CSG in the News: Phil Mendelson added important affordable housing language to the Comp Plan, but some are trying to undo it

Phil Mendelson added important affordable housing language to the Comp Plan, but some are trying to undo it


…On October 2, Chairman Phil Mendelson’s latest draft of the plan’s Framework Element added language similar to those principles, especially around building and preserving affordable housing and protecting tenants in affordable housing when their properties undergo redevelopment. The chairman’s draft also centers the importance of, as DC grows, building in racial and economic equity, a credit to interventions by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) and Councilmember Trayon White (Ward 8).

The final vote on the Framework bill is on Tuesday, October 8, and last week, some opponents emerged to fight this language. We’re pushing for it to remain….

The Comp Plan Framework now borrows much of this language

Chairman Phil Mendelson’s latest draft of the Framework has…a lot of what the Housing Priorities Coalition proposed! (The final version will be released on Monday.)

Notably, it reflects an amendment introduced by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) at the bill’s first reading. Advocacy by many of affordable housing groups who were part of the original coalition, like, DC Fiscal Policy Center, Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers, Enterprise Community Partners, Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, and Coalition for Smarter Growth emphasized the necessity of this sort of language, so it’s a win that Mendelson added more beyond what he had included in the version voted on at first reading.

Not everyone is happy with the new community benefits language. Attorney David Goldblatt of Goldblatt Martin Pozen LLP, which does lobbying and real estate transactions for large companies, wrote a letter on behalf of the DC Building Industry Association (DCBIA) asking to water down this language. Goldblatt said the changes were in the interests of the DC Housing Authority, though his letter says he’s not speaking for DCHA, just DCBIA.

It’s worth repeating that this language is only about benefits given in exchange for zoning flexibility as part of a PUD, like more density. It doesn’t impose any kind of unfunded requirement on property owners. What it does is say is that in exchange for more affordable housing or anti-displacement measures, you can build taller or bigger in proportion.

Affordable housing is really necessary. It’s also expensive. With more floors or larger buildings, it can become economically feasible to offer one-for-one replacement, “build first,” and other features that the city’s residents deserve when their homes are redeveloped.

Not all developers are supportive of this concept, but a lot are. Many think it’s a great idea to build more affordable housing and avoid displacing anyone, as long as they can design a project which does so and actually works economically. Sure, if people could build higher and didn’t have to build affordable units, that would be even more profitable, but public policy can ensure we get affordable housing, while projects still “pencil out.”

Right now, DC’s acute limits on new buildings directly prevent developers from paying for more affordable housing to avoid displacement. Some people from the development community, at least, would like to be part of the solution, and the proposed rule would let them.

The proposed Framework language takes a big step toward achieving what the Housing Priorities Coalition recommended. It’s not everything, because this language just applies to PUD benefits. There will be other opportunities to enact these and the rest of the coalition’s 10 principles in the rest of the Comp Plan. The Office of Planning will release its amendments to the rest of the document October 15, along with housing targets and map changes.

Read the full post here.