Setting An Agenda for Affordable Housing: Let’s Do This, DC!

Setting ambitious policy goals is not something DC shies away from. In fact, earlier this week, Mayor Gray announced a five-year economic plan for the city that would create 100,000 jobs and generate $1 billion in revenue. We’re still working our way through the plan, but we’re glad that Mayor Gray isn’t afraid to set the bar high because that is exactly what DCFPI encouraged Mayor Gray’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force to do in testimony submitted earlier this week.  

It’s no secret that housing costs have risen rapidly in DC over the last decade. Rents have risen by 50 percent beyond inflation and home values have nearly doubled. These large jumps in housing costs have lead to a substantial loss of low-cost housing. DC has lost 50 percent of its low-cost rental units and more than two-thirds of its low-value homes over the last ten years. And while home prices have skyrocketed, the incomes of DC households haven’t kept pace. In fact, for the bottom 40 percent of DC households, incomes haven’t risen beyond inflation over the last ten years. 

With housing costs outpacing the growth in incomes, it’s no surprise that more and more DC households are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing’a severe housing burden. This is especially tough for DC’s low- and moderate-income families for whom severe housing burdens mean that they have less’and spend less’on food, medicine, transportation and retirement savings. In 2010, more than 51,000 DC households have severe housing burdens. Nearly three out of four of these households had incomes less than 30 percent of the area median income’roughly equal to $31,000 for a family of four. 

With Mayor Gray’s plan for 100,000 new jobs will come even greater demand for housing.  So without an equally ambitious plan to create housing in DC, housing prices are only going to keep growing faster and farther out reach for many DC residents’especially low- and moderate-income residents.  

That is why DCFPI encouraged the Mayor’s task force to adopt a comprehensive housing housing strategy that plans for the housing needs of current and future DC residents’at all income levels’but that also recognizes that the private market just doesn’t build affordable housing to low- and moderate-income DC residents on its own. The task force should include in its plan an ambitious set of numerical goals that would address a substantial share of the current and future need for affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents.            

It is important the task force set numeric targets for the production and preservation of affordable housing. The 2006 task force, for example, set goals of creating 34,000 new units of affordable housing and to preserve 30,000 of existing affordable housing over 14 years. Setting numeric targets allows the District to measure, track and evaluate its progress toward meeting those goals on annual basis and alter policy or resources as needed to stay on track.  

DCFPI’s testimony also talked about where DC should target affordable housing resources, what current programs we have in place that should be key components of a comprehensive plan and discussed the need for more resources’like using our public land’to achieve the ambitious goals we hope the task force will recommend. You can read our entire testimony here


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