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Affordable Housing: The Foundation of Stable Communities and an Equitable DC

Addressing the disappearance of low-cost housing ranks at the top of any list of DC’s most serious challenges.

Preserving and expanding the supply of affordable housing is central to keeping DC’s racial and ethnic diversity, ending homelessness, and stopping the displacement of Black and brown residents.

DC must take assertive steps to expand our supply of affordable housing. Greatly increasing funding for tools such as the Housing Production Trust Fund and the Local Rent Supplement Program, is the most important thing we can do to keep DC affordable for a diverse group of residents. Increasing the supply of housing in DC, especially in communities that have resisted added density in the past, can also play a part. More housing can accommodate a growing population, create housing opportunities throughout DC, and help slow gentrification.  Equity must be at the heart of the production of new housing, such as ensuring that the expansion of affordable housing keeps up with the growth in market-rate housing.

Steps to Expand DC’s Supply of Affordable Housing

DC has a robust set of tools to address our affordable housing needs, and the key hurdle is getting our leaders to commit to fully utilizing them to create affordable and decent housing for all of DC’s lowest-income families — nearly all of whom are Black and brown. Housing is just 3 percent of the DC budget, although it is far more than 3 percent of DC’s biggest challenges. Notably, we spend twice as much on the Metropolitan Police Department as we spend on affordable housing.

As a Councilmember, I would commit to:
  • Creating real affordable housing: DC’s lowest income families — under 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or under $37,800 for a family of 4 — face the most troubling affordable housing challenges. Too often, DC builds “affordable housing” for higher-income residents that ignores those with the lowest incomes.  Our housing resources should focus primarily on households with incomes below 30 percent AMI, with some funds also targeted to those below 50 percent of AMI (under $63,000 for a family of four).
  • Building Affordable Housing throughout DC: Less than 1 percent of DC’s affordable housing built from 2015 to 2018 is in Ward 3. Spreading affordable housing across DC can increase opportunities for low-income families. For example, we know that affordable housing placed in higher-income communities can support educational and job opportunities for low-income children of color.
  • Fully Addressing the Housing Need for DC’s Neediest: As a Councilmember I would push the DC Council to adopt a resolution to a) identify the actual need for affordable housing for households below 30 percent AMI and b) commit to meet that need over 10 years, including identifying the funding needed. I would hold the Council accountable to fully funding that plan year after year.
  • Ensuring Housing Matches Family Sizes: Too often, affordable housing is built as small units (2 bedrooms or fewer), because that is cheaper for developers. We must demand that developers build enough apartments to meet the needs of larger families.
  • Save Public Housing: Public housing plays an incredibly important role in DC’s affordable housing landscape, as our lowest-barrier affordable housing program which serves a large number of older residents, people with disabilities, and families with children. It should be protected as public housing, not privatized. As a Councilmember, I would require that any infusion of local funds come with requirements that the DC Housing Authorityensure all current tenants the right of return; replace units one for one; engage in “build first” whenever possible, and more.
  • Build Social Housing: As a Councilmember, I would work to support growth of the social housing model, which means housing developments that create permanent affordability and strong democratic rights of tenants to make decisions over their homes.
  • Strengthen Rent Control:  Rent control is a critical tool to maintaining family and community stability, and to slowing  gentrification. Now is the time to strengthen it. I fully support the DC Reclaim Rent Control Campaign. The changes to rent control should put all buildings of 4 or more units that are at least 15 years old under rent control. I also support capping rent increases at inflation, preventing rent increases when units become vacant, closing the “voluntary agreement” loopholes  that landlords have been shamefully abusing for over a decade to get around rent control, and more.
  • Support Homeownership Opportunities: In addition to supporting renters, as a Councilmember I would work to expand affordable first-time homebuyer assistance for low- and moderate-income residents. We must ensure that people who want to settle in DC are able to do so.
Using Greater Housing Density to Support Housing Equity in DC

Increasing the supply of affordable housing throughout DC by increasing density, is a matter of racial equity. It would help address a history of racial exclusion built into our city’s zoning that contributed to the segregated housing patterns we see today. If we do not work to increase housing production in higher-income low-density neighborhoods, we will continue to enshrine these legacies of systemic racism.

Building more housing is not a solution for our affordable housing needs or a replacement for any of the targeted affordable housing needs identified above. 

Importantly, more housing production can be accomplished responsibly and as part of a plan for equity. It will reduce upward pressure on prices in a city where rents and home sale prices have risen astronomically. It will create housing opportunities for people at a range of incomes and lessen pressures to gentrify current lower-income communities.  Along with providing more funding for affordable housing and preserving existing lower-cost housing, more housing production can accommodate a growing population without leading to displacement. With DC ranked among the worst cities in the displacement of Black residents, this is an urgent matter.

  • Put equity into the heart of adding density:  DC should support expanded housing supply with a specific focus on equity. This could include tying the number of new housing permits for market rate housing to the number of new affordable units, requiring that affordable housing keep up with market rate development.  It also should include requiring any land where more density is allowed to have an affordable housing set-aside: If a large single family lot becomes a 4-unit building, that would likely increase the land value substantially. Requiring one of the new units to be deeply affordable would recapture some of the increased land value.
  • Push for more density in transit areas: DC should support more concentrated development on major thoroughfares and near major transit routes and Metrorail stations.
  • Push for more density in areas with a history of exclusion: The District should work to increase housing density in those communities where zoning for single-family homes on large lots was part of a history of racial exclusion.
  • Add density responsibly: Supporting more housing density doesn’t have to mean putting very tall buildings in the middle of an area dominated by low-rise development. It is possible to support added density in ways that fit within the community.  In this photo, for example, the building on the left is an apartment building and the building on the right is a single-family home. This apartment building in the middle of a block of single-family homes in Brookland does not look out of place or change the character of the neighborhood — but it does create far more opportunities than a single family home would.

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