We are submitting comments in support of the Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014 and for Council member Grosso’s amendment to cover pedestrians in addition to cyclists with this bill. The District of Columbia’s continued use of contributory negligence presents major barriers for cyclists and pedestrians alike to recover damages in the event of a collision, and widespread misunderstanding and uneven enforcement of bicycle and pedestrian laws only compounds the problem.
Dear Senators, Delegates, Supervisors and Director:
We understand that the next public meetings have been delayed to October and that analysis work is continuing, but wanted to communicate to you three key issues of concern.
In the most recent version of the King Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements proposal, we are concerned by the removal of a continuous bicycle lane from Cedar Street to Janneys Lane. Alexandria adopted a Complete Streets policy almost three years ago to ensure balance in planning for the transportation needs of its residents. A key part of this should be a King Street that allows cyclists and pedestrians to travel through the neighborhood more safely.
The Regional Transportation Priorities Plan represents progress in identifying and setting transportation priorities. Particularly noteworthy is public identification and support for fixing the existing system first and the focus of the RTPP priorities on fix-it-first including maintenance, operational performance, transit crowding and improved alternatives to driving for every trip.
However, significant concerns were raised last month by officials on this body, particularly the failure to conform the RTPP to the goals and objectives of Region Forward. The updated letters packet includes a detailed set of recommendations from DC, and I understand that the Region Forward co-chairs have, or will be, making recommendations. WMATA and others, including my organization and the business group – Urban Land Institute, have also provided important recommendations.
These recommendations center on the failure of the RTPP to integrate within the Region Forward vision, goals and objectives, the failure to incorporate Momentum, the failure to address climate change, and the focus on toll lanes which lack the proven record of our transit and TOD investments. I wonder if you are all ready to endorse a vast, costly network of toll lanes.
The newly adopted draft falls short of addressing these concerns and we are concerned about it being released for public comment without additional fixes. In particular, the Executive Summary doesn’t even mention Region Forward and the Introduction continues to portray this 2010 regional compact as a subset of the now very old 1998 TPB Vision. Instead of Region Forward, it adds a lot of text regarding the recent Economy Forward forum, but that one day unscientific poll was hardly as carefully thought out an investigation of the land use/transportation connections as the effort that went into Region Forward.
While the RTPP now mentions Momentum, it only proposes incorporating the 2025 investments provided funding can be found, while not applying the same standard to its toll and other highway investment proposals. The RTPP also fails to incorporate Momentum 2040 and other transit expansion in the scenario B, even while it proposes a very costly, and still unproven, network of high occupancy toll lanes. The RTPP also utterly fails to mention the threat of climate change and the resulting need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation using land use and transit solutions.
In addition, the draft solicitation document for the CLRP fails to mention Region Forward, the climate report, and activity centers, despite the fact that we’ve debated this before, when you adopted an amendment to the solicitation document a few years ago. The goals of Region Forward, activity centers and climate report can be integrated into the federal planning factors. And, of real concern is that you are being asked to vote on the CLRP solicitation document in November, one month before you vote on a revised RTPP, but your expressed goal of the RTPP is to shape the CLRP. The solicitation document should say more than that the RTPP “should be considered.”
We are at a crossroads as a region, nation and world. We must fight climate change. We must recognize the success of our region’s transit-oriented development in growing our economy, reducing the amount of driving, fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We must recognize how demographics and the market have changed. Therefore we urge you to amend the RTPP to conform it to Region Forward, fully incorporate Momentum, and let it guide the most effective transportation investments for a sustainable and efficient future.
Dear Mr. Walter:
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, with members and partner groups in Northern Virginia, hereby submits these comments on the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for I-66 (“outside the Beltway”).
We agree that addressing transportation in the I-66 corridor should be a top priority. We are pleased that the study considers a range of transit modes and focuses on person-trips. However, we are concerned that this 2040-oriented study fails to offer a long-term, sustainable and effective solution both for 2040 and the decades following. Presuming one of the build alternatives meets the capacity needs for 2040, what happens after 2040? More lanes?
The study appears to favor the managed lane (congestion-priced, high occupancy toll lane scenario), but does that scenario really offer the long term demand reduction and capacity that a high-capacity transit with transit-oriented land use would offer?
Documentation is far too limited for why this study favors managed lanes and there is no analysis of the comparative effects on land use of each of the modes.
The most significant shortcoming is the failure to evaluate an integrated land use and transit scenario that would offer a way to more effectively reduce the growth in driving demand and provide the capacity to handle the demand that does come. We have made this comment repeatedly with VDOT studies, yet never do VDOT studies include such a scenario.
The land use discussion is particularly thin and at too high a level (see 18.104.22.168). As was found in the Tysons study, mixing uses, providing a local grid of streets, and measuring the results using more compact traffic analysis zones can show remarkable SOV trip reductions and transit mode share increases — networking these centers with Tysons could provide synergistic vehicle demand reduction benefits, while improving reliable access to jobs.
The study should evaluate an alternative land use scenario linking transit-oriented development (compact, walkable, mixed-use communities linked to transit), with land conservation of rural areas, and high capacity transit, in order to maximize transit trips, minimize vehicle trips, and to provide the means to handle future growth. The study explicitly states that it has excluded a systems oriented transit scenario, but a systems oriented transit and TOD scenario is exactly what’s needed and should be combined with TDM measures and targeted bottleneck and safety improvements in a composite scenario.
Table ES-1 shows that a transit approach matched with TDM and addressing chokepoints would rank highest in meeting the needs identified in the Purpose in Need, yet the study did not provide an integrated scenario linking transit, TDM and addressing chokepoints.
Since the Council of Governments adopted Region Forward Plan and Compact is framed as a transit-oriented future for the region, this study should have studied such a regional scenario. Once again a too narrow corridor focus improperly exclude the networked transit and TOD solution.
The Purpose and Need Statement fails to include what should be key goals for the corridor. While the stated purpose ” is to improve multimodal mobility along the I-66 corridor by providing diverse travel choices in a cost-effective manner, and to enhance transportation safety and travel reliability for the public along the I-66 corridor,” it should also include goals to reduce demand for single occupant vehicle trips (including vehicle miles traveled and vehicle trips), by increasing mode share for non-auto trips through transit and changes in land use — changes in both the location of future development and improved community design which would result in higher transit ridership. Again, looking to the long term, the stated goals cannot be met unless demand reduction goals are also a core goal and focus of this study.
In addition Purpose and Needs states, “the identified needs to be addressed include: transportation capacity deficiencies, major points of congestion, limited travel mode choices, safety deficiencies, and lack of transportation predictability,” orients the study too much toward capacity expansion and fails to include as key needs, such as reducing driving demand and improving land use to reduce driving demand and increase non-auto mode share.
The study is also artificially separated from the analysis of I-66 inside the Beltway even though a substantial proportion of inbound trips travels inside the Beltway and will have impacts all the way into D.C..
The study also inappropriately and without explanation excludes a dedicated transit and HOV scenario, leaving expanded HOV scenarios completely out of the study.
While the practice is to include all projects in the CLRP in the No Build scenario, inclusion of the controversial Route 234 extension (TriCounty Parkway western alignment) which would open up rural areas to more development and increase traffic would likely make the No Build perform worse than it would otherwise.
By separating a full tolling analysis from this story, it’s not possible to get a full picture of the effects of HOT lanes on transit usage, carpooling, general purpose lanes and parallel roadways. A full toll effects analysis should not be deferred to a separate study. Moreover the relative benefits of privately tolled should be compared to public tolling, including the ability to use public tolling to fund more transit service in the corridor.
We were very concerned by the way Tiering of the I-81 study, which also failed to study a composite solution recommended by our group, was used to later foreclose the offering of a composite alternative at Tier 2. In addition, by tying the Tiering with the concept of “projects of independent utility,” a too general and flawed Tier 1 study can then open the door to allowing VDOT to move forward with whichever project it wishes and to foreclose more effective system wide alternatives. Here, the issue may involve specific segments, but equally likely it would allow VDOT to move forward with just one component of the Integrated Concept Scenarios — such as tolled, managed lanes. In fact, the discussion of the ICS, very clearly proposes to allow VDOT to move forward with just one component. Read with other chapters of this study, it appears that the study is framed to favor the tolled, managed lanes.
The study cites the 1999 MIS in a history of previous studies but fails to note the stated preference of elected officials at that time (at least Fairfax County and probably others) for a transit-first solution.
We are also concerned that the Memorandum of Understanding, which we do not believe was subject to public comment, is also structured to focus on and favor a tolled, managed lane scenario, rather than another potentially non-tolled scenario. The study states that per the MOA, decisions on the following will be made upon completion of the Tier 1 study:
- The concepts to be advanced for the I-66 corridor, including transit improvements, transportation demand management strategies, and/or roadway improvements. Within these concepts, consideration will be given to managed lanes and tolling;
- The general location for studying future highway and transit improvements in Tier 2 NEPA document(s);
- Identification of projects with independent utility to be evaluated in Tier 2 NEPA document(s) and evaluated pursuant to other environmental laws; and
- Advancing tolling for subsequent study in Tier 2 NEPA document(s).
With points one and four focused on tolling, and the potential intention to use the “projects of independent utility” to advance only the tolled portion of an ICS, the study appears to improperly lean toward one approach over others — the tolled, managed lanes.
The entry and exit tables are confusing because it’s not clear from the use of eastern, middle and western tables where the greatest demand may lie nor what the primary origin and destination data might be.
The COG growth projections which are used by this study fail to account for the dramatic changes in demographics, market demand and energy prices, nor a future of higher energy prices. In turn, having had one of the largest expansions of the federal government in recent history shifting to a very likely downsizing, especially in defense, means that the growth projections should be reevaluated. This can mean substantially less growth in outer areas. In turn, it’s important to note that the allocation of growth within the region is a subjective exercise and that high growth assigned to outer areas is not inevitable, nor is the form of that growth.
In addition, use of percentages for growth can be misleading and tables should be provided to show the magnitude of growth. In addition, the report may overstate Gainesville/Haymarket growth while understating Tysons Corner growth.
While VDOT might argue that it is not responsible for land use, when billions of dollars are at stake, a thorough analysis of cost-effective alternatives must look at alternative growth scenarios. And simply because an agency is not responsible for a subject area like land use, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be studied in an EIS as a potential piece of an alternative. VDOT itself has published a report on the benefits of “Transportation Efficient Land Use” yet inappropriately eliminates such demand management solutions from this corridor.
Again in chapter 3 (figure 3-1), the process for evaluating solutions is flawed by ruling out TDM and system/out of corridor solutions early in the proces.
The four step evaluation approach (3-2) is also flawed for failing to look at alternative growth scenarios and changes in land use combined with other TDM approaches, meaning that the total travel demand entered in the first step may be higher than it would otherwise be.
We don’t understand and are concerned by the statement on 3-6 that “Demand is also based on
unconstrained capacity on I-66 itself (although connecting roads were constrained) in order to
ascertain total demand.” That would seem to inflate the travel demand and overly favor capacity expansion solutions.
It doesn’t appear that the study factors in the congestion feedback signal from congestion in the general purpose lanes which would lead to higher transit use or new residents and jobs moving to transit-accessible locations as has been happening in recent years.
It’s not clear from Table 3-1 if the transit ridership numbers are based on transit-efficient land use or a continued pattern of auto dependent development in Prince William and western Fairfax, where transit efficient development might result in higher transit ridership. It’s also not clear whether the managed lane scenario counts transit trips in the lanes — trips that could also be achieved by HOV/transit lanes without tolls.
Again, Table 3-3 shows that combining transit with a chokepoints solution could meet more components of the Purpose and Need than the managed lanes.
Table 3-4 lacks adequate supporting documentation and is a virtual “black-box” to the public. The ICS alternatives fail to include non-tolled HOV with transit in any of the alternatives, which biases the study to managed toll lanes. It does not appear that the transit ridership factors in congestion feedback from the general purpose lanes.
It is unclear how Table 3-4 and Table ES-2 footprint widths are calculated.
The “Key Findings” (3-9) don’t appear to be fully substantiated. For example, it states:
- “Other than the two-lane Managed Lanes concept (ML2) which accommodates autos and buses alike, single mode improvement concepts result in large corridor width, high cost, poor efficiency, and/or inability to serve total demand.” Would that indeed be true of Metrorail or an HOV/BRT approach, with each tied to transit-efficient land use?
- Another stated finding is that: “The share of trips made either by transit or in multi-occupant vehicles for those ICSs that perform best against the Table 3-4 metrics reach over 80 percent. While accommodating such high percentages of trips by transit and multi-occupant vehicles would be very difficult, the fact that these percentages are so high is indicative of the benefit of including transit and managed lanes that can carry large numbers of person-trips as part of the solution.” If that is the case, why not use an HOV and transit solution rather than only use tolled, managed lanes with the various transit modes?
- Another stated finding is that “The projected peak period travel demands in the corridor highlight the need for a transportation solution that provides space efficiency – the ability to carry large numbers of persons within limited spaces. Managed Lanes and fixed-guideway transit (in descending order of carrying capacity: Metrorail Extension, Bus Rapid Transit, and Light Rail Transit) provide space efficiency. But do managed lanes really provide space efficiency when the interchange needs of having dual sets of ramps are factored in? The interchanges on the 495 HOT lanes have taken a substantial number of acres with a profound impact on surrounding communities.
Conclusion: It is critical to get this Tier I study right because completion of this study will likely foreclose consideration of alternatives at the Tier 2 stage. The study appears biased toward the managed lane approach by failing to analyze non-toll HOV with transit alternatives and by failing to analyze a composite transit, transit-efficient land use, TDM and chokepoint alternative (a systems oriented approach and one that would meet the regional goals in Region Forward). The study does not substantiate the footprint, ridership, table 3-4 ratios, and costs; and the “findings” are also unsubstantiated. Effects on land use are not addressed.
- We request the opportunity for additional time for peer review of this study by independent transportation planners.
- We also request that VDOT’s report on Transportation Efficient Development be considered in this study along with the goals of Region Forward.
- Finally we request that this study be delayed until the composite alternative that we highlight is analyzed using alternative growth and land use.
Please accept our testimony on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. My organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington D.C. region accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
We wish to express our support for the revised Master Plan for the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant proposal. The new plan takes an already thoughtful plan and provides additional open space and careful treatment of the unique historic resources of the site. The plan will restore and provide public access to key elements of the distinctive historic resources. This would not be possible without the redevelopment program that helps pay for the cost of the restoration.
We recognize that the expansion of park space on the site was in part driven by D.C. Water’s enhancement of stormwater management and flood mitigation efforts. The expanded park space, driven both by D.C. Water and public demand for a larger park, has traded off a significant loss of affordable housing for the space. This is a major disappointment and a loss of D.C.’s use of public lands to address the housing needs of many residents, especially at lower income levels of 60 percent of AMI and below.
Notwithstanding this significant loss, we recognize the important historic preservation, public space, housing, and commercial space contributions of the revised Master Plan. For decades, access to this large area was prohibited, creating a wide gap between surrounding activities and neighborhoods. The revised plan would make this historic resource featured in a major public park a citywide destination. The Master Plan honors and replicates the historic landscape elements of the Olmsted Walk that have disappeared from the site. We agree with the staff comment that additional work should be done with DDOT to ensure that the Olmsted Walk connection to the sidewalk design is more than a standard sidewalk. This might require some flexibility in DDOT’s design standards.
The plan appropriately focuses taller office buildings towards Michigan Avenue and tapers building heights and forms as the development moves south to meet rowhouse neighbors. The plan adds separation to the neighborhood to the south with a large public park. Large scale buildings are needed close to Michigan Avenue to give a sense of enclosure and connect to the Washington Hospital Center. Eventually, we hope these new buildings will encourage reconfiguration of the hospital complex to create more pedestrian-oriented designs.
Preservation of Cell 14 and recreation of the Olmstead Walk along North Capitol Street highlight the historic features of the site; however, they should be balanced with the need to support a better pedestrian environment along these busy streets by better connecting the pedestrian to adjacent uses on the site.
The plan for complementary new uses of retail, offices, and residential will strengthen the facing hospital complex and reconnect the site the city. These proposed uses are likely to build upon and amplify the contribution that current hospital center-related activities make to D.C.’s economy and employment base. While the northern components of the plan better connect the site to its surroundings, the large park and recreated Olmsted Walk also allow the site to stand out as a distinctive and special place.
Overall, we support the revised master plan as a sensitive approach to preserving and making publically accessible this industrial architectural and public works heritage. The housing, retail, and office components help address the needs of a growing city and hospital district. Given that we have already lost a significant number of low income housing units planned in the first Master Plan, we ask that historic design guidance work with existing proposed levels of housing and commercial space, and not force further reductions. While we would like to see significantly more affordable housing in this plan, the redevelopment plan does contribute to important community and citywide needs. The proposed plan for preservation and development is a compromise to enable the restoration of this distinctive historic resource.
Thank you for your consideration.
Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Our organization works to ensure that transportation and development decisions in the Washington, D.C. region, including the Maryland suburbs, accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
We want to express our strong support for the West Lane multi-family residential project because it enhances the diversity of housing choices and number of MPDUs within such close proximity to the Bethesda Metro station. This is a great benefit to the county and the region because the building provides more housing, especially affordable housing, in a job-rich area, next to Metro. This reduces overall traffic in the region, shortens commutes, reduces household transportation costs, and gives more moderate income households access to the jobs and amenities of a highly desirable community.
After reviewing the proposed plans and public record, consulting with residents, and walking the site, we believe that the project offers its housing benefits through a sensitive and appropriate approach to the building design. The proposed building provides an attractive contribution to a pedestrian-oriented environment and complements the existing nearby residential buildings.
We are especially pleased to see the building’s relationship to Montgomery Lane which forms a supportive urban pedestrian environment. The existing and planned buildings along the north side of Montgomery Lane form a continuous street edge, which the proposed West Lane building completes. The 12 foot upper story setback provides visual interest to the building and addresses concerns of neighbors. A greater setback is not necessary or desirable. A greater setback will not further enhance the ground-level pedestrian environment. In addition, further unnecessary shrinkage of the building could threaten the number of MPDUs provided, while offering no increased public benefit.
The public use space provided at the corner of West Lane and Montgomery Lane is a good approach if it incorporates the main entrance of the building. The public use space at this location achieves two important objectives. It decreases the mass of the building by stepping back the building’s frontage, but still maintains the important building line along the street edge. It also provides a usable urban public space for people to wait or meet friends. The success of the public use space is dependent upon the entrance of the building opening up onto the public use space.
The appropriately scaled building and the well planned public use space are compatible with the neighborhood. The increased number of units ensures more pedestrians on the street – which is consistent with the Sector Plan and a benefit to all. The Sector Plan’s housing diversity goals are also furthered by the West Lane project. The proposed units are smaller and more affordable than those offered in surrounding buildings and include a substantial number of MPDUs – all within 950 feet of the Metro station.
For all of these reasons, the Coalition for Smarter Growth urges approval of the 4831 West Lane project.
Thank you for your consideration.
Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. We are a regional organization based in the District of Columbia focused on ensuring transportation and development decisions are made with genuine community involvement and accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
Recommit to leveraging public land dispositions for very low income housing in mixed use projects
We know that while the city has grown in population and income, low income D.C. residents are experiencing even greater difficulties finding housing they can afford. Thus public lands, and every other realistic tool we have available, should be used to help address this pressing need. Our recent report, Public Land for Public Good, shows that the District has and can do great things with its city-owned land. The creation of mixed income housing opportunities on public land is an important source of affordable housing for our residents.
We highlight the Hine Jr. High School redevelopment project next to the Eastern Market Metro station as a leading example of what a public land disposition should do. The project will offer a great mix of uses, close to 30 percent affordable housing, and a design compatible with a historic district. All of this occurs next to a Metro station, close to the core of the city. The project has been in process since 2008 when the former school site was offered for redevelopment. The project will provide 163,000 square feet of office space, 40,000 s.f. of retail, and a total of 159 housing units. Of the total, 46 units will be affordable, or 29 percent. The mix of affordability for the housing units is a good example of what the city should be seeking in LDAs: 5 units will be affordable at 30 percent AMI, 29 units at 60 percent AMI, 12 units at 80 percent AMI (in lieu of IZ). Other public benefits include reconstruction and opening of a block of C Street SE, and a public plaza along C Street.
The Hine School project pre-dates the current administration. We are concerned that the commitment to affordable housing in recent solicitations for public land dispositions, especially at the lowest income level, is declining. I would be surprised if a DMPED Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) ever again results in 30 percent AMI housing. Current practice by DMPED asks that any residential component meet or exceed Inclusionary Zoning standards of 8-10 percent set aside at 50-80% AMI. IZ is the law and what is required for any residential development. We should expect much more for public land.
Table 1 shows the affordable housing set side and income targeting that was the practice of the last decade for solicitations in public land dispositions. Currently, DMPED’s solicitations provide little of the specificity that was the practice in the past. We urge the council to ensure that we are making the most of the unique opportunity to leverage the value of the District’s land to create more affordable housing through the land disposition process. We ask that the council recommit the District to clearly requesting and prioritizing proposals that offer substantial amounts of affordable housing, including units affordable to those earning 30 percent AMI. As was the practice in the past, we ask that requests specify the city is seeking 20 percent to 30 percent of the total number of residential units affordable at 30 percent and 60 percent AMI for rentals, and up to 80 percent AMI for ownership. We suggest table 2 as a model. In addition, we ask that DMPED better coordinate with other agencies to pool resources to ensure the production of housing affordable at deeply affordable levels as a part of larger mixed income or all-affordable development.
Management of Affordable Dwelling Units
Since 2009, DHCD created a group to manage affordable dwelling units (ADUs) created through LDAs and Zoning Commission actions, along with IZ units. Given the many challenges to helping moderate and low income households buy and maintain affordable homes, we suggest that this process might be best done through DHCD contracting with a qualified nonprofit. Resale assistance for a price controlled home could benefit from extra attention that a nonprofit could provide to a seller. While we have suggested this for IZ units, we also think that ADU management would similarly benefit.
Thank you for your consideration.
Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. We are a regional organization based in the District of Columbia focused on ensuring transportation and development
decisions are made with genuine community involvement and accommodate growth while revitalizing communities, providing more housing and travel choices, and conserving our natural and historic areas.
We would like to comment on DHCD’s administration of the Inclusionary Zoning program. We have been involved with Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) since its beginning in 2003 and remain committed to ensuring that this important affordable housing program delivers on its promise. We are gratified that IZ is finally becoming a reality on the ground given the delays in issuing regulations, the housing market collapse, and extensive grandfathering. The start up of this program has faced many serious challenges, but we believe all these challenges can be overcome. We first want to remind the Committee of the importance of this affordable housing tool that produces below market rate units in matter of right developments throughout the city with no cash subsidy from the District. Of unique importance, IZ creates below market rate units in neighborhoods where few or no affordable units are likely to be produced in the future. This is a valuable affordable housing tool practiced by hundreds of jurisdictions throughout the country, including Montgomery County. This approach is credited with achieving economic integration is ways that other affordable housing programs are unable to achieve.
Montgomery County’s experience is instructive for looking at D.C.’s pathway to successful implementation. The county has produced over 13,000 IZ units since 1976. Due to short affordability terms, currently only 2,600 units are still affordable at 65 percent area median income (AMI). In addition, another 1,573 IZ units that were purchased by the county’s housing authority are rented to lower income families (this is through a provision in the county’s law that D.C.’s prohibits). The county’s IZ program provides nearly half of its affordable housing production. Among the changes the county has made to its program over the years are: extending the affordability term to 30 years for ownership and 99 years for rental; allowing income targeting to rise from 65 percent AMI to 70 percent AMI for high rise construction, and elimination of a troubled buy-out provision that allowed fees in lieu of on-site construction of units.
Administration of D.C.’s IZ program requires urgent and specific attention to ensure that as the over 900 units come online in the next 5 years, implementation will be smooth for all parties. We now face three key administrative challenges that can be fixed: severe understaffing, FHA rules, and overly rigid administrative regulations. Below are our recommendations for these key challenges.
Administrative problems that must be resolved immediately
1. Severe understaffing –1-2 overworked staff members are struggling to launch a new IZ program and provide oversight for roughly 2,000 affordable dwelling units (ADUs) already built or in process, created by PUDs (in lieu of IZ) and public land dispositions. Staff will be difficult to retain and attract if capacity is way below a realistic workload. Program applicants and developers will also not get the assistance they require.
Recommendation: Budget more staff and contract to a qualified homeownership organization
experienced in permanent affordability:
a. Add 2 additional staff positions;
b. Contract with a nonprofit group experienced in managing the homeownership purchase process and stewarding permanently affordable homes. Given the extra challenges of affordable home purchasing in a post-2008 economy, more assistance to homebuyers is needed to speed up the sales process. A nonprofit experienced in selling and stewarding permanently affordable homes could manage the homebuyer recruitment, preparation, qualification, selection and placement process. This nonprofit can also provide effective relationships with mortgage lenders and developers to secure financing, along with ongoing stewardship, enforcement, and resale assistance. This kind of close working relationship with buyers and owners is likely going to be more effectively created through a nonprofit dedicated to successful affordable homeownership and permanent affordability than a government agency;
c. Sustain housing counseling assistance for IZ applicants.
2. FHA conflict with local covenants regarding foreclosure – The Zoning Commission has revised the regulations to conform with FHA rules, and DHCD is working to get FHA’s final approval. After FHA clarifies its acceptance of the D.C. program, DHCD needs to educate mortgage lenders and recruit them to offer mortgages for IZ units. Bank of America, for example, reviews and approves IZ programs for their mortgage lending. DHCD should ensure that D.C.’s IZ program gets onto Bank of America approved list, along other lenders’ lists.
3. Rigid regulations – The administrative regulations are currently being revised but it is urgent that we expedite these revisions given the many barriers they place to an efficient matching process for applicants and units. Given the difficulty matching qualified and interested applicants to units, we suggest suspending overly prescriptive lottery requirements until a lottery is needed to fairly allocate a unit among a larger pool of qualified applicants.
Policy issues for future consideration
Beyond the immediate administrative issues that should be our top priority, longer term policy issues should be considered to fine tune the program. The robust recovery of the housing market in D.C. over the last few years demonstrates that IZ is not a deterrent to housing production. For example, over 4,500 housing unit permits were issued in 2011. This is 64 percent greater than the last peak in the market in 2005 when over 2,750 permits for housing units were issued. D.C. housing production has gone from a few percent to more than half of the region’s residential output.
The experience to date on the development review and financing phase of IZ is that the economics work. Over 900 IZ units are in the pipeline at various stages of development approvals, and construction, with a handful of completed projects. This development pipeline demonstrates that financing for projects subject to IZ is not a problem. IZ policy standards have also contributed to creating approximately 1,000 affordable dwelling units (ADUs) through PUDs since the mid-2000s.
We flag the following policy issues for further assessment, as we act immediately to fix the administrative problems discussed above.
1. Income targeting: Current income targeting is at 80 and 50 percent AMI. Given that market conditions have changed since 2006, is income targeting still at the right levels? How many 50 percent AMI units can we expect to produce? How effective is the 80 percent AMI income targeting in providing units sufficiently below market?
2. Condo fees – while IZ standards have avoided the problems that early ADUs experienced before IZ policies were developed, unpredictable rises in condo fees could pose a problem in the future.
a. Require par value assessments for condo fees for IZ and ADUs: Rising condo fees over time are potentially a problem even though IZ incorporates an initial fee based on what is projected to be a realistic fee to ensure that the overall housing payment by the buyer does not exceed a certain percent of her or his income. To avoid future excessive increases in condo fees, we suggest requiring that at least for IZ units and ADUs, par value tied to the affordable price of the unit be the basis for assessing the condo fee rather than a square footage basis. This will allow condo fees to rise as inflation and costs rise without subjecting the owner to a rapid escalation that would make the condo fee too expensive for the affordable unit owner.
b. Initial fee setting: This is already addressed by IZ regulations but could affect a building as a whole if a developer sets fees too low to support ongoing building costs. Given this problem for all condo owners, we recommend strengthening consumer protection against lowballing condo fees. Enabling OP and DHCD to comprehensively collect data on condo fee rates from existing buildings would provide these agencies the information they need to appropriately set condo fee rates as a part of the purchase price of an IZ unit or ADU. Secondly, consumer protection for condo purchasers can be improved by changing how the verification of the initial condo fee is set. Currently a certified third party is paid by the developer to verify the fee. We suggest charging the developer a fee that would have been paid to the third party, and have the city contract with a third party directly to verify the condo fee.
Overall, IZ is a sound policy that requires focused attention to address the administrative hurdles to a smooth-running program. The program promises to provide a substantial new source of below market rate housing throughout the city. While the program faces challenges, it is worth the effort. We thank the D.C. Council for its long-standing support for this innovative affordable housing policy.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify.