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Washington D.C. Slow to Meet Affordable Housing Goal
April 26, 2021

Washington D.C. Slow to Meet Affordable Housing Goal

by The CE Shop Team

D.C. Can't Afford to Miss Its Affordable Housing Goal

According to a report by D.C.-based Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND), the D.C. metro area has a long way to go before reaching its goal to build 375,000 affordable units by 2030. So far, the area has built just ~45,000 units - about 12% of the new homes the Urban Institute says are needed by 2030 to meet the expected demand and cool rising housing costs.

Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers

This nonprofit was founded in 1991 and has been working with private, public, and nonprofit organizations to collaborate on preservation projects in the DMV area. Their vision is for everyone to share knowledge, wealth, and resources to better support their community. Recently, the organization created a visual tool to help their community visualize the progress of their local governments’ project goals.

The organization’s housing indicator tool is a visual tool that shows users the current policy status and housing outcomes for counties throughout the district. This tool also highlights that most municipalities aren’t on track to meet their goals as established by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in 2019.

“In a region with over 10 million people, access to affordable housing is unequal, out of reach for those in need, and not meeting pace with demand,” HAND Executive Director Heather Raspberry said in a statement.

Why Affordable Housing Is Important

Building housing that’s affordable to low-income households and close to public transit systems is essential to maintaining a strong workforce, reducing traffic congestion, preventing homelessness, and fostering equity and racial diversity. The list of benefits of integrating affordable housing into more zones goes on and on. Most importantly, it will allow citizens to interact with each other more, opening the door for community connection and relationships.


Land Is Expensive, Delaying Developer Progress

We know that D.C. has an affordable housing crisis and that affordable housing benefits both low-income households and the community at large - so why is progress so slow? Simply put, high land values are at the root of skyrocketing home prices in the D.C. area. Land in the Washington region ranks among the most valuable in the country, worth an average $1.2 million per acre. That’s twice the asking price in comparable cities like Boston. In Washington D.C., jobs and economic development have lured new residents into the city after decades of population loss, further driving up land values. The cost of new and existing homes has risen as a result. The average price of a D.C. home is $678,709, a 3% increase year-over-year - and it’s expected that the cost will continue to rise.

Additionally, Washington is in the midst of a housing shortage that began with the recession in 2008 and has only worsened as new construction has completely failed to meet demand. Much of that failure can be traced back to zoning regulations.

Zoning determines where new housing can go and how dense it can be, which can halt a jurisdictions’ efficiency when meeting the demand for new homes. Research has shown that when land regulations suppress supply, they directly influence prices. Housing in the Northeast is highly regulated, which tends to cost more than housing in less-regulated Southern cities. In the D.C. region specifically, large spans of property are zoned for residential areas only, and specifically for single-family homes, which is the most space-intensive and costly form of housing in the country.

What Can D.C. Do to Solve Their Affordable Housing Crisis?

While experts agree that the affordability crisis can be mitigated with more housing inventory, it’s also important to consider how continued demand for housing will factor in. Current demand for housing is at an all-time high with homes flying off the market within days of listing with multiple offers, all over asking price.

Along with added inventory to the market, housing programs like The Department of Housing and Urban Development will require more funding to distribute aid to low-income individuals and families needing assistance. And while housing tax credits have increased over the last few decades, some economists believe tax credit and subsidies for housing make the problem worse by contributing to increased prices.

To learn more about D.C.’s affordable housing struggle and how the Department of Housing and Community development plans to assist its citizens, check out our interview with Gene Bulmash, the department’s Inclusionary Zoning Program Manager.

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