Last night, Mayor Vince Gray gave a 5,700 word speech on the state of the District, laying out his priorities on public safety, sustainability, education, and fostering new and existing industries other than the federal government (especially tech). All great things!
But for someone who covers real estate, something was obviously missing: Housing. Creating more of it, and preserving the stuff we have, is critical to both keeping people here who might otherwise leave and getting people who’ll take all these new jobs to actually live and pay income taxes in the District—-if they can’t afford it, there are plenty of new apartments in Arlington. And yet, as housing advocates point out, the word “housing” appeared only twice in the mayor’s speech, in the context of talking about how many development projects we already have underway.
There are a lot of cranes in the air, that’s for sure. You might wonder: Shouldn’t we just make sure people have access to good jobs, improve schools, and fight crime so that people feel comfortable investing in communities all over the District, and let housing take care of itself?
Sure. Private market response is probably the most important element here; people will buy and renovate houses where they can see a future for themselves and their families, and developers will take advantage of that demand (like W.C. Smith is in Carver Terrace).
But right now, not all of the demand is being served. With the exception of a few, mostly church-led projects, nearly all of those cranes are for high-end apartment and condo buildings—-it’s the most lucrative sector for a developer to finance. This week, the Coalition for Smarter Growth put together a little paper demonstrating how the greatest need is actually among those making less than half the area median income, since that measure actually includes much wealthier suburban areas as well as the city itself.
The problem is, the city says it doesn’t have the money to help developers interested in city-owned parcels keep the resulting units affordable; the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development hasn’t even decided yet whether to follow up on its intention to subsidize low-cost units on top of the West End firehouse. So what’s the plan?
Well, there is no plan, yet. The city was due to update its five-year Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force report last September, after Brookings published an update over the summer showing slow progress. But according to Department of Housing and Community Development director John Hall, that’s been delayed; the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development has only recently sent its nominees for people to sit on the new task force to the mayor. So there are no near term marching orders, and won’t be for a while.
Meanwhile, the stuff that’s already rolling will stay rolling. The city expects to issue a request for proposals for the redevelopment of Barry Farm this spring, and another for low-income housing tax credits issued by the feds. “We still have the same menu of services we’ve had for decades now,” Hall says. The Housing Production Trust Fund is expected to come in at about $50 million in fiscal year 2013 due to higher deed recordation tax revenue [UPDATE, 4:16 p.m. – Although, as the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute’s Jenny Reed points out in the comments, an ongoing cut of $18 million and bond funding for new communities brings it back down to $12 million).
But as far as a vision? Gray hasn’t laid that out yet. Even if he thinks things are going well, it would’ve been nice to hear him talk about why.
And the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute sent over this handy chart of how much the Housing Production Trust Fund is expected to get over the next few years. It’s supposed to have $70 million every year.
Photo by Lydia DePillis