It has been much discussed how housing demand exceeds supply in major metro areas across the country, creating an affordability crisis for all but the most affluent. The DC region is no exception, with current housing production falling 30% short of the 374,000 units needed by 2030 to meet projected job growth. Alex Baca, Housing Program Organizer, Greater Greater Washington moderated a robust discussion of this issue in the greater Washington metro area with Michelle Beaman Chang, Founder, and CEO, IMBY Community, Paul DesJardin, Director, Community Planning Services, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Martin Ditto, Founder and CEO, Ditto Residential, and Andrew Trueblood, Director, DC Office of Planning on November 19, 2019, at ULI’s headquarters on L Street in Washington, DC.
A key theme of the discussion was that the solution for the region’s housing production shortfall is not an individual project or series of projects, but instead a comprehensive strategy coordinated among the region’s state and local governments. Andrew Trueblood highlighted DC’s Office of Planning efforts – spearheaded by the vocal advocacy of Mayor Muriel Bowser – which has begun another round of updates to the city’s comprehensive plan and has made housing equity a major focus. In fact, just last month, the district released its Housing Equity Report committing to the development of 36,000 new homes by 2025. But, as the panel discussion made clear, DC’s commitment only addresses part of the issue. Paul DesJardin noted that over 400,000 households live outside of the metro area – coming from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia – and commute every day to the region. And since the recession in 2008, housing production has not approached pre-recession levels of ~32,000 units/year; exacerbating a shortage that continues to drive housing prices higher and affordability less attainable for hundreds of thousands of families who depend economically on the Washington metro area.
Coordinating among twenty plus state and local government is always a challenge (just ask WMATA’s Board of Supervisors and their regular funding struggles), but the panel collectively acknowledged that the region should take pride in how far it has come in working as a region. Although the Amazon HQ2 search fostered “friendly” competition among the District, Maryland, and Virginia, feedback from the search – the need to address both transportation and affordable housing – has not been lost on both the winner and the runner-ups. All government leaders have received the message that affordable housing (and transportation) are not just equity issues, but more fundamentally economic competitiveness issues; issues that can attract or discourage future companies from locating operations here in the metro area. And this is perhaps where the reference of San Francisco is most apt – not so much how geography avoids becoming the “Golden City” – but how it can creatively address the undoubtedly complex and difficult issue of housing affordability.