The city has taken a couple of stabs at solutions to the increasing unaffordability of housing in the District. Mayor Vince Gray pledged last monthto spend $187 million on affordable housing projects—a move in the right direction, but not one that will make new private developments any more affordable. The city’s inclusionary zoning policy requires new developments above a certain size to set aside some of their units for low-income residents, but there are plenty of exceptions and the program has been slow to take off.
So Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie is proposing a new regulation that would increase the District’s commitment to affordable housing where it has the most say: on public land. Tomorrow, McDuffie will introduce a bill requiring that when public land is sold or leased for development of at least 10 residential units, 20 percent of those units must be set aside as affordable housing. If the site is near a Metro station, a streetcar line, or a major bus route, the requirement rises to 30 percent. That’s significantly more than the 8 to 10 percent of units that must be affordable under inclusionary zoning.
Following McDuffie’s June introduction of a bill requiring greater clarity in so-called affordable housing—many of these units are available to people making up to 80 percent of area median income, which is $86,000 for a family of four—this legislation stipulates that the affordable rental housing built on public land must be divided between the 30 percent and 50 percent AMI categories. For ownership units, the housing would be split between 50 percent and 80 percent AMI.
So far, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser is the only co-introducer of the legislation. The Coalition for Smarter Growth, the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute provided input, according to McDuffie’s office. A report last year from the Coalition for Smarter Growth urged the city to increase its commitment to affordable housing on public land.
If it becomes law, the bill will surely lead to complaints from developers of public sites that they cannot profitably set aside so many affordable units. The legislation includes a provision for exemption from the requirement, if the D.C. chief financial officer certifies that the developer’s plan maximizes affordable housing under the circumstances.
The bill will be considered at tomorrow’s legislative session.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery for WCP