Washington’s Housing Targets Need Teeth

Washington’s Housing Targets Need Teeth

Washington, D.C., is more than government buildings, monuments and museums. As Amazon’s decision to locate its second headquarters in the metro area demonstrates, the region is now an economic powerhouse capable of drawing top-tier companies looking for more than just a foothold on Capitol Hill. Thanks to an influx of new residents, D.C.’s population exceeded 700,000 residents for the first time in 40 years last year. And it could be home to up to 900,000 people by 2035 if current trends continue.

However, a lot has to change to accommodate that growth.

A new report released by The Urban Institute warns that D.C.’s constrained housing supply is inflating rents at an unsustainable pace. If regional leaders don’t act soon, inaction on housing affordability could undermine the region’s future economic growth and prosperity. As the Urban Institute suggests, fixing that problem — while not easy — can be done through three primary approaches.

Shrink the current affordability gap

There simply isn’t enough affordable housing in the region. As it stands, the number of housing units in the low-cost range falls short of household needs by 264,000. This can be addressed in part by deploying targeted investments that preserve existing affordable housing units. Preserving these units can be achieved through different financial measures, including extending loans for repairs and rehabilitation to units that need it the most.

Increase the pace of new housing production

Experts predict that the Washington region needs to build 374,000 additional housing units in the next ten years in order to meet demand. While this is no small task, it can be achieved through smart public-private partnerships and other policies that incentivize construction. Upzoning near transit hubs can also go a long way to ensure housing is built where it’s needed most.

Align additional housing units with expected household resources

Not only does D.C. need to build more housing, it needs to build the right kind of housing. To match the expected distribution of additional households, the region needs at least 40 percent of additional housing units to fall in the middle-cost range. Deploying local housing vouchers and emergency rental assistance is the best way to help families that need it most.

While regional leaders have set ambitious targets in-line with the report’s findings, municipalities still need to do the hard work of following through and ensuring that housing actually gets built. That means letting go of policies that don’t work, creating a regulatory environment that encourages construction of affordable housing and adding teeth to production targets.

The alternative, as Prince George’s County Council Member Derrick Leon Davis suggests, is simply unacceptable. Looking to San Francisco, Davis insists “We don’t want to be that region.”


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