The Coalition for Smarter Growth, in coordination with a number of allied organizations and individuals, works every day for a variety of solutions that can help to make D.C. a truly inclusive city. Our current work includes:
DC’s newest affordable housing program, Inclusionary Zoning (IZ for short) sets aside a percentage of housing units in new residential developments as permanently affordable for low- and moderate-income households. In exchange, builders are allowed to construct more units overall on the site. Similar policies have been implemented in over 200 communities across the United States.
1000 IZ units are in the pipeline with dozens coming onto the market now, but a combination of administrative factors have hurt the smooth start-up of the program. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is pushing for the changes we need to ensure the program is successful, organizing expert panels, meeting with senior officials, and informing the public about the fixes needed to get IZ implementation on track.
What is IZ?
IZ is a widespread tool that leverages the strength of a strong housing market to create and sustain more affordable housing in market-rate developments. By setting aside a percentage of moderately price units, IZ helps create mixed income buildings and sustain mixed income neighborhoods. DC adopted this national best practice in 2006 but political delays and the recession have stalled its start up until recently. Now that IZ is finally delivering units in significant numbers, it’s time to ensure that the program is working smoothly, and that good polices are preserved, and the policy’s too-high income targeting (earning over $78,000 for a family of 3) brought down.
At the recent DC Zoning Commission hearings on the zoning update, several commissioners expressed support for bringing down the affordability of IZ units to lower income households and Office of Planning indicated the same. Watch for this discussion in January at the Commission. We are eager to reassess how the IZ program to better serve lower income households while still offering at a significant number of units in each new development.
You might have heard about the early challenges with implementation of the program, but the Department of Housing and Community Development is working through them and is getting on track with more than a dozen IZ units leased and one unit sold, and three under contract. The Department is working on revised regulations to work more effectively with applicants seeking housing. It is also both expanding its collaboration with non-profiting who provide housing counseling and alignment of its internal team to streamline administrative aspects of the program. A lot more improvement is needed but we’re headed in the right direction, and IZ units are now homes to the first set of applications.
IZ offers many unique benefits – ensuring mixed income development as the market builds new housing; ensuring that these more affordable units are here for the long run, and don’t disappear as the neighborhood continues to rise in value. Ensuring that IZ will be able to build and sustain a stock of affordable housing for the long term is a big benefit – while the affordability in other housing programs expires after a few years, DC IZ keeps the homes affordable for the life of the building. So as neighborhoods rise in value, IZ will always keep in place opportunities for moderate and lower income household to have chance to live in the community.
Mayor Gray deserves a lot of credit for championing the implementation of IZ when he led the DC Council. We commend him for continuing to follow through with administering the program. We now need his continued leadership to keep the good, and strengthen IZ as a tool to reach lower income households.
Public Land for Public Good
D.C.’s extensive publicly owned lands are a key opportunity for the city to provide affordable housing to very low-income residents – the city can make a certain level of affordable units a requirement of any deal, while also meeting other citywide and neighborhood goals through great mixed-use developments.
Our report Public Land for Public Good provides the city officials and the public with an in-depth look at the city’s track record for producing affordable housing on public land. It offers recommendations as to how D.C. could use publicly owned land to increase the supply of affordable housing while fostering economic diversity, access to jobs, and the vibrancy of our neighborhoods.