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How Would Kamala Harris’ Housing Proposal Affect DC?

by Nena Perry-Brown

Earlier this month, presidential candidate Kamala Harris unveiled her proposal to address the racial wealth gap within housing inequities, which would offer homebuying assistance to residents in formerly-redlined communities.

But considering how much home prices have appreciated in DC proper since the recession, would any DC residents be able to take advantage of such a program if it were implemented as proposed?

While still in its nascent stages, Harris' proposal would apply to residents earning up to $125,000 who have lived for at least the past decade in formerly-redlined areas which are still low-income, helping them to purchase homes that cost no more than $300,000. Redlining, the sanctioned identification of various neighborhoods as unworthy of investment, is one of the many tools used by the government and by private citizens post-Reconstruction to maintain racial segregation.

It is unclear how the plan would define "redlined" for the purposes of the homebuying assistance program, but the most well-known visualizations of redlining from the federal level use the "Residential Security" maps that the Home Owners' Loan Corporation created for over 200 cities in the 1930s. Although DC was not one of those cities, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) did create a map grading swaths of the city from A to H to indicate the residential and racial composition of those areas and make recommendations accordingly.

FHA map grading residential areas. Click to enlarge.
Interactive version, with description of grades, available here.

For the purposes of this article, we are highlighting the three lowest grades on the map; while F and H were associated with a high prevalence of Black residents, G was the lowest grade for a neighborhood occupied primarily by white residents. Below, UrbanTurf takes a look at those neighborhoods and zip codes graded F-H to see available if there are homes for sale for $300,000 or less.

Availability of eligible listings in areas formerly graded F. For zip codes, only those neighborhoods listed were marked with that grade. Click to enlarge.

Areas graded "F" were identified as in decline in the 1930s, but now, most of the areas are some of the more expensive and competitive housing markets in the city. Of the eligible units which have sold this year in the above areas, only seven were single-family homes, and all of the active listings priced for less than $300,000 are condos. There is also the question of the "low-income neighborhoods" requirement; for example, would low-income residents who have not been displaced from places like Foggy Bottom be able to use the homebuyers' assistance on a condo there? 

Availability of eligible listings in areas formerly graded H. For zip codes, only those neighborhoods listed were marked with that grade. Click to enlarge.

For parts of the city graded "H", low-income residents have far more options if this particular homebuying assistance program were enacted. It also bears mentioning that the only area of the city graded "G" encompasses those parts of the 20019 zip code which aren't listed in the table above.

Presuming that neighborhoods in the 20019 and 20020 zip codes could be considered "redlined", would still qualify as "low income", and that residents there have experienced less displacement than elsewhere in the city, it appears that long-time residents there would be eligible for homebuying assistance. Overall, however, the effectiveness of such a program for DC residents will be heavily dependent on how the criteria is defined, and eligible residents will still be in competition with other homebuyers and investors who are increasingly turning their attention — and raising home prices — east of the Anacostia River.

UrbanTurf will continue to keep an eye on this and other housing proposals being put forth for the upcoming election cycle.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/how-would-kamala-harris-housing-proposal-affect-dc/15685