Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Storefront Improvement Program?

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The Storefront Improvement Program are grant funds awarded to a few nonprofits focused on Wards 1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. The Program is administered by DC Facades, a local Certified Business Enterprise, and made available through funds provided by the Department of Community and Housing Development (DHCD) in order to renovate commercial storefronts. DC Facades manages the Program on behalf of multiple nonprofits and they are the Point of Contact, regardless of where your property is located.

Typically, the Program offers design assistance and construction services up to $20,000 in matching funds per façade (based on program demand). The Program does this in order to improve the appearance of individual building facades, signs and awnings, as well as the overall look of the business district. The Program makes commercial revitalization efforts affordable and community-based.

Participants will be offered matching grants for storefront improvements:

  • There is a 2-to-1 match required for project costs over $4,000. For example, if the scope of work costs $15,000, the $10,000 will be shared between the local nonprofit, contributing $10,000 and the participant contributing $5,000 (this is an example- each case is slightly different based on the costs of architectural drawings and permits)
  • Exceptions to this matching arrangement will be the discretion of the Program’s review committee and examined on a case-by-case basis.
  • Property owners located on corners are often eligible for larger amounts of matching funds since they can apply for renovations to both facades.

The Storefront Improvement Program is administered by DC Facades and supported by its local nonprofit partners. The review committee is comprised of professional consultants, project managers, and the nonprofit partners.

What Projects Are Eligible For Funding?

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Any property owner or store proprietor/tenant with lease authority or authorization from the owner can apply for funding (however, there are ineligible properties- e.g. churches, franchises). The project site must be located within eligible business districts. In most cases, tenants must have a minimum of two years remaining on their lease, or an option to renew. The following types of improvements are eligible for funding:

  • Exterior painting
  • Removing inappropriate or incompatible exterior finishes or materials
  • Restoring exterior finishes and materials
  • Recessing/reconfiguring of existing doors and entrances
  • Repairing or replacing existing storefront window systems
  • Repairing persistent exterior damage (water damage, rotting wood, etc.)
  • Signs (new, repairing, replacing and removing)
  • Exterior building and sign lighting
  • Display area improvements and lighting integral to the façade of the building
  • Roll-down grate and grate box removal
  • Awnings/Canopies (new, repairs, or replacement of existing)
  • Appropriate decorative architectural elements (shutters, parapets, cornices, etc.)

Removal of roll-down solid grates includes removal of the grate boxes and grate track. If you have solid grates and are applying for funds for other improvements, it will be required that you also remove the grates. Interior improvements are not considered to be included in the scope of work unless the exterior alterations require changes to the interior construction.

Are There Any Design Guidelines?

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All projects must be approved by DC Facades’ Review Committee and be in accordance with its guidelines. Additionally, all projects must conform to the District of Columbia’s Zoning Code, including any Local Neighborhood Zoning sections. If your business is within a Historic District, all applicable laws apply.

Typically, design assistance is provided to assist businesses with the design of proposed improvements and developing a scope of work. Design assistance consists of an on-site meeting with the business owner, a schematic design for the proposed improvements, a budget estimate and a written description of the proposed work.

How Are Projects Selected For Funding?

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Projects are first-come, first-serve while public funds are available. Properties must also be within areas that are considered eligible for support by DHCD. Eligibility is based on U.S. Census information for Low- and Moderate-Income (LMI) areas and can be discussed with Program staff. Beyond eligibility, projects are awarded based on their compatibility with the specifications and goals set in the Grant Agreement between DHCD, DC Facades and its nonprofit partners.

How Is The Money Awarded?

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This is a matching grant program. Participants are typically responsible for approximately one-third, or thirty-three percent (33%) to one-half, or fifty percent (50%) of the total costs for design assistance and building improvements. The local nonprofit is typically responsible for approximately one-half (50%) to two-thirds of the cost, sixty-seven percent (67%) of the total costs. Work completed prior to a Letter of Commitment from the Program is not eligible for funding.

Grant funds are disbursed on a benchmark basis and will be issued during the completion of the project. The same rule applies for participant contribution; participants must provide their matching funds before the work is underway. During the process, DC Facades and its representatives will review the project and determine that the actual work performed was the work approved.

How Does The Application Process Work?

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Interested applicants should meet with the DC Facades Program Staff or attend a Storefront Improvement Information Session. After having their questions answered, participants are encouraged to complete an application. Depending on the availability of resources, design assistance may be offered.

If an application is denied, a new application can be submitted after modifications are made to the application. The Review Committee will review the application and render its recommendation upon receiving a complete application. Every effort will be made to expedite the process.

Following review and approval of the application, the applicant will receive a Letter of Commitment from DC Facades or its partners for a specified amount and information on next steps. The Applicant then becomes a Participant and can proceed with the necessary building permitting and review process. If the total project cost is over $2,000.00 the project is likely subject to the requirements of the Federal Davis-Bacon Prevailing Rates Wage Law for contractors and sub-contractors.

What Happens After A Project Is Selected For Funding?

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Work selected for a matching grant must be completed within six months of approval of the application unless an extension is granted by DC Facades. While DC Facades offers assistance, the applicant is responsible for its contribution to all building permits and any other required permits. The Participant is responsible for compliance with all applicable safety standards and conditions. The Participant also agrees to maintain the property and improvements.

DC Facades may promote an approved project including, but not limited to, inclusion in marketing and outreach, website (during and after construction) and using photographs and descriptions of the project in DC Facades’ or the local nonprofits’ marketing materials.

DC Facades and DHCD reserve the right to make changes in the conditions of the Storefront Improvement Program as warranted.

Are There Any Restrictions?

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Only improvements integral to the façade of a property are eligible for the grant funds. The grants cannot be used for roofs, HVAC systems, any construction that results in expansion, or streetscape elements—sidewalks, streetlights, street furnishings, temporary use, etc.

  • Any work completed prior to approval of the owner’s full application is not eligible for matching grant funding.
  • Interior improvements are not eligible for funding unless reasonably related to exterior alterations and enhancements.
  • Canvas awnings are allowable if: a) there is an environmental or aesthetic need, and b) there are limited business graphics on the awning. Vinyl awnings are discouraged.
  • Improvements must comply with the District ‘s zoning and building codes, applicable sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), and signage restrictions outlined in District of Columbia Construction Codes Supplement 1999 (Building Code), Chapter 31 - “Special Construction.”

Each individual commercial storefront project proposal will undergo design review by Program staff to verify that the proposed improvements are consistent with the generally accepted storefront design principles and program requirements. In addition, rehabilitation of designated historic buildings or buildings located in designated historic districts must be executed in compliance with historic preservation requirements.

Properties Eligible for Improvements

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The organization implementing a storefront improvement project will identify specific blocks to focus their effort upon. The organization will then make grants available to business and/or property owners located in these areas:

  • Any business located on an identified block will be eligible (excluding national or regional franchises or chains)
  • Non-profit agencies certified 501(c)(3) are eligible
  • Government-owned properties, churches or sectarian establishments are not eligible
  • Vacant properties are eligible unless seriously dilapidated or abandoned
  • Properties requiring a minimum scope of work that exceeds all available sources of funding may not be eligible
  • Properties that have received DHCD funded storefront improvements within the previous five-year period are not eligible
  • Properties owned by employees, close relatives, or board members of developer are not eligible
  • The property is located on a targeted block with a high level of project participation; or, located on a block where most buildings have been recently improved or are in good condition; or, the property is located in a highly visible location (for example, at a major intersection).