Deadline Set for Program on Affordable Units

Council member Jim Graham (D) sponsored the emergency measure.
Council member Jim Graham (D) sponsored the emergency measure. (Juana Arias - Twp)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

The D.C. Council has given Mayor Adrian M. Fenty a deadline to implement a long-delayed inclusionary zoning program that will require developers to price a portion of their units below the market rate and offer them to low- and moderate-income residents.

The council passed emergency legislation Tuesday mandating that the mayor submit by April 4 the regulations necessary to start the program. The council will have 30 days to review the rules. The office of Neil O. Albert, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said yesterday that the regulations will be submitted by the end of this month.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who sponsored the emergency measure, said the District is losing out on opportunities to create affordable units in high-priced developments that are popping up all over the city. "Inclusionary zoning is much more impactful," he said. "And it doesn't cost us a thing."

In December 2006, when Fenty (D) was a council member, the council approved legislation instituting the program. It was to have been effective by last March.

But Fenty has not established the regulations, including rules that would set the maximum purchase and rental prices for the units. The original legislation did not give an explicit timeline for such mayoral action.

"The mayor, when he was on the council, was our best champion of affordable housing, so we are really disappointed in this delay," said Cheryl Cort, policy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a regional organization that works to combat sprawl and reduce commuting time.

Cort said intervention by the council seemed to be the only way to get the attention of Fenty and Albert. She said advocates had been told to be patient and to expect results by the new fiscal year. "October 1 came and went, and we became very alarmed," Cort said. "We hadn't seen any regulations."

They began pressuring the council, which responded by backing Graham's legislation.

Sean Madigan, a spokesman for Albert, said the recent downturn in the District's housing market prompted the deputy mayor's office to take more time to study how different regulations could further affect the market. "We are trying to proceed cautiously with this program," he said.

But does that explain missing the March deadline by almost a year? The housing market, Madigan said, began to flatten early last year. "To compound that, the mortgage industry has had its share of hits," he said.

The office of planning has reached out to housing advocates and developers to shape the regulations, Madigan said. The regulations will be completed by the end of the month, he said.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company