Is Affordable Housing Being Left Out of D.C.’s Comprehensive Plan?

The housing portion of the District of Columbia Comprehensive Plan recently came under tough scrutiny in Ward 8.

On March 17, The Ward 8 Democrats hosted the “DC Comprehensive Plan for Affordable Housing: How Clear is the Vision” Forum at the St. Elizabeths R.I.S.E. Center. The panelists were Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower D.C.; attorney Ari Theresa of Stoop Law; Eric Shaw, director of the D.C. Office of Planning; Kay Pierson, director of the Community Reinvestment Division of the United Planning Organization; and David Whitehead is the Housing Program Coordinator of Greater Washington.

D.C. councilmember Trayon White says D.C. is not including affordable housing options in development plans. (AFRO File Photo)

The Home Rule Act of 1973 requires the District government to develop a comprehensive plan for future planning and development of the city.

The initial plan was approved by the D.C. Council and signed by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams in 2006 and amended in 2011 and 2012. Presently, the D.C. Council is considering the second round of amendments to the plan and D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), who recently had to apologize for saying Jews control the weather, is urging Ward 8 residents to pay attention to the process.

“This is an important time in our city’s history,” White said. “The comprehensive plan is a long-term document that determines, among other things, land use, building development, goals, policies and action plans for growth. I don’t think it does Ward 8 a lot of justice.”

The plan includes upgrading housing at the St. Elizabeths East campus in Congress Heights and more upscale housing and retail in the Bellevue neighborhood of the ward.

White said affordable housing isn’t adequately addressed in the new amendments to the plan and inferred there was preferential treatment for the housing needs of upper-income residents and forgets those of lower income residents. “We need to make sure that we don’t forget those who were here when the city wasn’t peaches and cream,” the council member said, referring to the District’s overall condition in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was fiscally shaky, the crack cocaine epidemic was in force, and people and businesses were moving out of the city.

RentCafe, an Internet publication that looks at housing prices in the District, lists a studio apartment as $1,656 and a one-bedroom is $2,028.

During the meeting, Shaw endured a lot of criticism. He said that since the advent of the Bowser administration, he has been working on the comprehensive plan and is open to developers getting a public benefit such as tax breaks and credits for building affordable and market rate housing.

Many of the questions from the 50 people attending focused on what the comprehensive plan is and how it affects Ward 8 specifically. Ward 8 resident Jackie Ward, who sells real estate in the Washington, D.C. area, asked the panel about family-size housing.
“A lot of the housing that is being built is for singles and people with one or two children,” Ward said. “However, you still have a lot of families who want to live in the city but can’t find four-bedroom apartments for market rate? What is being done about that?”

Shaw said family units are beginning to be built and while that type of housing isn’t being requested by people who are moving into the city, the administration is working on strategies to stimulate developers to build more.

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Claudette Patterson