A non-profit citizen's association has proposed that the District Zoning Commission require developers of new residential housing to set aside 10 to 15 per cent of their units for low and moderate-income residents.
"Our big concern is there are only a few large tracts of land left in the city," said James H. Harvey, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association (MWPHA). "We're afraid they're going to be used to develop middle that's it! So how do you protec the lower-income people?"
Harvey said that MWPHA is asking the city to intiate a Moderate Priced Dwelling Unit Program similar to the one begun by the Montgomery County Council three years ago. The council required builders of 50 or more untis to set aside 15 units for middle-income home buyers unable to afford housing in the county.
The District's housing program would pertain primarily to renters, said Harvey. The plan would also allow the city to purchase a pre-established number of units from the developer, he said, that could then be sold or leased to low-income residents.
Program amenities to builders would include: a density bonus allowing developers to increase the number of units to be built, expeditious processing of building and zoning reviews that would normally take a year to complete, and tax abatements.
"The units required to be set aside wouldn't even have to be at the same place he's putting the development up," said Harvey, " . . . but you would have to be careful about how you arranged that."
Sam Parker, MWPHA's director of planning, said that about 18,000 units are slated for development in the District over the next eight years.
"All housing for low and moderate-income residents is being put up with federal subsidies," he explained. "The private developer has forsaken that completely."
Parker said that the Moderate Priced Dwelling Unit Program might attract private developers to consider building low and moderate-income housing and help minimize the condominium and town house development presently taking place. Such developments, he said, could also provide housing for residents displaced by urban renewal projects.
"This program is in no way considered an entire solution," said Parker. "There still has to be federally subsidized housing."
If real estate speculation continues at its present rate, said the two directors, the District will eventually go the way of other financially troubled cities and becomes a white, middle-class enclave by default if not by design.
"I think that's what's been happening here more than anywhere else," said Harvey.
Nearly 70 per cent of the District's residents are tenants, any may are living in substandard, over-crowded or high-priced housing, Harvey said.
The association said Harvey has had a law firm look into the legalities of the plan and has found the city government has the power to enaact it.