More than 38,000 District households are composed of at least four people, says a new deep dive into family-sized homes in the city. Over half of these households rent and about a third of them make under 50 percent of the area median income, or roughly $60,000 a year for a four-person family today. A third of the city’s housing units feature at least three bedrooms.
But many of these family-sized units—of which there are 100,900 total, according to the city-commissioned report—are not affordable for low-income households. Furthermore, they are not spread evenly across the city, limiting the number of housing options large families have.
“About 6,500 large renter households need housing units that rent for less than $750 per month (affordable to a four-person household at 30 percent of [area median income]), but there are only 4,000 units that rented at that level in the District: a deficit of approximately 2,500 units,” notes the report. “Additionally, the District has only about 5,000 known large units that contain subsidies that can keep the units affordable.” The analysis was completed by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development and the Urban Institute.
In a statement, Mayor Muriel Bowser said her administration would rely on the findings to increase the supply and distribution of affordable homes for families. “The good news is that the District has a lot of family-sized units, but we must work to make more of them available to working households across the city,” she said. D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who represents Ward 5 and chairs the Council’s economic development committee, requested the study. He said it shows D.C. is “not producing enough family-sized affordable housing units.”
Among other findings, the study reports that “affordable rental housing with large units is quite limited or nonexistent in certain parts of the District, such as Wards 2 and 3, and the options are shrinking across the District.” It notes that the city shed “more than 900 large renter-occupied units affordable to renters with extremely-low incomes” from 2005 to 2016. Simultaneously, the number of such units with rents above $1,000 a month grew 69 percent.
The analysis also points out that large families face competition for family-sized homes from groups of single adults who opt to live together. That demographic has grown in recent years.
“A common strategy for single adults in the District is to cohabitate to share housing costs among several people. Groups of unrelated adults can be competing with families for large units. Furthermore, if all adults are working, they may have higher total income than a family with one or two wage-earners. In fact, groups of adults make up 16 percent of large renter households, a share that has more than doubled since 2000.”
The authors recommend that the city set specific targets for preserving large, low-income homes by 2025, consider potential development incentives for them, and other strategies. Additional data from the study, showing unit distribution and affordability, follow below.