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Survey: Where should D.C. build more affordable housing?

Half of the city’s income-restricted units are found east of the Anacostia River

Aerial view of D.C.

As rents and home prices keep rising in D.C., the District is asking residents what they think about the distribution of affordable housing in the city, and where they think new affordable housing should be placed. In their first-ever housing survey, the Office of Planning (OP) and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) are requesting feedback on how the city could build both affordable and market-rate homes in a more equitable way.

The survey is open through August 30 and comes as officials move forward changes to the city’s framework for growth and development, known as the Comprehensive Plan. The plan sets the District’s land-use priorities and is used by the D.C. Zoning Commission for reviews of projects requiring zoning exemptions to be developed. The D.C. Council is set to vote for a second and final time on changes to the plan’s main part—its introductory chapter—this fall.

“If Council enacts the Framework in September, we plan to share the rest of the proposed amendments for public review over the fall and winter,” OP said in a newsletter Wednesday, alluding to additional chapters in the Comprehensive Plan. The office says it is working over the summer with councilmembers on any final amendments to the document. It is hundreds of pages long and has initially been updated to reflect more emphasis on affordable housing.

The city’s new survey presents participants with a map of the current spread of affordable housing—meaning income-restricted units—throughout the District and asks whether that spread is fair. It also asks in which parts of the city people would want to see more income-restricted units built. The map uses the planning areas laid out in the Comprehensive Plan.

Current distribution of affordable housing across D.C.
D.C. government

Of the roughly 51,000 affordable homes in D.C. as of last year, about half were located east of the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8. Only about 1 percent were situated west of Rock Creek Park, in what is predominately Ward 3. (A 2018 analysis by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a poverty-focused think tank, found similar results, although it examined projects since 2015.)

The survey also requests participants’ demographic data, including their age range, ward of residence, gender, race and ethnicity, and how long they have lived in D.C. It points out that the District is aiming to build an additional 12,000 affordable units by 2025, a goal of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s. Bowser has targeted 36,000 total new homes being developed by that year.

Recent studies have shown that D.C. lacks enough family-sized affordable housing to meet demand and that widespread single-family zoning areas across the city have restricted the supply of housing. The District’s population continues to grow, exceeding 700,000 in 2018.