Providing affordable housing for District residents will be a "critical issue" for her administration, D.C. Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon said last night.
Dixon, speaking at a hearing in the District Building attended by about 80 residents, housing activists, developers and government officials, said improving the quality of public housing also will be a high priority.
Providing affordable housing is "a major priority if we are to preserve the quality of life in the District," Dixon said. She noted that about 100,000 residents have left the District during the past decade because of the high cost of housing.
The mayor-elect said she appointed a housing subcommittee, which conducted last night's hearing, so that her administration could "hit the ground running" in addressing housing problems. She said she intends to forge partnerships with the D.C. Council, nonprofit organizations and the federal government to meet housing goals.
"The bottom line is to produce results. That is the only goal and the only objective," Dixon said.
About two dozen speakers addressed the panel, several saying that the cost of housing in the District is forcing not only low-income residents but also those with moderate incomes to move to surrounding suburbs, where housing is less expensive.
"I am deeply concerned that the District of Columbia is rapidly becoming the Manhattan of the South, a city occupied exclusively by the very rich and the very poor," said Robert K. Jenkins Jr., president of D.C. Local Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that contracts with the District government to promote affordable housing.
Jenkins touted a program administered by his organization in which low-income residents receive low-interest loans to buy houses, and he recommended establishing a fund to assist nonprofit developers.
George Grier, a senior associate at the Greater Washington Research Center, said that as of 1986, some 104,000 District residents were living in poverty as defined by federal guidelines, up from 96,000 in 1980. In the meantime, housing prices have surged, Grier said.
Kenneth Zimmerman, a staff lawyer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, suggested that Dixon appoint a cabinet-level coordinator of homeless policies.