Coalition for Smarter Growth Releases Report on D.C. Public Land Use for Affordable Housing

OCTOBER 9, 2012

CONTACT: Cheryl Cort
(202) 675-0016 ext. 122

Today, the Coalition for Smarter Growth released a new report on public land redevelopment in Washington, D.C., entitled Public Land for Public Good: Making the Most of City Land to Meet Affordable Housing Needs.

Chronicling how the District of Columbia has used the redevelopment of public land to provide affordable housing and other benefits, it highlights the significant accomplishments in creating affordable housing and integrating it into larger mixed-use development. The report also details several areas where improvement is still needed, especially as the District seeks to build a more inclusive city as housing prices rise and more affluent residents move in.

“Our public lands are so valuable, and we’re concerned the city is not going to deliver the affordability that it’s achieved in the past,” said Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “We urge the Mayor and the Housing Task Force to recommit to leveraging city-owned land to create a substantial amount of affordable housing, including at deeply affordable levels.”

Past administrations under mayors Anthony A. Williams and Adrian Fenty established the important precedent of setting aside 20-30 percent of total housing units in public land deals for moderate to extremely low income households throughout many parts of the city. The Gray administration appears to be setting lower expectations for specific amounts of affordable housing and income target levels, departing from the practice of the last decade.

Public Land for Public Good details D.C.’s use of public land to provide affordable housing and other private and public uses in projects across the city, such as City Vista at 5th and K Street NW, projects near Columbia Heights Metro, and proposed mixed-use redevelopments such as the Hine School site at Eastern Market Metro station, Southwest Waterfront and West End Library/Fire Station. The report also looks at other projects that failed to move forward and assesses how they might have succeeded.

“D.C. has had some successful accomplishments when it comes to city-owned lands transformed into vibrant mixed use, mixed income developments. However, without keeping specific and ambitious affordable housing requirements in future deals, we are likely to see less and less affordability in these valuable city land projects,” said Jenny Reed, Policy Director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

Drawing on the experience of public redevelopments through the 2000s, the report provides a number of recommendations to ensure that city land is fully leveraging the value of public land to contribute its share to meeting the affordable housing needs of D.C. residents, along with other goals.

The report calls on the Gray administration and the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force to:

  • Re-establish affordable housing as a top priority in public land redevelopment;
  • Set aside 30 percent of residential units as affordable;
  • Give preference to experienced affordable housing developers as partners;
  • Use affordable rental housing to serve households earning 30 and 60 percent of area median income (AMI). Offer for-sale affordable housing for households earning 50 and 60 percent AMI and no more higher than 80 percent AMI;
  • Incorporate community plans, and other citywide goals into public land redevelopment plans;
  • Coordinate city agencies to maximize public benefits by pooling resources including subsidy sources;
  • Commit to a better public engagement process; and
  • Provide a more transparent valuation of public and private benefits.

The report is available online here or by emailing

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading nonprofit organization addressing where and how the Washington region grows, partnering with communities in planning for the future, and offering solutions to the interconnected challenges of housing, transportation, energy and the environment. We ensure that transportation and development decisions accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas. The Coalition’s website is