Image by Mr. T in DC licensed under Creative Commons.

I can finally share with you something that's been in the works for a few months. A group of organizations including for-profit developers, affordable housing builders, faith groups, business groups, advocates for low-income residents, policy organizations, and more have released a set of shared priorities for housing in DC.

Why is this important? Because DC isn't building enough overall housing for everyone who wants to be here, and it isn't either creating or preserving enough affordable housing for people who can't afford rising rents or sale prices. We don't have all the policies needed to ensure that when we do build new housing, existing communities aren't displaced.

New housing doesn't need to harm anyone (except people who just don't want to have to look at another building). We should be able to meet the needs of newcomers and long-timers alike (or as Mayor Muriel Bowser says, "those who have been here five generations or five minutes"). We can do that as long as we are willing to plan for and build a city that has room for all.

Like so many of you, I was fundamentally shaken by the image America projected to the world last Friday, when President Donald Trump slammed the doors shut — in some cases, right in the faces of people who already had gained permission to come to our land of promise. If we believe in being a nation of opportunity, we also must strive to offer opportunity in our great cities, including here in DC, to all we can — including to those already here but who find it more difficult each year to afford to stay.

We need to fix the Comprehensive Plan

The DC Office of Planning is working right now to update DC's Comprehensive Plan, the document that guides land use decisions across the city. As we've discussed before on the blog, the Comp Plan has a lot of great parts, but it also falls short in some key ways. It lays out an admirable goal to grow inclusively... but then quickly hems, haws, and hedges, weakening the promise. It was a big step forward in 2005, but DC has attracted even more people than planners 12 years ago anticipated.

It's because the Comp Plan is so contradictory that courts recently blocked approvals for 901 Monroe Street in Brookland and the McMillan mixed-use development and park. Emboldened by victories, opponents have already filed suits to overturn several other northeast DC projects.

Let's not close DC's doors to new people or hasten the displacement of those here. That's why developers like JBG, EYA, and MRP; affordable housing groups like the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development; policy groups like Coalition for Smarter Growth and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute; faith groups like All Souls Housing; low-income advocates like Bread for the City and the Latino Economic Development Center, joined by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B, the business-oriented DC Policy Center and many more, all signed on to ten priorities for the Comp Plan around housing and economic development.

These groups don't always agree. Some have fought each other over specific projects or particular changes to housing policy. But they all agree the Comp Plan needs changes, and DC's priority needs to be more housing, more affordable housing, and targeted support for communities. The ten priorities are:

  • Meet the housing demand.
  • Equitably distribute housing.
  • Best utilize areas near transit.
  • Include families.
  • Prioritize affordable housing as a community benefit.
  • Preserve existing affordable housing.
  • Protect tenants.
  • Support neighborhood commercial corridors.
  • Clarify zoning authority.
  • Improve data collection and transparency.

You can read what each one means (there's more to it than just these phrases!) at dchousingpriorities.org. Then, please sign on yourself (or for your organization, if you can)!

Sign the Priorities Statement!

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.