The D.C. government ought to rethink its approach to the New Communities program, a local think tank told members of the D.C. Council Tuesday.

Begun in 2004 by then-mayor Anthony Williams, the New Communities program proposed turning four public housing communities into mixed-income neighborhoods: Northwest One in Northwest,  Barry Farm in Southeast, Park Morton in Northwest and Lincoln Heights and Richardson Dwellings in Northeast.

But according to research by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, a local think tank that advocates on behalf of low- and moderate-income D.C. residents, the program has fallen far behind schedule and just 149 of 1,500 units for public housing residents have been completed thus far.

(Courtesy D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute)

In testimony submitted to council’s Committee on Economic Development, Jessica Fulton, outreach director at the D.C Fiscal Policy Institute, said that “the current New Communities Initiative is not financially viable as structured” despite some of the programs being located in neighborhoods experiencing rapid increases in real estate values. 

“In Northwest One, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the creation of market-rate housing far exceeds the creation of deeply subsidized and moderately affordable units,” Fulton said. “In each of the other communities, no market rate housing has been constructed at all, and the creation of affordable housing is moving slowly. One goal of New Communities was to have interest in market-rate units help generate financing to support the affordable housing, but this has not happened at three of the four sites.”

The city has already begun making some changes to New Communities. D.C. Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins, one of the officials overseeing the program for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), decided last week to cut ties with the city’s development partners for the Park Morton project. After being named to the project in 2009, the developers had constructed 83 of a planned 500 units.

Staff writer Robert Samuels contributed.

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