ULI Washington’s Housing Initiatives and Regionalism Councils held a joint meeting on December 7 to discuss how issues addressed by both councils can affect the affordability and supply of housing in the region. More than 30 people attended the half-day mini-conference held at ULI headquarters.
The morning began with an exercise in which groups explored solutions to different housing challenges faced by individuals and families. It was noted that many lower-cost options, such as single-room occupancy hotels and boarding houses, no longer exist. Property owners can make more money renting out extra space through Air BnB than they can by taking in boarders. Both housing and transportation costs must be taken into account in calculating overall living costs.
Melissa Bondi of Enterprise Community Partners provided an overview of the region’s housing market and affordability issues. Out of the region’s two million households, about a third earn less than $80,000 per year; over 12 percent pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing. By 2023, some 400,000 new households are expected in the region; that could mean another 150,000 more households at or below 80 percent AMI.
During a panel discussion, Shayam Kannan of WMATA pointed out the region’s stark east-west bifurcation, with most of the jobs and busiest Metro stations located in the western section, compared with nearly empty Metro trains and a paucity of jobs in the east. As a result, Metro’s ridership patterns demonstrait inefficiencies: in general full trains – those that maximize revenue and operations – run westward during the morning rush, and eastward during the evening rush. But empty trains return eastward during the morning rush, and westward during the evening rush, thereby costing Metro – and our Region – exponentially.
“As a region, we need to cease the predictable interjurisdictional war over the location of the next big GSA or corporate anchor project,” Kannan said. “What if we put the new activity centers in currently underserved areas?” Andrew Trueblood of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development noted that a successful example of this approach is the District’s redevelopment of the St. Elizabeth’s site east of the Anacostia River.
Laura London of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) described how the county’s revolving fund for affordable housing is facilitating construction of new projects such as Gilliam Place, which will offer 173 units targeted to households earning 60 to 40 percent of the AMI. Currently APAH has over 800 affordable apartments, most of them family-sized, in its pipeline. The organization partners with nonprofits providing food assistance, education, literacy training, and even bike maintenance for a holistic approach to meeting families’ needs.
Developer Martin Ditto talked about his cutting-edge project, The Oslo, which offers “adult student housing” at rental rates – $1,000-$1,350 per month for a private bedroom and bath – that are lower than rates for one-bedroom or studio apartments in the same area. The concept has proved so successful that Ditto is starting a sister building, Oslo Atlas, which will be the site of an upcoming ULI Washington Young Leaders program. “Oslo is not just for millennials,” Ditto remarked. “A lot of people just don’t want to be lonely.”
In a wrap-up session moderated by Regionalsim Initiative Council Chair Emeka Moneme of Federal City Council and Housing Initiative Council Ryan Nash of WC Smith, participants discussed what can be done to address the issues discussed throughout the morning. In addition to locating new employment centers in communities that have Metro stations but few jobs, jurisdictions should allow higher density (despite community pushback) and consider revisiting the District’s building height limits to allow more people to live in transit-friendly urban neighborhoods. And, of course, more money for affordable housing in all of the region’s jurisdictions would be helpful. Participants agreed that government, developers, and nonprofits must continually seek innovative approaches to solving the region’s housing and transportation challenges. “Innovation is like health,” remarked London. “It’s a lifetime commitment cutting across many sectors.”