How D.C. can grow in­clu­sively

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - The writer is founder and pres­i­dent of Greater Greater Wash­ing­ton.

“Grow­ing in­clu­sively means that in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies are not con­fined to par­tic­u­lar eco­nomic and ge­o­graphic bound­aries but are able to make im­por­tant choices — choices about where they live, how and where they earn a liv­ing, how they get around the city, and where their chil­dren go to school. Grow­ing in­clu­sively also means that ev­ery res­i­dent can make these choices — re­gard­less of whether they have lived here for gen­er­a­tions or moved here last week, and re­gard­less of their race, in­come, or age.”

What a great state­ment. That’s an of­fi­cial “vi­sion” from the District’s Com­pre­hen­sive Plan, adopted in 2006. D.C. lead­ers com­mit­ted to this goal more than a decade ago, and the need is even more acute to­day as the econ­omy has boomed, held on through a huge re­ces­sion and boomed again. Those booms haven’t ben­e­fited ev­ery­one, but they should.

The D.C. gov­ern­ment is now amend­ing the Comp Plan. I’ve been work­ing with a coali­tion of or­ga­ni­za­tions to read, an­a­lyze and sug­gest changes to the plan. There are some great ideas in its more than 600 pages but a lot is miss­ing or woe­fully out of date.

In 2005, the 50-year trend of the District los­ing pop­u­la­tion was al­ready turn­ing around, and plan­ners at the time fore­cast 630,000 res­i­dents by 2015. In­stead, there were 672,228. The plan fore­cast the pop­u­la­tion to hit 698,000 by 2025; we’re al­most there al­ready.

This mat­ters be­cause in 2005, home prices ris­ing out of reach wasn’t the big prob­lem; there was a lot of va­cant prop­erty in most wards of the city. At­tract­ing peo­ple to the District was still a chal­lenge. Now, grow­ing num­bers of neigh­bor­hoods are out of reach to even mid­dle-class res­i­dents with well-pay­ing jobs, let alone those with lower in­comes. Our chal­lenge is con­tin­u­ing to wel­come ev­ery­one while pro­tect­ing those al­ready here, who have lived for decades in their homes and fear be­ing dis­placed.

The Com­pre­hen­sive Plan talks lit­tle of dis­place­ment. In fact, whether ex­ist­ing res­i­dents will be dis­placed isn’t even a fac­tor the D.C. Zon­ing Commission can con­sider in its re­views of many projects. That’s wrong, and we need to right it in the Comp Plan. The Comp Plan cer­tainly talks about af­ford­able hous­ing but doesn’t af­ford it nearly the weight it needs in the District of 2017.

One sig­nif­i­cant part of the so­lu­tion is to add enough hous­ing to meet the de­mand. If there are too few homes, then it’s like a game of mu­si­cal chairs where some peo­ple can out­bid oth­ers for the chairs. As Seat­tle ac­tivist Sara Max­ana ex­plains, “When hous­ing choices are lim­ited, the wealthy al­ways win.”

How­ever, let me be clear: Sim­ply adding more hous­ing at the mar­ket rate will ab­so­lutely not solve ev­ery prob­lem on its own.

The District needs hous­ing for young fam­i­lies mak­ing $60,000 to $90,000. It needs hous­ing for fam­i­lies mak­ing $30,000 to $50,000, well above min­i­mum wage but con­sid­ered “very low in­come” by De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment stan­dards. These are our teach­ers, fire­fight­ers, child-care pro­fes­sion­als and tran­sit op­er­a­tors. We also need hous­ing for those mak­ing $20,000, $10,000 and less. These are the peo­ple who serve you lunch, take out the trash and check out your pur­chases at the gro­cery store. They should all be able to af­ford to live here. Re­ports from the Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, En­ter­prise Com­mu­nity Part­ners and the Greater Wash­ing­ton Hous­ing Lead­ers Group es­ti­mate the mag­ni­tude of need at each price point; we need the will, the cre­ativ­ity and the in­vest­ments to meet it.

Build­ing more ho­su­ing is part of the an­swer, but it alone will not meet the need be­cause new con­struc­tion is ex­pen­sive and slow even in the ab­sence of reg­u­la­tory bar­ri­ers, and there are plenty of those. No new hous­ing unit can be as low-cost as an ex­ist­ing, older build­ing. Pre­serv­ing the af­ford­able hous­ing that’s al­ready here means that the peo­ple and fam­i­lies who live there can re­main a part of the com­mu­nity. This must be a pri­or­ity in our fis­cal and land-use poli­cies.

Ev­ery neigh­bor­hood must be a part of the so­lu­tion. We can en­gage neigh­bor­hoods in a con­ver­sa­tion about the best way to cre­ate and pre­serve needed hous­ing, mar­ket-rate and be­low-mar­ket af­ford­able, be­cause “put it in some­one else’s neigh­bor­hood” is not an eth­i­cal or prac­ti­cal an­swer. For too long, this has been the prac­tice of some of our wealth­i­est neigh­bor­hoods, in­clud­ing my own, and the Comp Plan has al­lowed and even fa­cil­i­tated this. Just as it was right to put a home­less shel­ter in ev­ery ward, so must our hous­ing needs for other groups be a shared com­mit­ment across the city (and re­gion).

More over­all homes. More af­ford­able homes. Pre­serv­ing ex­ist­ing af­ford­able homes. Pro­tec­tions against dis­place­ment. These are not mu­tu­ally exclusive. To the con­trary, they can all re­in­force each other with the right land-use poli­cies. By global stan­dards and even U.S. ones, the District is not that heav­ily pop­u­lated. There’s room for all, both the new­comer and the fifth-gen­er­a­tion res­i­dent. To­gether, we can make room.

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