An Issue Needing More Attention: The Streetcar’s Impact on Affordable Housing
Not a single streetcar has started coursing down DC’s streets, yet just the presence of the tracks has jump-started development along H Street, confirming the important role streetcars will play in DC’s economic development for the next 30 years. Land values have started to rise and new businesses are popping up. That is good news, but it also means that housing costs will increase sharply, creating new challenges for DC’s already massive affordable housing shortfall.
How will the District manage this economic development in ways that preserve affordable housing? That is today’s District Dime question. Unless the District takes steps — now — to address these affordable housing challenges head-on, DC’s low- and moderate income residents may not be able to take advantage of all of the benefits a new streetcar system will bring.
The recently published Streetcar Land Use Study makes the common-sense point that the streetcars system will lead to a significant rise in housing and land values along the streetcar corridors as more businesses and residents want to locate near the new amenities. This means that whatever affordable housing is currently there is at risk of disappearing.
DC has several housing policy options to help preserve and build affordable housing along the corridors; such as funds for affordable housing development and preservation, inclusionary zoning (IZ) and public land. And that is true. But standing the way of that reality? The resources to make many of those tools available for preservation and construction. While the IZ program is up and running, support for DC’s other main affordable housing programs (like the Housing Production Trust Fund) has been significantly reduced through budget cuts and the impact of the recession on DC’s finances. To make matters worse, federal support for the construction and preservation of affordable housing has been cut way back in recent years.
These efforts must start soon, before it becomes too late or too expensive to preserve and build housing that is affordable to a wide array of residents. Indeed, in the case of H Street, it would have been better to start as soon as the streetcar plans were laid. Going in now to build or preserve affordable housing is much more expensive than it would have been several years ago when the streetcar development was first coming to H Street.
A sad sign that the housing impact of streetcars is not being taken seriously is a recent DC Council hearing on the land use study that included three committees but not the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development (as we talked about yesterday, jobs are another important issues missing from the discussion). Going forward, it’s important to bring the Committee on Housing and Workforce Development to the table when discussing the streetcar project.
Stay tuned to the District’s Dime tomorrow when we discuss the streetcar’s impact on DC finances and small businesses.