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From The Ground Up

Affordable Housing Proposal Gathers Steam

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2004; Page E03

Developers are opposing a proposal that would require them to sell some condominiums and houses and rent some apartments more cheaply to people with low or moderate incomes.

The D.C. Building Industry Association says the proposal would cause developers to lose money and impede the city's housing boom.

Lamont Hoffman of PN Hoffman said forcing developers to set aside housing for people with low or moderate incomes would "stunt development." (Hyosub Shin For The Washington Post)

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Under the proposal, developers who want to build 10 or more units in most areas of the city would have to reserve 7.5 to 15 percent of the units as affordable housing. In exchange, the city would allow a developer to build more units if there is space.

A District-based advocacy group, the Center for Community Change, last week submitted the proposal to the D.C. Zoning Commission, which oversees land use policy. The group is trying to get the support of the D.C. Office of Planning, which must make a recommendation on the proposal. About 100 community leaders, developers, city planners and housing activists met recently to discuss it.

The zoning commission staff said the proposal could come before the five-member commission early next year. The D.C. government already lets builders put up more units in return for building some affordable units on a case-by-case basis.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D-At Large), council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who has been calling for this kind of zoning for years, and some other council members support the proposal. They say the city's efforts to create affordable housing are not sufficient.

Aides to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) say he has created or preserved about 17,000 affordable housing units in Washington since 1999 through tax credits and other programs. But Graham and other advocates of more low-income housing say most of those units are east of the Anacostia River.

"This would send an important message to future development in the city that we're going to have mixed-income residences," Graham said. "We're moving away from what has been a historic pattern that all the poor people live in one area, then you have a road, or a park, or a river, and [on the other side] there's everybody else."

The supporters also say there is still not enough affordable housing in the District for police officers, firefighters, teachers and other essential workers. They have been squeezed by a steep rise in housing prices.

The average home price in the city is $452,664, up from $250,445 in 1999, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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