D.C. affordable housing law has put up a goose egg

By Jonathan O'Connell
Monday, July 26, 2010

Nearly a year after the D.C. government put a contentious affordable housing provision into place, the policy has not created any new affordable homes.

The city's inclusionary zoning law went into effect Aug. 14 of last year. It requires builders of new multifamily properties of 10 units or more to provide 8 to 10 percent of the homes at below market rental rates or sale prices. In return, developers are permitted to build more total units.

But according to a report by the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, no affordable units had been created under the new provision as of March.

Further, as of July 22, according to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, only three projects have been submitted for approval that are subject to inclusionary zoning. They would amount to a total of 92 units, including 11 affordable units.

The biggest of the proposed projects is a 60-unit building planned as part of the city's Northwest One development, at 1015 First St. NW. The others are a 22-unit apartment building at 3910 Georgia Ave. NW, planned by Jair Lynch Development Partners, and 10 units planned for the intersection of Astor Place and B Street SE.

Affordable housing advocates defended the provision and attributed the low numbers to the slow housing market. "If the economy gets back to producing 1,500 or 2,000 units a year, that's a lot of inclusionary units," said Cheryl Cort, of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a D.C. advocacy group.

Another 4,800 units have been submitted for zoning changes, which could create another 430 affordable units in coming years, according to the housing department. "When we get these big projects back online, it will create a lot of units," Cort said.

Ed Lazere, director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, called inclusionary zoning "an important tool to help create affordable housing as the city is developing" but added that "I think everyone would agree that it's not the be all and end all."

When inclusionary zoning was being debated, industry groups argued that the provision would further stunt housing development in the aftermath of the real estate crash and hinder economic recovery. D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was slow to implement the program for fear of its effect on development, angering members of the D.C. Council. Developers received approvals for nearly 12,000 units of housing before the law went into effect.

In its report, the housing department does not determine whether the policy has slowed development, saying it is not possible to determine the effect "given the recent implementation of the program and the current downtown."

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