DC Zoning Commission allots more affordable units for lower income families

A group of affordable housing advocates scored a victory yesterday in their plight to restructure D.C.’s Inclusionary Zoning Program. Based on a vote by the D.C. Zoning Commission, the program may soon benefit a larger number of economically challenged families.

D.C.’s Inclusionary Zoning Program requires developers to price 8 to 10 percent of their residential units below market rate. Specifically, the program is for new projects with 10 or more units, such as the massive mix-used development coming to H Street NE. It also includes rehab projects that are expanding an existing building by at least half and adding 10 or more units.

Last January, the DC Campaign for Inclusionary Zoning petitioned the D.C. Zoning Commission to make more of the units available for residents who make less than 60 percent of the average income in the region, according to a joint release from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The current area median income for D.C. is $108,600 for a family of four. This means that a family of three with a household income below $59,000 a year would pay $1,100 a month for a one-bedroom rental under the program.

The commission considered the recommendation yesterday, and voted to require developers to designate all of their affordable rental units for people who make under 60 percent of the area median income. This will make more than 2,600 apartments available to low-income families over the next five to 10 years (based on the pace of new developments, which has climbed to a 25-year high), according to the release.

Currently, the majority of inclusionary zoning units, for rent and ownership, are for people who make 80 percent of the area median income. These are people who can afford to pay $1,600 for a one bedroom rental—a cost that’s too expensive for three-fourths of families on the housing program’s waiting list.

“The economics show that this change strikes the right balance between encouraging market-rate housing production and incorporating greater affordability for those left out of the market,” said Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which formed the DC Campaign for Inclusionary Zoning alongside the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, Jews United for Justice, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, People’s Consulting, Somerset Development, City First Homes, and PolicyLink.

Carlos Jimenez of AFL-CIO thanked the commission for strengthening the affordable housing policy, and “listening to the voices of those who are being priced out” so that “working people can still call D.C. home.”

After a 30-day public review period, the commission’s decision is expected to become final.

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Photo courtesy it used to be me