It’s no secret that D.C. has an affordable housing problem. But really, the city has two affordable housing problems. The first is one of supply: There isn’t enough of it. And the second is one of definitions: Much of what’s labeled affordable isn’t really affordable to many Washingtonians.
The standard metric for affordable housing is area median income (AMI). Many buildings with affordable units offer those units at various tiers of AMI—-say, 20 units for households making no more than 80 percent of AMI and 10 units for people making no more than 50 percent. The problem is that the D.C. metropolitan area is very wealthy. AMI, as of 2012, was $107,500 for a family of four. So while 80 percent of AMI might be listed as “affordable,” it’s $86,000 a year, meaning that families making much less than that have few units set aside for them.
Today, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie aims to help solve the second affordable housing problem, if not quite the first. This morning, he’s introducing the “Truth in Affordability Reporting Act of 2013,” which requires affordable housing projects financed or subsidized by the D.C. government—-as well as citywide affordable housing data—-to list the actual income level alongside the AMI level. So where a project would previously list just “80 percent AMI,” it would now be forced to add something along the lines of, “which is equivalent to $86,000 a year for a family of four.” Additionally, the bill requires the city to track affordable housing in its database not just by AMI, but also by the equivalent percentage of the median household income of D.C. proper.
“What we’re tying to do is draw attention to the disparities betwen AMI and median family income for the District proper,” says McDuffie. “Part of the problem is that a lot of folks in the city get frustrated when they see new projects getting built with affordable housing, only to find out that the income required by the AMI is so high that a lot of people aren’t eligible for it.”
According to McDuffie, the D.C. median income for a family of four is $70,000 a year—-substantially lower than 80 percent of AMI.
McDuffie hopes that by highlighting the actual income levels for affordable housing, the legislation will encourage the city and developers to offer more housing that’s truly affordable, at levels like 30 and 50 percent of AMI. But he decided not to require housing projects themselves to list AMI and D.C. median income side by side, so as to avoid confusion.
The bill currently has eight co-introducers in addition to McDuffie, and he expects more to sign on before introduction.
AMI chart from the Department of Housing and Community Development