Report: Lack of affordable housing could drive families out of DC area

Some 220,000 families in the greater D.C. area could be at risk of having to leave the region in coming years if more is not done to expand the availability of low- and moderately-priced housing, according to a report released Wednesday by the Urban Institute.

“What’s needed is a mix of policies that preserve, produce and protect housing,” said Urban Institute senior research associate Leah Hendey on the region’s affordability challenges.

The Urban Institute report stated that the region needs 374,000 new housing units by 2030 to meet growing demand; 264,000 need to be low-cost housing. To match expected needs, the area needs at least 40% more middle-cost housing units.

To help create a local housing market that functions for everyone, the report details three P strategies:

  • Preserving existing low-priced to moderately priced rental housing. This may include, for example, making loans available for property repairs and rehabilitation, so units can remain affordable over time.
  • Producing more housing. One way to achieve this is through zoning changes that allow developers to create higher-density units near transit and jobs.
  • Protecting families vulnerable to housing market pressures. This could be done with housing vouchers and emergency assistance for renters at risk of one missed payment that could  lead to eviction or homelessness.

The study recommends that localities set 10-year targets and commit to goals to create housing. For example, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser set a city goal to add 36,000 new units by 2025, with a third of it affordable to low-income households. D.C. hopes to preserve an additional 6,000 affordable housing units.

The Urban Institute report addressed the roles of businesses and philanthropy to create affordable housing, as well.

“They can use their influence in the region to help support local governments,” Hendey said. “These are difficult issues to tackle, and there’s going to be a lot of political will needed.”

The issue is a priority for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), which has been helping local housing and planning directors study what is needed for the region to keep up with housing demands.

The Urban Institute has briefed COG members several times in recent months, as its study has proceeded.

“Their ability to convene the jurisdictions is super-critical in this region, and they are focused on the same issues as we are around affordability and making sure we’re increasing production at different income levels,” Hendey said.

Next week, COG is set to vote on a plan to build an extra 75,000 housing units between 2020 and 2030.

“I think we can absolutely do it,” Hendey said. “We are not in the same dire situation that other regions are in this country. We know what tools we can use to make a difference. And our report tried to focus on the ones where we think we’ll get the most bang for our buck.”

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