The last DC mayor to win re-election, Tony Williams, set a big goal for DC's growth in his second inaugural address. On Wednesday, so did Mayor Muriel Bowser in her inauguration for a second term. Her goals are exciting ones that DC residents, and the region as a whole, should push to realize.
Recognizing the importance of housing, @MayorBowser, in her 2nd term inaugural address, challenges the region to create much-needed 240,000 housing units by 2025 with DC producing 36,000 more homes. Have to look where and how to grow & create housing goals for every part of DC. pic.twitter.com/RiqcHulpxi— Andrew Trueblood (@atrueblood) January 2, 2019
Bowser called for 36,000 new homes in DC and 240,000 around the Washington region. Meeting the need for homes for everyone who already lives here and wants to stay, and everyone who wants to move here including for the new jobs being created every day, will require bold action in DC and the region.
Her goal is in many ways the 2019 equivalent of Williams' call for 100,000 more residents in DC. At the time, in April of 2003, DC had just stopped shrinking; its population dropped by 35,000 from 1990 to 2000. The challenge for the District, then, was to be a place more people wanted to live.
Today, the challenge has changed. Many people already want to live in DC. But there aren't enough homes being created to hold them, and prices are rising. Those two related forces in concert mean existing long-time residents face displacement.
We can no longer resist a close look at building taller and more densely where it makes sense. To do otherwise would be to ignore our growing affordable housing shortage.
I will challenge every ward and every neighborhood to think about how you can add more housing. And create targets for all of us to shoot for.
I will challenge our policy makers to craft programs to both produce deeply affordable housing for our most vulnerable families and individuals. We will also invest in more workforce housing for teachers, social workers, police officers, and firefighters.
The idea of all neighborhoods doing their part is not new. In her first campaign, Bowser's most ambitious policy initiative was to close the DC General homeless shelter and place one new shelter in each of DC's eight wards. It's a logical extension to say that every neighborhood ought to be a part of meeting the need for homes at all income levels.
Today, residents in each neighborhood generally approach development in a micro policy scale. A buidling could have impacts on traffic, or parking, or schools, or views. And these are real. But there is also a macro scale; new housing has an impact on citywide economic development, and affordability, and livability, and greenhouse gas emissions.
When these forces conflict, what scale should control? The idea of apportioning a need among communities offers a solution. My neighborhood of Dupont Circle should find a way to satisfy a certain amount of the overall need for homes, and for workforce affordable ones, and for deeply affordable ones. There is some appropriate target for each.
Then the question becomes, in what is the best way to do that with consciousness toward the impacts on neighbors? More cellar apartments and sub-cellar apartments? Break up row houses into more smaller units? Allow row houses to “pop up” and amend historic and zoning rules that prohibit it? Allow more building in rear yards (despite recent rule changes that added limits)? Allow a few new taller buildings near the Metro? Allow another Cairo by changing the height limit?
And what tools can ensure some of these units are affordable, including deeply affordable?
I don't know the answer for Dupont Circle. But a community discussion in that context, as opposed to simply about whether to say yes or no to a proposal, would be constructive. Woodley Park should have a similar discussion. And Crestwood, Edgewood, Deanwood, and Woodland. The answers in each may be different, and that's okay, if the outcome is to meet the housing need at all levels.
Thank you @MayorBowser for the vision and setting the challenge. @DCDHCD is ready to do more .. and with the goal of that 36,000 more homes by 2025, 12,000— Polly Donaldson (@maryrandolph) January 2, 2019
will be affordable housing. We need affordable housing in every ward of DC! #DCProud #DCValues #Stickingwithher https://t.co/aax8p4M1Ex
Mayor Bowser has thrown out the challenge, and I hope every neighborhood rises to it. I also look forward to seeing what specific policies she and agencies like the Office of Planning and Departmetn of Housing and Community Development create, including how to set the targets and how to push to meet them, to back up this bold new stance.