Strange bedfellows: D.C. developers join nonprofits to advocate for affordable housing

Several D.C.-area developers are joining with nonprofits and housing advocates to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing as the District works toward an update of its comprehensive plan.

The JBG Cos., Ditto Residential, Valor Development and EYA are among those lending a voice to a housing coalition, organized by the blog Greater Greater Washington.

“We hope the breadth of the coalition raises a few eyebrows,” said David Whitehead, GGW’s housing program organizer. “Developers and nonprofits working together — that does not happen every day.”

The D.C. Office of Planning is currently working to amend the comprehensive plan, a document outlining priorities for D.C.’s future growth and change. District planners will solicit community recommendations for plan amendments in 2017. A final amendment package is expected to go to the D.C. Council for review and approval in 2018.

The coalition is asking District officials to prioritize these issues in the updated comprehensive plan:

  • Meet the housing demand
  • Equitably distribute housing
  • Best utilize areas near transit
  • Include families
  • Prioritize affordable housing as a community benefit
  • Preserve existing affordable housing
  • Protect tenants
  • Support neighborhood commercial corridors
  • Clarify zoning authority
  • Improve data collection and transparency

EYA Senior Vice President Aakash Thakkar said his company, which specializes in urban residential, is involved because it wants to make sure that development can benefit the District, as well as people at various income levels.

“We acknowledge the District is a place for families of all income levels,” said Thakkar. “There is a pretty significant demand for housing, both market rate and affordable. I think the opportunity with the comprehensive plan is to create both of those. It is possible to build new housing, including a good measure of affordable housing, and grow the District’s tax base in a way that makes business sense and advances the public good.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser has made affordable housing among her top priorities, pledging at least $100 million annually to preserve and build new affordable units. The need is great: According to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (a member of the housing coalition), 26,000 extremely low-income D.C. households spend more than half of their income on rent, and local resources are not well targeted to the households in greatest need. Between 2002 and 2015, DCFPI reported, the District lost roughly half of its affordable housing stock.

Cheryl Cort, policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said her group wants to emphasize the need for affordable housing in all areas of D.C., not just certain pockets.

“D.C. has become a very popular place to live,” Cort said. “There is tremendous demand here, and that is pushing up prices. We need more housing; we need more affordable housing in neighborhoods throughout the city. There is a lot of language preserving the status quo, but one person’s stable neighborhood might be another person’s exclusive neighborhood. People need the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a neighborhood regardless of income.”

Others joining the coalition include All Souls Housing Corporation; Bread for the City; Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development; D.C. Policy Center; Enterprise Community Partners; Jews United for Justice; Jubilee Housing, Inc.; Latino Economic Development Center; Local Initiatives Support Corporation; New Legacy Partners; United Planning Organization; Ward3Vision; and City First Homes Inc.

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