It’s Not Too Late to Fix the DC Area’s Housing Problems
credit S. Davis/Flickr
For too many DC-area families, rents and house prices are climbing out of reach. Some neighborhoods that have long been home to people with low and moderate incomes face especially steep housing cost increases and displacement. And many residents fear that, with the arrival of new businesses, jobs, and workers, these pressures will intensify and our region could become the next San Francisco or Seattle.
But it’s not too late for Washington-area leaders to choose a different path. Local governments, business leaders, and philanthropy have an opportunity to join together, set goals, and take action to make the Washington area a national model of shared prosperity.
Doing so won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But our region has the knowledge and resources it would take to preserve existing homes and apartments that people with low incomes can afford; produce enough new housing, especially in the middle-cost range, to keep pace with growth; and protect renters and homeowners from discrimination and involuntary displacement.
The region’s cities and counties should adopt evidence-based policy tools to meet their fair share of regional targets. Our newly released Regional Housing Framework Analysis (supported by grants from the Greater Washington Partnership and JPMorgan Chase & Co.) highlights 12 policy tools with high potential for the Washington region. Here are three examples:
- Local governments can offer low-cost loans for property repairs and rehabilitation so owners of low- and moderate-cost rental housing can maintain and improve their physical condition while maintaining affordability—preserving decent and affordable housing options.
- They can implement up-zoning and other density-enabling regulations so more housing can be built at lower costs, especially in areas close to jobs—producing more housing in the middle cost range.
- They can fund land trusts, cooperatives, and shared equity ownership to ensure that opportunities for homeownership remain affordable, even in areas with rising home prices— protecting families with lower income and wealth from displacement.
But it’s not all up to local governments—every sector has a role to play. Virginia and Maryland should provide the additional authority and funding their cities and counties need. And local businesses and philanthropy should contribute to promising public-private partnerships and most important, use their influence and convening power to build and sustain the region’s commitment.
Fortunately, we’re not starting from scratch. Leaders across the region are already taking important steps to shrink the current affordability gap, protect neighborhoods and their residents from runaway market pressures, and meet newcomers’ housing needs:
- DC mayor Muriel Bowser has directed city agencies to identify new policies, tools, and initiatives to begin fulfilling a bold goal of creating 36,000 new housing units—12,000 of them affordable—by 2025.
- In Virginia, Arlington and Fairfax Counties and other jurisdictions have donated public land for specific housing developments affordable for people earning 60 percent or less of the area median income.
- In Montgomery County, Maryland, the Housing Opportunities Commission has the option to purchase or lease up to a third of the moderately priced homes built through the county’s inclusionary zoning program, making them affordable for households with the lowest incomes.
- Local real estate developer JBG Smith (whose portfolio includes over 11 million square feet of DC-area office space, including Urban’s headquarters) and the Federal City Council have partnered to create the Washington Housing Initiative, a capital investment vehicle to preserve low- to moderate-cost housing in neighborhoods that are affordable today but may soon be hit by market pressures.
- The Housing Leaders Group of Greater Washington has been a key regional convener across sectors and jurisdictions and recently launched the 2019 Capital Region Housing Challenge to secure $1 billion in private- and public-sector housing investments.
We all have an interest in getting this right. A stable home that doesn’t bust the family budget provides a foundation for children’s healthy development and adults’ economic advancement. And a healthy housing market creates wealth-building opportunities for people across the economic spectrum.
The region’s continued economic success hinges on a well-functioning housing market. Employers need a diversity of talent to fill all their positions, and attracting, developing, and retaining such a workforce depends on the availability of housing that people of all household types and incomes can afford. Moreover, affordable housing close to jobs boosts workers’ reliability. And vibrant neighborhoods with plenty of housing options attract new business and residents, fueling regional growth and prosperity.