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Posted at 01:41 PM ET, 06/08/2012

Editor’s Column: D.C. and Montgomery open new debate on affordable housing

Last month, The Post’s Patricia Sullivan reported about a proposal by five apartment owners to demolish their buildings, replacing some 2,475 low-cost units with bigger more expensive housing. Then The Post’s Annys Shin wrote about how low-cost rental units are quickly disappearing in the District.

Throughout the month, the Real Estate section described the sellers’ market in parts of the District and close-in suburbs, characterized by soaring prices resulting from low inventory and high demand. Then Jonathan O’Connell, of The Post’s Capital Business staff, in an Outlook piece outlined how unprepared the city is to meet an impending demand for low-cost housing by an influx of 20-somethings who will be looking to trade up their apartments in a few years once they start their families.

See a pattern emerging?

Affordable housing is becoming scarce in many parts of the Washington area.

In our cover story this week, Post reporter Lori Aratani explores the theme further, focusing on proposals in Montgomery County and the District aimed at addressing two problems: the lack of affordable rental units in certain neighborhoods and the need for elderly empty-nester homeowners to supplement their budgets by renting out space in their properties.

Proponents want to loosen restrictions to make it easier for homeowners to convert space in their basements or garages into apartments. The District and Montgomery are considering zoning changes that would eliminate requirements for homeowners to notify their neighbors and appear at zoning hearings when they’re considering renting out space.

Both proposals have encountered fierce opposition. Far from NIMBYism, some homeowners are raising serious concerns that an increase in rental units in neighborhoods not designed to accommodate them could adversely affect parking, public services including schools and police and property values. Some wonder who will oversee whether the rental units meet city codes.

A few years ago during the height of the recession, moving vans became an unwelcome sight in my neighborhood. People weren’t moving in, but moving out. In many cases, they were abandoning their homes.

Across the street from us was a family struggling to hold on. Every evening we’d see 10 or so cars crammed in the family’s driveway and parked in the cul-de-sac. They were apparently renting out rooms in their home to earn extra income.

All those cars were a nuisance to the neighbors, but no one alerted authorities because we didn’t want to see another vacant house in the community. Unfortunately, the family’s effort to remain in their home failed. They moved out, and the house has been vacant for a few years.

It’s doubtful that a District- or Montgomery-style proposal in my community would have helped that family stay in their home.

Still, the debate points out the growing need for an affordable housing strategy in the region.

What do you think of the District and Montgomery proposals? Use the comment section to share your experiences trying to find affordable housing. Let us know how you think jurisdictions in the region should address the issue.

Contact Dion

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By Dion Haynes  |  01:41 PM ET, 06/08/2012

 
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