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Move to any of those areas, get $12,000. (Office of Planning)

We all know that it makes sense to live near where you work, both for your own sanity (never get caught in rush-hour traffic!) and for a city to function better (what if we could get rid of rush hours altogether?). Then, of course, there’s D.C.’s own unique frustration of having so many of its workers live in Maryland and Virginia.

The Office of Planning is trying to counteract that problem by throwing money at it: They’ve found $200,000 to spend on a pilot program that will match employer grants of up to $6,000 per person for closing and down payment assistance on homes near Metro stations and bus lines. Through a competitive process, OP will select three participating companies, which will dole out grants (or deferred-interest loans) to employees who want to move either to houses within two miles of their workplaces or to areas within a half mile of a D.C. Metro station or a quarter mile of a “high-quality bus line.”

You can’t knock the intention here. But the method raises questions: Will $12,000 actually convince many people to move closer to their jobs? The map attached to the request for applications makes clear that the eligible areas cover most of D.C., and the grants are available to people at any income level—might this grant just throw free money at people who were planning to move somewhere else anyway? The program, which can help a maximum of 60 people at the minimum grant amount, is supposed to be a pilot, and pilots are supposed to be scalable—does D.C. propose to solve its commuter problem by paying everyone who’s willing to relocate near transit or within walking distance of work?

This just doesn’t seem to be a very smart way to go about smart growth.

Please also read this update post!