Recap of DC Comp Plan 1st vote, May 4, 2021

On May 4th, the DC Council voted unanimously to approve the proposed Comprehensive Plan. This is the first of two votes. Thanks for taking action and keeping the pressure up. You helped avoid further delay, and ensure affordable housing gets the priority it should. If you want to know more of the details, read on!

The key amendment we were pushing for was made in the last draft of the bill — it provides an exception for affordable housing projects proposed in Ward 3, regardless of the status of required planning analyses. While we want the city to allocate more resources to do more community planning, we didn’t want delays in planning to be the new reason why we can’t build affordable housing in Ward 3. 

Specifically the section was amended to say:

“To advance deeply affordable housing production, proposals that reserve at least 25 percent of housing units as affordable to very‐low‐ and extremely‐low‐income households for the life of the building in Future Planning Analysis Areas with high housing costs and few affordable housing options may proceed in advance of planning analyses.” (Section 2503.3)

We had proposed similar language. The DC Council Committee bill’s original language did not give an exception for affordable housing, or for a Planned Unit Development. Now it permits both.

The second amendment we’ve be advocating for is to shift the focus of income targeting for affordable housing from 80% of median family income (MFI) to 60% MFI and below. We’ve made some progress there, but are still talking to councilmembers about strengthening it. The text now says: 

“The 2017 median income for Black families in the District is $51,114 (less than 50 percent of the MFI), while it is $190,957 for white families in the District. Proportionately, this means that more Black families are likely to fall within the extremely low and very low‐income categories, as shown in Figure 1, below. Fewer Black households will be able to afford housing in the low‐ or moderate‐income categories. 500.7c”

While the final plan shrank some of the areas designated for housing or increased density, the plan and its Future Land Use Map is an important advance for the District to enable more housing to be built in in-demand areas. This new housing will help reduce pressure on rents and thus displacement of lower income households. We’ll also get more affordable housing out of any rezonings resulting from the changes to the Future Land Use Map, either through an increased affordable inclusionary zoning set aside, or through a Planned Unit Development (PUD). Either development review process by the Zoning Commission requires affordable housing set asides and public engagement. 

The most exciting debate at the Council meeting on May 4 was over Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau’s proposals. She ultimately won “high density” residential designations for two publicly-owned sites along U Street NW. Chairman Mendelson voiced opposition to the changes, but Councilmember Nadeau defended them and said that she had plenty of support for local residents and ANCs. In the end, the whole council voted for Nadeau’s changes, except Chairman Mendelson. 

Like the Wren (965 Florida Ave. NW, pictured above), these two public sites now have the potential to maximize affordable housing at each the site. The Wren is a great example of the stringent affordable housing law we won several years ago to require 30% of affordable units priced at 50% and 30% median family income for public sites near Metro and major bus corridors. The Wren has 433 total apartments, with 99 units affordable for 50% MFI earners, and 33 affordable for households earning 30% MFI. These deeply affordable homes are subsidized only through the discounted land price. 

Given the insights of the Council on Racial Equity’s report, and the limitations of the round of amendments to the 2006 Comp Plan, we are all eager to move to a full rewrite of the Comp Plan. Chairman Mendelson has introduced a bill to start the full Comp Plan rewrite in 2025. Other Councilmembers are suggesting starting sooner.

The Council has one more vote to go before finalizing the Comp Plan. This vote is likely to occur later this month. Soon after this vote, the task of implementation will begin, and we are excited to use the updated document to guide better land use decisions and build more affordable homes. There will be many more opportunities to weigh in, so stay tuned! 

Thanks for your activism!

Photo credit: C. Cort, 965 Florida Ave., a mixed use, mixed income public land disposition with 30% deeply affordable homes, approved as a Planned Unit Development, located two blocks from the U Street Metro station.