A study published this morning by the D.C. Policy Center analyzing the type and quality of homes across D.C. underscores the difficulty of buying a home for low- and middle-income families.
The report, led by DCPC Executive Director Yesim Sayin Taylor, used publicly available property data and year-end reports from local agencies to assess the number of housing units and buildings in D.C. (319,800 and 116,781, respectively). It paints a bleak picture for the state of wealth dispersion and homeownership in D.C., highlighting systemic poverty in the city’s Southeast quadrant and incredible wealth in Northwest—problems exacerbated by land-use and zoning restrictions, which “restrict the amount and mix of housing supply in many parts of the city with public and private amenities.”
DCPC found that of the roughly 17,000 single family homes between 1,500 and 1,800 square feet that are valued at $560,000 or less and big enough to accommodate a family of four, only 28 percent of them are affordable to families making the area median income (to say nothing of those who make less than the AMI).
For people living at 60 percent AMI, the center found only 533 “starter homes” that met this criteria. A whopping three-quarters of those homes are concentrated in seven neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, including Brightwood, Brookland, Petworth, Woodridge, Congress Heights, Deanwood, and Hillcrest. (Unsurprisingly, no homes on Capitol Hill met that criteria.)
Options improve dramatically as households shrink and incomes rise. For two-person households, the study found, there are nearly 66,000 units affordable to those who make 80 percent of the AMI, a sum that amounts to one-fifth of the city’s entire housing stock. And data indicate that smaller households continue to rent or buy homes that can accommodate larger families, reducing the housing supply for families who need more space and making what’s available more expensive.
While half of the housing stock in D.C. (about 154,600 units) can “comfortably accommodate” one or two people, the report estimates that there are about 207,800 housing units occupied by households of only one or two people. “The data show that singles and couples—some of them seniors—are occupying larger units, and their demand (especially demand from the more affluent ones) is increasing the cost of housing for families,” the study concludes.
The data echoes concerns from housing affordability officers and tenants in D.C., many of whom have testified in recent weeks that the city’s affordability crisis is compounded by the demand for units with more bedrooms. A 2015 D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute study lays out the subsequent consequences of housing instability, noting that the loss of affordable housing “threatens the physical and mental health of families, makes it harder for adults to find and keep a job, creates instability for children that makes it hard to focus at school, and leaves thousands at risk of homelessness at any given moment.”
Read the full study here.