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New D.C. Bill Could Help Produce More Family-Sized, Affordable Units

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie introduced it today.

Washington City Paper by Andrew Giambrone

While the pressures of D.C.'s housing market force long-time and low-income residents out, District officials are exploring ways to create more affordable units for families.

Ward 5 D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie proposed a new bill today that would require a tenth of the affordable units built with money from the city's main funding repository—the Housing Production Trust Fund—to be three bedrooms or larger. Such units are increasingly rare in the District as developers construct one- and two-bedroom projects for young professionals.

An oversight hearing held last week by the council's economic development committee, which McDuffie chairs, in large part revolved around this issue. Brian Kenner, deputy mayor for planning and economic development (DMPED), articulated during that hearing that the private "market may not necessarily respond as quickly as the government" to what residents and officials believe is a need for more family-sized units. "It's on us to incentivize" such developments, Kenner told McDuffie.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has directed $100 million annually into the Housing Production Trust Fund, which provides gap financing for projects that include affordable housing. Advocates have called for additional HPTF funding in the District's upcoming fiscal year 2018 budget. To date, the Bowser administration has allocated almost half of the total fund toward projects in this fiscal year's budget.

In addition to the unit-size provision, McDuffie's legislation aims to incorporate data. It would require DMPED to produce a biennial report on "D.C.'s need for large family units," including a tally by ward, "the number of very low income and extremely low income households," and a formal needs-assessment. A D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute report found that 26,000 extremely low-income households spent over half of their income on rent—and that only a small fraction of them benefited directly from affordable-housing investments. In other words, DCFPI argued, investments must be more targeted.

"Despite our focus on affordable housing, people have felt left out, specifically families that already live in the District," McDuffie said proposing the bill. "I must ask whether we have missed the mark."

The availability of family-sized apartments has emerged as a significant housing issue in his own ward: The planned Brookland Manor redevelopment has attracted controversy over the number of future units that will be able to accommodate families as compared to 535 existing units. Of those, 373 involve project-based Section 8 vouchers, and most of the remainder are occupied by tenants with individual vouchers. The developer says it's committed to keeping all tenants in good standing.