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In a city of 700,000 that continues to grow, there’s nowhere to go, some say, but up—as in, physically higher, by building increasingly dense and tall apartment complexes that would increase the District’s housing supply. That would also, hopefully, reduce median rents, which are still among the highest in the nation. But there’s the matter of the Height Act, a federal law dating to 1910 that limits how high the District can build.
Over the last four and a half decades, debate has raged over how much, if at all, the District should fight to amend the bill. In that time, top officials in D.C.’s Office of Planning, former mayors Walter Washington and Marion Barry and Vincent Gray, and urbanists everywhere have argued that amending the law to various extents would benefit development and equitability in D.C. (Detractors, including current D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, say that rigorous height limits help spread development across all of D.C., rather than clustered in particular areas downtown. That, to say the least, has not been the case.)
In the first weeks of her second term, Mayor Muriel Bowser has established aggressive benchmarks for beefing up the District’s housing supply, despite giving few specifics about how her administration will pursue those goals. But will D.C.’s commandress-in-chief, who historically has opposed modifying the Height Act, finally warm up to the idea? Only time (and our Bowser Upzone Watch) will tell.
Jan. 7, 2019: At a press conference, Bowser acknowledges that “anyone who tells you that we can continue with our current tools and current laws and get to 36,000 units by 2025 is not realistic,” she reportedly said. So how will we get there? Dare I say…upzoning?
Maybe not. WAMU reporter Martin Austermuehle says Bowser “dodge[d] a question” on whether she’d like to amend the Height Act.
A dodge isn’t a no, friends.
Jan. 3, 2019: In her second inaugural address, Bowser says she will “challenge” the D.C. area to build 240,000 housing units by 2025, with D.C. itself producing 36,000 of those. “We can no longer resist a close look at building taller and more densely where it makes sense,” Bowser said. “To do otherwise would be to ignore our growing affordable housing shortage.”
What’s that, in the distance? Could it be … Bowser, dipping her toes in the pool of upzoning?
We will update this post with upzoning-related matters.