Less than 1 percent of the District’s recent affordable housing—whether in projects that have opened, are being built, or involve older buildings that are being preserved—exists in Ward 3, the municipal division that covers most of upper Northwest, to the west of Rock Creek Park.
“This means that the District’s affordable housing investments have bypassed many of the DC neighborhoods most desirable to many families, due to their high-performing schools, grocery store access, and plentiful recreational space,” explains Claire Zippel, an analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), a left-leaning advocacy group that examines poverty.
On Tuesday, DCFPI released a new interactive map of the affordable housing that D.C. has built, planned, or preserved since 2015. It used data from the District’s Open Data portal in conjunction with data from two dashboards maintained by the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. DCFPI also pulled from press releases, developers’ websites, media reports, and materials by the D.C. Housing Authority, which manages public housing.
The map shows that only 53 homes out of the 9,285 total recent affordable homes, or about 0.6 percent, are located in Ward 3, which runs from Palisades to Chevy Chase, D.C. All 53 of the units, Zippel writes, were built as a result of inclusionary zoning, a District program that requires developers to set aside between 8 and 10 percent of new residences as affordable housing. None was built with housing subsidies, like affordable housing funds or tax credits.
Why so little new affordable housing in D.C.’s upper Northwest neighborhoods? Zippel says high land and construction costs are one factor, as are certain criteria that the District uses when awarding affordable housing funds that effectively prioritize lower-cost projects. But restrictive zoning and neighborhood opposition that discourage new development also play a role, she says, preventing “even inclusionary zoning units from being created” in projects.
Ward 8 has the highest poverty rate in the District, with more than one-in-three families and almost half of all children living under the federal poverty line. In recent years, poverty has declined west of the river, but increased east of the river, where Wards 7 and 8 are located.
Another takeaway from DCFPI’s analysis is that families who are “extremely low-income,” or make below 30 percent of the area median income (about $33,000 a year for a family of four), have not widely benefited from the District’s affordable housing investments. “Most new affordable housing units have been for households with higher income levels, largely 50 percent or 60 percent of the area median income,” Zippel explains, noting that three-in-10 of the units serving extremely low-income families are public housing to be redeveloped.
“While it’s laudable that the city is creating and preserving thousands of affordable homes, the District must be more strategic about where, and to whom, its housing investments are directed,” she concludes. DCFPI’s map comes as the District weighs potential changes to its Comprehensive Plan for growth, which some residents believe could help increase the level of affordable housing in D.C., and as it seeks to create a full database for affordable housing.
- D.C.’s Plan For Future Growth Fails Low-Income Residents, Activists Say [WAMU]
- Ward 3 Neighbors Fight Planned D.C. Homeless Shelter With New Zoning Appeal [Washington City Paper]
- Poverty In D.C. Is Getting Worse East of the Anacostia River, Study Finds [Washington City Paper]
- D.C.’s ‘Extremely Low-Income Families’ Face ‘Broken Foundation’ of Affordable Housing, Study Finds [Washington City Paper]
- Dry D.C. planning document fuels heated debate over future of expensive city [Washington Post]
- How much affordable housing does D.C. have? The city can’t say for sure [Curbed DC]