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A coalition of business groups, tenants' groups, developers, affordable housing advocates, faith groups, and over 250 residents have unified to support more housing, more affordable housing, and targeted support for communities as DC rewrites its Comprehensive Plan. One of those priorities: Meet the housing demand.

The coalition, which includes Greater Greater Washington and many other groups, has agreed on a statement of ten priorities. In a series of posts, coalition members will go through many of the priorities to explain what they mean, why there's a problem, and how the group reached agreement. Do you support the priorities? Sign on today!

What “meet the housing demand” means

The coalition says:

Through the Comprehensive Plan, the District should forecast, plan for, and encourage the creation and preservation of a supply of housing (market-rate and subsidized affordable) to meet the demand at all income levels. The supply of housing should be sufficient to slow rising costs of rental and for-sale housing.

It's simple: We need enough housing for the people who are here, and those who want to be. As John Ricco wrote recently, the District added 4,682 units of housing in 2016, placing it right about in the middle of the pack among large cities nationally for housing added compared to the population. And that's kept something of a lid on rents: apartment rents rose 2.6%, less than the national average of 4%, thanks partly to the new supply.

However, the analysts don't expect rents to stay stable. Market research firm Axiometrics predicts that, “among the top 120 metro areas in the country, Washington, DC is expected to rank in the top five for average annual rent growth in our forecast window (just behind the San Francisco Bay Area and Seattle).”

In a column in the Washington Post last weekend, I wrote about how two recent court decisions, on McMillan and in Brookland, cut down on how many people can find homes in DC. So do historic preservation rulings which cut floors off buildings even in neighborhoods which mix tall and short. So do zoning changes that limit the number of people in row houses. So might an appeal about the difference between a “cellar” and a “basement.” DC doesn't have to allow any kind of development willy nilly, but needs a serious plan, with public discussion, around where the housing can go to keep rent growth limited.

We also need affordable housing, and a plan for where that can be. A 2015 GMU study of regional housing needs estimated DC needs almost 20,000 new housing units dedicated to people of lower incomes - 12,600 for people making less than 30% the Area Median Income, 5,000 for people making 30-50% AMI, and nearly 2,000 for 50-80%. (Not to mention tens of thousands of units for people making near the median and above.) The rest of the region has similar needs in all income bands.

Market-rate growth can help keep rents from rising too fast, but still doesn't solve the problem today for people who can't afford a place to live. That's why policies that create mixed-income communities are also so important.

We need a plan for where and how to house all people who want to be in DC, of all income levels. The Comprehensive Plan ought to be that plan, but isn't. Let's make it one.

Sign on to the priorities!

This is one of ten priorities where the coalition reached agreement. We'll be following up with articles on more of the 10 priorities by a variety of coalition members. (Note: While the coalition agreed on the priorities, this article is my commentary about one of the priorities, not an official coalition statement, and all members have not signed onto the specific wording here. The same goes for the other posts in this series.)

So far, 45 organizations and over 250 individuals have put their names on the priorities statement. Will you join them?

Sign the Priorities Statement!

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). 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 in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.