Thursday, September 12, 2013

Concentrating "affordable" housing east of the river is the very definition of insanity.

Anacostia residents are saying "no" to more of the same
(photo courtesy of PGN Architects)
I have written more than a few times about the insanity of concentrating DC's low income and "affordable" housing in communities with high unemployment, limited retail options, and a very low economic base. It's madness and not how you improve a community.

In case I am not clear let me make it perfectly clear. Like it or not,  to become self-sustaining and to attract some of the basic amenities the rest of the city takes for granted Ward 8 and Ward 7 need to increase their economic base.  In order to do that it  means bringing in retail, amenities, businesses and offering quality, market-rate units for sale and for purchase. Even a mix of low, medium, and market rate units is a far better idea than projects that are designated 100% low-income and/or "affordable" by Housing Voucher standards. 

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Let's stop being crazy. 

I've heard more than one Ward 8 resident say they would rather see a lot remain vacant than be converted into more of what Ward 8 really DOES NOT NEED RIGHT NOW -- transitional, low-income, subsidized housing and the negative quality of life and economic impact that comes along with it. 

I for one have to agree. No more of the same. Just because it is easy doesn't make it right. East of the River is tired of "subsidizing" DC's "affordable" housing initiatives. 

It doesn't take a genius to see what we need. More quality businesses, stores, and market rate housing east of the river and more "affordable" and low-income housing west of the river. That is how you maintain a balance. Bringing what is lacking to where it is needed. There, I just gave you the answer and it didn't cost you a lobbyist or a huge consulting fee to do it. 

And for my fellow Ward 8 residents who have concerns about being "pushed out" I am going to have to put some responsibility on you. If you truly feel that efforts are underway to "push you out" what exactly are you doing to increase your chances of being able to stay? Do you rent or do you own your own home? Because no matter how long you have lived in an apartment you are still just a renter with all the perks (flexibility, landlord to fix repairs) and the disadvantages (lack of equity building). The cold hard truth is that renting is not as good as owning. Homeowners set the real estate market, renters operate at the whim of it.  The general feeling I am getting from my neighbors is they are tired of the opposite being the norm for Ward 8. They are fighting for their biggest (and most often only) investment -- their home. And at the risk of being harsh they are no longer going to allow tomfoolery in the name of politically correctness to crush their dreams of economic stability and that is the plain truth. 

This could be yours for WAY less than the cost of renting
So for my fellow Ward 8 neighbors who are currently renting (either a private home or a unit subsidized by the government), if you are not in a homebuyer program right now to help increase your ability to purchase a home (wherever you want to live) then you are not really as worried as you would like some believe. There are plenty of programs and organizations (with funding) prepared to help you achieve your homeownership dream.  I know, I used one to purchase the home where I currently live. It may not be easy, it may not even be fast but it is possible --- if you want it bad enough. And in Ward 8 where brand new 2 bedroom condos that were once purchased for 200k in 2008 are now on the market for less than $50k you really don't have an excuse. In this case, homeownership is way cheaper than renting, even renting with a voucher. 

So stop falling for those "gentrification" scare tactics. All they are doing is keeping you unemployed (or underemployed), renting, and at the whim of others with more economic options -- including the government. 

Lastly, if "affordable" and low-income housing is such a good idea why aren't the majority of these projects being located in neighborhoods that truly have caused residents to be priced out? West of the Anacostia river neighborhoods rich in amenities, grocery stores, retail, and entertainment. Can someone please show me a new project in Georgetown that is designated at 100% for low-income residents or transitional housing? 

I don't think so because it doesn't exist. 

Ward 7 and Ward 8 are finally taking a page out of the books of those more economically diverse and vibrant neighborhoods by saying, "we want the best, just like you and we are determined to get it."

Aaron Wiener of Housing Complex has a great article on the Big K Project in Anacostia and the stance that residents have taken to oppose it. Please take a moment and read it. I think it sums up the situation pretty accurately. Go HERE to read the article. 

But the most common complaint concerned the very nature of the housing that Chapman and DHCD were proposing. Their plans call for 100 percent affordable housing, available only to people making less than 60 percent of the area median income. 
In neighborhoods like, say, Columbia Heights, the city and housing advocates have worked to ensure that low-income residents aren’t left behind as a wave of economic development passes through. But in Anacostia, residents are worried about the opposite threat: that in a neighborhood that’s on the cusp of development, well-off professionals will be kept out and the push for affordability will hold back economic growth. 
The fight over the housing at the Big K project highlights the ways that traditional debates about affordable housing can get flipped on their heads when high-end development begins to come to poor parts of town. Places like Anacostia can find themselves stuck in a strange middle ground, where the “affordable” units are out of the price range of most current residents but unavailable to higher earners who might be able to help bring much-needed dollars to the neighborhood. Residents say they understand the need for affordability, but question whether concentrating it in already struggling neighborhoods is a good idea.

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Gallegoscot said...

I have to say I agree with what you said. I read the Big K study and it was pretty much just a justification to do nothing to facilitate local businesses or decent housing. Instead, it seems to be an opportunity for the city to cast away more things East of the River, rather than promoting real mixed income housing in other parts of the city. NIMBY is powerful and the city has no interest in challenging it.

Anonymous said...

I am 100% in agreement with the Advocate on this. This is not a slap against lower-income people (most people I know were low-income at some point, myself included). But, this is about helping an area grow and flourish- treating it like it belongs in the District, not like it is the District's designated area for all that the wealthier neighborhoods don't want. EOTR already has its critical mass of the economically distressed. It is time for a more balanced demographic- is that asking for the moon?

ANC 7C02 Community said...

Actually ANC 7C voted to oppose and continues to oppose the Capitol Gateway project before the Zoning Commission because the rental component was changed from Mixed Income rentals to 100% Affordable.

FYI the Capitol Gateway project has one of the proposed Walmarts in Ward 7. To cut to the chase West of the River projects are given Government subsidies but as Tax abatements, Tax Increment Fiancing or other. East of the River are only Given Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Developers could build Market rate just as easily East of the River with those same incentives (Tax abatements etc.) problem is they are not offered. The decision to saturate low and affordable housing East of the River is 100% a Political decision and NOT the Real Estate Market.

Gregori Stewart
ANC 7C Chair

h st ll said...

I don't get it. As I commented on the other article, these renters will have AMIs significantly higher (43k to 64k) than the average AMIs in Anacostia (which I have seen quoted as anywhere from 19.5k to 33.k). How is that low-income or dragging down the neighborhood? I'm seriously having difficulty comprehending this.

Comparing this to homeless providers etc doesn't make any sense. It's an attractive building, with new retail on top of nice housing.

h st ll said...

How is this building any different than The Gray's on Penn Ave SE? By all accounts that has been a success. That was also partially financed with similar credits (and has income restrictions). 1bds start at 1140. I haven't heard of anyone complaining about that building ruining the neighborhood; its an attractive welcome sign once you cross the bridge. Similar thing here!

Old Crow said...

There's a huge contradiction in what is written here. First, "owning is better than renting," then, a few sentences later, "condos that were selling for $200K are on the market for $50K." I know this is your blog and imagine having some of the same conversations over and over again is frustrating, but I also urge you not to dismiss folks who disagree with your positions as "politically correct," especially if you want to encourage discussion.

As an owner, I can't even think of selling right now. It's a good thing that my job is stable and I don't need to move. But owning is not always better than renting, especially in a transient city like DC. It's an economic decision that each person makes based on what their needs and abilities are at the time. Encouraging people to buy when they might need to move leaves you with renters anyway when you can't sell at a reasonable price.

I also have a unit with a voucher tenant, and I couldn't be happier. She could stay there forever, as far as I'm concerned. "Section 8" does not always equal "trouble." As we know, it is a very small number of people who make life difficult for the majority. Those folks need to be targeted, not everyone on vouchers. And at the risk of sounding "PC," the lack of facilities for young people after school and in young adulthood over this side is appalling. Henson Ridge II has no community center, for example, and no adults running this non-existent community center. This does not fly in other parts of the city. You should check out the new playground in Palisades.

Finally, $40-$50K was my starting salary as a professional 10 years ago. It's what admin staff earns where I work these days. I would welcome those folks as renters in my community vs. making them move out to Virgina or Maryland. That is not a shabby income. The median income in DC is/was in the $80K range, so 60% of that is still a fair amount. Young professionals start there and rent. So while I think the building is ugly as sin, I don't see the same economic or "dumping ground" problems that you do with this development.

povertyandpolicy said...

The view that renters are at fault if they don’t become homeowners is extraordinarily myopic. I could go on at length about what’s happened to people who took out mortgages they couldn’t afford—and couldn’t refinance after the housing bubble burst. But let me speak instead from personal experience.

My husband and I own our home. This year, we’ve paid more than $6,000 for urgently-needed repairs and related restoration. Several years earlier, a fire next door did considerable damage to the house. We had to pay about $7,000 toward the restoration before the insurance kicked in. These costs would be devastating to someone who’s making just enough to keep up with mortgage payments.

This is one reason I’ve argued that home ownership isn’t for everyone, Another is the point about mobility that Old Crow makes.

PG2SE said...

I don't think anyone is arguing against the $40-$50K earning renter. In fact, keeping the developer's income restriction in place will make it LESS likely for them to end up tenants here. The minimum income requirements for LIHTC units effectively exclude most income earners in this range. So who will be left to fill these units but voucher holders?

I also own a rental unit with a Section 8 tenant and grew up on Section 8 myself. So I am not one of those people who think Section 8 folks are all bad news and the sooner we can get and keep them out the neighborhood, the better. There are good and bad Section 8 renters, just as there are good and bad market-rate renters and homeowners. The issue at hand is whether or not poor people should be concentrated in one place, one neighborhood, one section of the city. Doing that is what contributes to the issues that continually plague EoTR neighborhoods. That's not good for the neighborhood, and it's not good for poor people. If we truly are in favor of policies that improve poor people's lives, they won't be ones that confine them to one area of the city with substandard conditions, resources, and services.

Good article, Advoc8te!

Anonymous said...

The problem with Ward 8 plain and simple is Marion Barry!!! Until that crackhead womanizer no longer sits at the helm of Ward 8 politics, we will continue to get halfway houses, affordable housing, and DC government agencies!

Anonymous said...

Ok so why can folks making this much need government assistance to live in Anacostia? A salary of 40k qualifies one for a rent of $1k. A quick search reveals plenty of apartments in that range.

There really is little to no need for government intrusion in the housing market East of the River.