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The city is on pace to exceed Vince Gray‘s goal of producing or preserving 10,000 units of affordable housing by 2020, the mayor declared today at a gathering in Anacostia to announce the winners of the latest round of city funding for low-income housing.
“We’ve tried to remain steadfast in our commitment to an economically inclusive city,” Gray told a gathering of mostly developers and housing advocates on an Anacostia parking lot that’s set to become a residential complex from Four Points Development. Since he took office in 2011, 3,613 affordable units have been completed, and 2,902 more are under construction. An additional 5,943 set to begin construction in the next two years would put the city at more than 12,000 units by 2020.
“This puts us well ahead of the goal we established of 10,000 units,” Gray said. “We could be north of 12,000 units.”
Michael Kelly, Gray’s director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, was in the mood to celebrate as he shouted that his boss had invested more than $1 billion in affordable housing. “Commendable?” he yelled. “Astounding!”
But not all affordable housing is created equal. Just 524, or 15 percent, of the completed units are reserved for truly impoverished residents, those making under 30 percent of area median income; by 2020, that figure’s projected to rise to 22 percent of the total. With the city’s population of homeless families requiring shelter having skyrocketed last winter, and expected to increase further this winter, there’s clearly a need for this type of housing.
I asked Gray about the low share of affordable housing for the lowest-income residents. “Yeah, we could always use more housing in the 30 percent range,” he replied. “But the lower you go in terms of AMI, the deeper the subsidy we need.” Kelly emphasized that while only 15 percent of the completed units are for families under 30 percent AMI, a much higher proportion of the funding has gone to those units, since they require more subsidy.
Kelly announced the 18 winners, out of 23 applicants, of the latest round city funding for affordable housing projects. The funding will make use of more than $142 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund, derived from deed recordation and transfer taxes and used to finance affordable housing preservation and construction, and will go toward the creation of 2,097 affordable units. Among the winners: the housing component of the planned redevelopment of the West End Library and fire station; housing at the Walter Reed site from So Others Might Eat and HELP USA; and WC Smith’s Archer Park project in Congress Heights.
Kelly also announced $7 million in funding to local organizations for housing services, small-business assistance, and facade improvements.
The Washington Post‘s Mike DeBonis asked Gray why he’d raised objections to legislation, brought up at the D.C. Council yesterday, that would require 20 to 30 percent of residential development projects on public land to be dedicated to affordable housing. Gray referred the question to Interim Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Jeff Miller, who warned that “one-size-fits-all” regulations could result in less housing being constructed overall. “Unless your project is in a downtown area, the land value itself may not cover the cost of affordable housing,” Miller said, in which case the city would have to provide a subsidy. Miller prefers an approach that allows the city to make exceptions to the rule.
Gray added, “As mayor, I would obviously not be ecstatic about legislation that ties the hands of the executive.” He stressed the “importance of flexibility.”
The legislation passed the Council on first reading yesterday, but Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who chairs the economic development committee, cautioned that she might tinker with it before it comes to a second and final vote.
Affordable housing is badly needed in the District as market costs for rent and home purchases keep rising. But it’s a complicated issue in Anacostia, where neighbors see an overconcentration of affordable housing cropping up around them while the neighborhood lags behind in the type of development that would attract quality retail. As Gray spoke, a heckler who identified himself as an Anacostia resident repeatedly shouted him down. “That’s bullcrap and you know it!’ he yelled as Gray hailed his affordable-housing achievements. “You are undermining the people in this community!”
Still, most of the crowd appeared supportive of Gray’s efforts. Many of them had a reason to be so: They were among the recipients of the city funding being announced. As Gray told the crowd, “Nothing like money to bring people out.”
Chart from the mayor’s office