washington Business Journal


Alex Bensahel, Jessie Kaye and Jason Stern have turned their development focus to the southeastern corner of the District, and they hope more eyes will follow them there.
Bensahel’s D.C. private equity firm Bensahel Capital and Southwest D.C.-based Kaye Stern Properties have done a few real estate deals together but generally have kept out of the headlines the past few years. “I have tended to stay off the radar and do my own thing,” Bensahel said.

The next project the team is tackling will be hard to miss.

The trio has filed a consolidated planned-unit development and map amendment for the Martin’s View apartment complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SW and next to Fort Greble Park and I-295. Under the proposal, the 5-acre site of two- and three-story buildings will be replaced with five- and six-story modern mid-rises and a 276-space below-grade garage, adding 665 net new units to the 156-unit, 1940s complex. More than 100 of those units would be affordable at 50% or 60% of median family income.

The project would be done in phases and probably take the remainder of the decade — with delivery of the first building probably about three years away, Bensahel said. The development team includes Eric Colbert & Associates, LandDesign, Gorove Slade Associates Inc., Vika, Brick & Story and Goulston & Storrs PC.

“We’ve been in the same area of the city for a long time, really trying to serve the under-served communities and trying to provide a higher quality of housing,” Kaye said.

That hasn’t always been easy. Kaye Stern, for example, was awarded its first low-income housing tax credits for a project on South Capitol Street a few years ago but it hasn’t broken ground thanks to shifting bond allocations and a tough financing market. But their long-term, optimistic view on the area continues to drive them.

Kaye and Stern have amassed about 300 units of housing largely east of the Anacostia River in the decade since the duo tackled their first condo rental in their home neighborhood. Bensahel Capital, founded four years ago by the career Eastern Union real estate broker, owns 1,800 units and has set its sights on acquiring 4,000 more, powered by local sponsors.

Martin’s View is owned by Community Housing Coalition LLC, which acquired the property out of foreclosure in 2017 for $15.4 million, according to public records. Martin’s View LLC, led by Bensahel as managing member, is the contract purchaser, per documents filed with the PUD application.

The development is slated to include features not currently offered on the property — studio and three-bedrooms, a central amenity space for residents, pool, rooftop recreation lounges and green rooftops with solar panels. The developers have proposed allowing right-of-return for residents to allow them to pay the same rent they do today, with rent increases depending on factors like age and family status.

The application also proposes a daycare, as Kaye expects its units could appeal to working families.

“We noticed this project when it was being marketed and realized the long-term potential of upzoning,” Bensahel said. “It packages two or three needs for this market, which is relatively untapped. But just being a part of the development and growth of an area like Bellevue that has been neglected over a number of years, we want to be a trophy development in this marketplace, to encourage more developers to build and renovate and start bringing up this market as a whole.”

The market is a challenge, though, to be clear. The project isn’t eligible for LIHTC because of its size, and there’s no way to provide so many units without the substantial increase in density. The team hopes residents of Bellevue, which they say has generally been favorable to the project, take the long view of investment over short-term inconveniences such as traffic and construction noise.

And down the line, with more dollars invested in this part of the District, Bensahel is hopeful needed amenities like a supermarket will be possible in Bellevue — bringing more grocery stores east of the river is a policy priority for the D.C. government.

“Maybe we will find some land down the line,” he said.