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The Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area. It's huge!

Okay, we all know what area median income is, right? For the purposes of this blog, it’s the measure by which we set rent levels at affordable housing projects. The area median income for the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area is a little over $100,000, so if the city works out a deal to build housing that will be affordable for people making 60 percent of area median income—$60,000—rents will amount to no more than 30 percent of that, which is the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standard of affordability.

The problem is, incomes in the Washington MSA—which is one of the wealthiest in the country, including bits of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia—actually have not much to do with incomes in the District proper, where the number was $58,553 in 2008. That means that housing tagged as “affordable” is actually out of reach for most families.

Over the last few months, Councilmember Michael A. Brown has talked about fixing this problem. “We have to create a situation where we change what affordable housing means in this city,” he told Kojo Nnamdi back in July, saying he’d be introducing legislation to do just that.

Well, there’s a hearing on the “Increase in Affordability Act of 2010” tomorrow, but it’s not changing the definition of AMI. According to Housing and Workforce Development committee clerk Drew Hubbard, HUD—which sends down quite a bit of money for affordable housing projects—grumbled that creating an AMI level local to D.C. wouldn’t work with the guidelines set out by each program. To get around that, the new bill would delineate how much money must go towards each level of affordability: 40 percent to households making between zero and 30 percent of AMI, 40 percent to households making between 31 and 50 percent of AMI, and 20 percent to households making between 51 and 80 percent of AMI. Currently, most projects are in the 60 percent range. So this would be an alternative way to achieve the same goal without running afoul of federal standard operating procedure.