Image by Alachua County licensed under Creative Commons.

A coalition of affordable housing advocates, faith groups, business groups, tenants' groups, developers, 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: Equitably distribute housing.

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 “equitably distribute housing” means

The coalition says:

T​hrough the Comprehensive Plan, the District should fight against segregation, foster equitable access to opportunity, and comply with Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) priorities. The District should require that every part of the city participate in adding housing to meet the need for all income levels, with an emphasis on transit and commercial corridors.

DC has been growing, but not evenly. Two-thirds of new housing permits have been in two of DC's ten planning areas: Central Washington, which includes downtown and NoMa, and “Lower Anacostia Waterfront,” which encompasses Southwest Waterfront and Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront (as well as Poplar Point, which has not had any development yet). The 2006 Comprehensive Plan predicted these two areas would get about 30% of the growth rather than two-thirds.

Beyond the raw numbers, certain areas of the city are particularly off-limits to people with lower incomes. Of course, the market is going to make some areas higher cost than others, but restrictive zoning and other limits keep housing artificially scarce, such as by prohibiting multi-family buildings or imposing tight restrictions on accessory apartments.

This gives us a more economically and racially segregated city (and region):

Locations of affordable rental units in DC show a strong east-west divide. Image by HUD.

That segregation has real effects. People with lower incomes must spend more time commuting, have inferior access to good schools, and otherwise face limits on opportunity in many ways.

It's these very effects that led the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to require that cities “affirmatively further fair housing” by implementing policies that reduce segregation and inequality. The Trump administration may abandon this commitment, but it's still the right thing to do with or without a federal mandate.

While buying land to build affordable housing is a costlier proposition in expensive areas, so is the revenue that can be gained from building mixed-income housing. Mayor Muriel Bowser set an ambitious and worthy goal of placing a homeless shelter in each of DC's eight wards. While there were a few stumbles in the way the program was rolled out, it's a worthy aim. Similarly, DC should set targets for both market-rate and subsidized affordable housing in all parts of the city, and make a plan - starting with the Comprehensive Plan - to achieve it.

Sign on to the priorities!

This is one of ten priorities where the coalition reached agreement. We've already posted about one priority, Meet the housing demand. 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.