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D.C. wins national Housing Policy Leadership Award

Urban Land Institute praised the District for preserving and creating its existing affordable housing

DC Homes Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

The measures that Washington, D.C. has taken to preserve and create affordable housing have been recognized as paying off.

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) awarded the District the Robert C. Larson Housing Policy Leadership Award, which recognizes innovative strategies to produce, rehabilitate, or preserve workforce and affordable housing, according to a press release.

To win the award, Washington, D.C., competed against three finalists, which included New York City, Boston, and Denver, Colorado.

In a statement, Mayor Muriel Bowser said, “We are proud to serve as a national leader on issues related to affordable housing, and going forward, we will continue to make the investments and policies necessary to ensure Washington, D.C., remains affordable for seniors, singles, and families alike.”

Stockton Williams, Executive Director of the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing and ULI’s Executive Vice President for Content, said in a statement that Mayor Bowser “has substantially built on existing efforts and created new initiatives in an ambitious, multifaceted strategy.”

Since coming into office, Mayor Muriel Bowser has committed $100 million every year to the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF), more than any city per capita in the country. The HPTF is a permanent, revolving fund that was established on June 1990 with the purpose to produce affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households.

In March 2017, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development’s (DMPED) announced that the HPTF fund would invest $10 million in a housing preservation fund, which would start in the fiscal year 2018.

Since 2016, the District has hosted an annual, month-long initiative, called June Housing Bloom, which focuses on affordable housing and how the public and private sectors can come together to cultivate it.

Every year, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) also hosts the Annual D.C. Housing Expo and Home Show, which allows for a one-stop shop for resources related to housing and community development.

Despite the award, renters and homebuyers in Washington, D.C., are still struggling to afford the rising housing prices. In August 2015, a report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies reported that almost half of the households in Washington, D.C. paid more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent, while almost 25 percent paid more than 50 percent.

According to a WalletHub report in July 2017, D.C. is the one of the worst cities for first-time homebuyers. Furthermore, nearly half of millennial renters are unable to afford rent in the city, according to an ABODO report published August 2017.

Because of this, 77 percent of renters plan on leaving rather than settling down in the city, as reported by Apartment List in August 2017.

It’s even harder for large families. In August 2017, the DHCD released a report that the majority of the Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) units that have been created have served couples or single people rather than large families. 41 percent of the IZ units have been registered to single-member households, while 29 percent have been registered to couples.

Earlier this year, the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA) conducted its first-ever audit of the HPTF, finding that the DHCD does not properly manage the program. The audit looked over the 16 full years that the HPTF has been active, though with gaps in information. In the audit, it reported that the DHCD was not fully consistent in screening families or ensuring that developers kept their promises.

The DHCD published a response to the audit, noting that since its implementation, 12,000 affordable housing units have been produced or preserved. These units have thereby served approximately 30,000 residents in D.C.

A new Housing Preservation Strike Force was also formed to focus on maintaining existing affordable units.