Image by Christophe BENOIT licensed under Creative Commons.

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: improve data collection and transparency.

The coalition, which includes the DC Fiscal Policy Institute 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 the Priorities Statement!

What “improve data collection and transparency” means

The coalition says:

T​he District should provide the highest quality public data. It should standardize housing-related data collection across agencies, and release all data and forecast analyses to the public, to facilitate transparency and regular reporting on the status and progress of housing-related programs. Data should include a comprehensive housing database and demand-based forecasts alongside existing supply-based (pipeline) forecasts.

It’s pretty clear that DC needs more affordable housing and more housing overall. But when it comes to key metrics that would give us more detail—how much affordable and market-rate housing DC needs, what’s being produced today, what’s at risk, and where we’ll be in ten years – there’s no one-stop shop.

Imagine if DC had a comprehensive dataset available to everyone that showed block by block, key characteristics of all the existing and planned affordable and market-rate housing in the city—alongside forecasts of what’s needed, based on projected demographic and housing market trends.

That data wouldn’t be just for housing wonks like myself. Better and more comprehensive data would help the DC government decide how to deploy its housing subsidy resources for maximum impact. It would help communities weigh the value of affordable and market-rate housing proposed in their neighborhoods. And the data would help the public hold decision-makers accountable for their progress toward meeting the city’s housing needs.

The good news is that DC already has many of the basic building blocks needed for this comprehensive public data. In recent years, the DC government has set up online dashboards to show the pipeline of city-funded affordable housing and real estate projects. The DC Preservation Network, a consortium of nonprofit groups, keeps an interactive map of nearly every subsidized property in the city, along with whether they’re at risk of market-rate conversion. The Housing Insights project, now in development, will map affordable housing against neighborhood-level metrics to help advocates and the government prioritize affordable housing preservation efforts. And institutions such as the Center for Regional Analysis and Urban Institute have produced forecasts of future housing demand and affordable housing shortfalls.

But there’s more work to do. All the resources above are siloed, and would need to be combined into a comprehensive data tool. DC government is in a similar position: its housing and planning agencies don’t have a shared, comprehensive database they use to track projects and coordinate interagency efforts. There’s no digital accounting of rent controlled units, though recent legislation directed the city to create a database. And some of the most important data on market-rate housing needs to be bought from the real estate analysts and brokers who collect it.

The Comprehensive Plan cannot appropriate funds or tell District agencies which projects to take up. However, embedding data collection and transparency as a key priority throughout the plan will ultimately make it more likely that the Plan’s goals can be achieved. Because as the saying goes, “what’s measured gets done.”

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 on today!