Does DC Have a Housing Strategy?

by Shilpi Paul

Does DC Have a Housing Strategy?: Figure 1
The Avenue at Park Morton, a residential project with affordable units on Georgia Avenue.

On Monday night, Mayor Gray’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force held a public hearing to gather ideas about the state of housing in the city.

The forum focused largely on supporting affordable housing measures, a topic that has become more pertinent as DC develops and prices and rents continue to rise. Many who spoke encouraged the city to support seniors, veterans, the disabled and the working poor who have been living in DC all their lives but find themselves struggling to afford a home.

Dozens of speakers showed up, many who were residents that had been assisted by various programs and non-profits. They were joined by non-profit employees who shared their perspective on the city’s various housing programs.

Here are a few of the ideas that emerged:

  • Area Median Income (AMI) is an imperfect measure. — Misty Thomas, an attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, warned the city about depending on AMI — a measure that includes the surrounding suburbs — to determine who is and isn’t eligible for certain housing situations. “80 percent AMI [a common upper limit for those eligible for affordable units] is not truly affordable housing,” said Thomas. “There are people who are part of the city workforce but don’t make anywhere near 80 percent AMI.”

  • The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) needs support. — Several speakers praised the HPTF, a program designed to produce and preserve affordable housing. “The Housing Production Trust Fund is critical,” said Heather Crouch of Mi Casa. Recent budgets have significantly cut funding for HPTF, and several speakers encouraged the city to support it once again. The fund can be used for things like rehabbing dilapidated buildings, and assisting residents with programs like the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which helps maintain mixed-income neighborhoods.

  • The city’s focus on job growth is a good long-term strategy, but limited in the short-term. — DC has been concentrating its efforts on job growth as a long-term strategy to solving the affordable housing issue. The task force pointed out that when residents move from 30 to 50 percent AMI, they have access to a significantly greater portion of the city’s housing stock. However, residents who need help now are feeling neglected, said Thomas. “How can we advocate for affordable housing in 2013?” she asked.

  • Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) needs to be managed more carefully. — Inclusionary zoning mandates that each new residential development must set aside a certain percentage of units as affordable. Many speakers on Monday night mentioned that DC’s IZ program needs to be managed more carefully, and some spoke with skepticism about the strategy itself. Sarah Scruggs of Manna was concerned for residents who buy these units who are unaware of the resale restrictions that limit the amount of equity that can be gained from the purchase. “Homeowners purchase restricted units unaware of the consequences,” said Scruggs. “They don’t know that they will be social pariahs in the building, that condo fees will go up and that resale restrictions will literally trap them in their units.” Others encouraged DC to look to other jurisdictions that have managed IZ programs successfully.

Monday’s discussion was just the start of the task force’s effort to take a closer look at housing in DC. A second public hearing will be held on November 14th, location to be determined.

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/does_dc_have_a_housing_strategy/6196


  1. Tom Stevens said at 2:38 pm on Wednesday October 24, 2012:
    Of course they will be social pariahs, they get to buy the same product as everyone else but pay WAY LESS. I wish I could buy a condo in DC at a fraction of the cost. Do away with these hand-outs and let the people who can afford DC live there!
  1. Susan Isaacs, Realtor said at 8:43 pm on Tuesday October 23, 2012:
    I hope it's not true that IZ owners will be "social pariahs" in their buildings. I give DC residents more credit than that. Agree that there are some serious considerations to IZs that buyers should be aware of before purchasing and the program could be improved.
  1. JoeEsq74 said at 4:29 pm on Wednesday October 24, 2012:
    I live in DC. I actually live in a mixed income development where everyone knows who has not paid market rate for their unit and no one cares. (I assume if people did not know they could look up unit sales on DC.gov real property database) Many people, like me, some of my neighbors and many others living throughout DC right now could not afford to buy their current homes. It is only because I was lucky enough buy a starter place in 1999 and pour the equity (and a little sweat equity) into each new place that I can afford my current home. I am all for giving some senior with a limited income, or someone / some family that opportunity as long as they go to work every day. Cops, teachers, firefighters, dancers, artists would be welcome any place I live. DC residents like quality services, they like go out. If service workers have to live too far away the cost of ‘quality’ labor goes up and with it the cost of the services residents enjoy. I think when people hear IZ they worry about hand-outs, as do I. I worry about neighbors not fully invested or prepared for home ownership but I also worry about the ‘couple’ - one salary + one grad student taking advantage of their current income to qualify for a property knowing their income will likely be higher in the near future. (not a made up scenario) Somehow I doubt this couple will end up social pariahs. These programs have to be carefully monitored, candidates carefully screened with some limits on 'profits' from equity for buyers who sell.

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