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D.C. mayor taps millennial to head planning agency as city continues to grow

Andrew Trueblood brings fresh eyes and years of government experience to the role

Cranes in the D.C. skyline
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When D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser gave a speech outlining her vision for her second term last month, she talked about the need to construct more housing citywide to tackle the District’s affordability issues. Bowser also mentioned a few new Cabinet appointments, including that of Andrew Trueblood to the helm of the D.C. Office of Planning (OP), which helps guide land use, reviews projects, and tracks the city’s vital statistics, such as population. Drawing laughs from the audience, she said that Trueblood would be the “first millennial” to direct the office.

Trueblood, 35, has worked for the District government since 2013, when he joined as deputy chief of staff to then-Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins, under then-Mayor Vince Gray. After Bowser became mayor in 2015, Trueblood graduated to chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner. (Hoskins now heads up economic development in Arlington County, Virginia, which will shortly host half of Amazon’s second headquarters.)

His nomination to serve as OP director comes as the District—now boasting a population of more than 700,000 people—continues to grow, though not as quickly as it was several years ago. Still, that growth has put pressure on the city’s low- and middle-income residents in the form of higher housing prices and other living costs. Trueblood has filled his current role on an acting basis since former OP director Eric Shaw abruptly left the office in early November.

The D.C. Council has yet to schedule a public hearing on Bowser’s nomination of Trueblood, but he already faces big challenges. Among them: working with councilmembers and other officials on proposed changes to the District’s Comprehensive Plan for development—a dry planning document that serves as the framework for future growth and land use in the city. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has pledged to act on the changes in the next few months.

But Trueblood is also wrapping his arms around the agency he now heads, which currently has 75 employees (including a staff archeologist who consults on certain projects involving historic sites, it turns out). In a recent interview with Curbed, he said he hopes to build out the office’s community-engagement work to better inform residents with data and analytics. He also framed OP’s mission as thinking “long term” about the District, even decades ahead.

“A year ago, I would not have thought I would be leading [OP],” said Trueblood, flanked by a water bottle depicting a Metrorail map, and a 1915 issue of National Geographic containing a rendering of the original McMillan Plan for D.C.’s “monumental core.” (The issue features an article by then-former President William Howard Taft, titled “Washington: its beginning, its growth, and its future”). “With the transition, I’m focused on making sure D.C. is an inclusive city.” That means D.C. can accommodate people of different backgrounds and needs, he said.

Bowser has set the benchmark of producing 36,000 new housing units in D.C. by 2025 to advance that goal. “Anyone who tells you that we can continue with our current tools and current laws and get to 36,000 units by 2025 is not realistic,” she said at a press conference on Jan. 7. Trueblood cited this number as if it were his North Star, explaining that it derives from official projections by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a regional planning group he is involved in. (It also is meant to be taken in tandem with the goal of 240,000 new units in the D.C. area, he noted.)

“It is aggressive, but not unobtainable,” the acting OP director said, pointing to development at the neighborhood level as one path forward. Trueblood also mentioned accessory dwelling units—essentially, basement apartments, carriage houses, and other living arrangements in existing residential properties—as a way to put a dent in the District’s need for more housing, particularly in areas of the city that are expensive or dominated by single-family homes. The total capacity for such units across D.C. is likely in the “tens of thousands,” Trueblood stated.

Acting D.C. Office of Planning Director Andrew Trueblood, who has served in the position since last November
D.C. government

As for OP’s short-term agenda, he said he wants the office to conduct a “fine-grained housing analysis” of the city (the format is still being discussed) and assess what steps the District can take to address gaps. Minneapolis’ recent decision to allow denser development in previously restrictive areas is on Trueblood’s mind: He said he was impressed by the “racial justice lens” that officials there applied to the city’s affordability issues, and that he is keen to see how the real estate market responds. “There is no silver bullet,” he said. “This is a national problem.”

Trueblood has started to meet with community organizations, such as Empower D.C., to get their input on how the District should plan for growth. While many residents and advocates are worried about how amendments to the Comprehensive Plan would impact the city—OP, under Shaw, received 3,000 public comments on it, and roughly 300 people testified at an hours-long Council hearing on the matter last March—Trueblood in part views his role as being a kind of conduit between residents and the Bowser administration. “Yes, I work for the mayor,” he said, but added that he can also bring residents’ concerns to D.C.’s leaders.

Exactly how those leaders will shape the city’s potential for growth remains to be seen. But Trueblood, who owns a home in Navy Yard and once worked for the Obama administration, both at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Treasury, is now a key player. He has been passionate about development issues for a long time, too: At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s master’s program in urban studies, he wrote his thesis on the federal Height Act, which has restricted D.C. buildings’ scale for over a century.