Monday, October 27, 2014

[Repost] Using mixed income housing to combat concentrated poverty

Repost from Jan 2014




I had written a long editorial in support of this amazing and insightful TED talk by Rodney Byrnes but in the end I deleted it.  I decided it really wasn't necessary to address something that I have covered at length on this blog. Those that know, already know.

It is no coincidence that D.C.'s most underserved neighborhoods are located east of the river. It is no coincidence that east of the river has the highest levels of unemployment in the district. It is no coincidence that although the District is experiencing record levels of prosperity and economic development east of the river is  still lacking basic services and amenities. More than a river divides us.

When someone is hungry you feed them. It is the good thing to do. But making that hungry person move to a dessert to get the sandwich isn't really helping is it? If anything it is creating a new host of problems.



So why build more low-income rental housing in a market that is already saturated with it? Councilmember Barry said it best -- Ward 8 already has too much rental housing. I will have to take that a step further, Ward 8 has too much of a particular type of rental housing.  There is not one single market rate rental property (without an income restriction) that is comparable to what you would find west of the river. Ward 8 literally has no quality apartments for middle income renters which is weird because we have enough vacant land and empty buildings. New market rate housing could be created without displacing current low-income residents. In order to attract quality retail and support our local small businesses we need two things: higher incomes and increased density. It is as simple as that.

Ward 8 residents rallying against another homeless shelter
on a business corridor
Anacostia residents know that.  That is why they are not accepting another 100% affordable housing project with an income cap on a prime piece of real estate. A property that has been vacant for years, no one is in danger of being "displaced." Anacostia residents aren't asking for the world -- they are just asking for one block. One block to help balance the blocks of homeless shelters, rehabs, group homes, and methadone clinics in their neighborhood. The Big K site represents so many long deferred hopes. Anacostia knows that the right kind of housing development on that site can be the catalyst for more investment in their neighborhood and foot traffic for the small businesses here now. Most residents want either a mixed income rental housing with no income cap or straight market rate (but with the type of amneties to attract some of those higher income DC residents looking for a deal).  Anacostia just wants a tiny piece of the pie. Not a huge piece, just enough to give them a start. Something they can build on. Anacostia community stakeholders want that block, they need that block. That is their best chance and they are going to fight like hell for it.

And for those who think keeping all middle income residents out of Ward 8 is a great idea, keep this in mind.  That particular demographic (professionals with disposable income) represents the best chance we have at job creation in Ward 8 and we can all agree that Ward 8 needs jobs -- and lots of them.  Retailers and businesses follow the money. They invest in neighborhoods that can afford them. Don't believe me? Watch the videos in the 5 blog posts preceding this one. The strongest neighborhoods are those that have a good income mix: not exclusively rich and not exclusively poor.  Real estate professionals know this. Business owners know this. Even the DC government knows this. Everyone knows that the overall income levels for Ward 8 are too low to attract private sector investment. Something we need to create local jobs. Unfortunately it is very much a "chicken or the egg" kind of situation. We need higher incomes to attract employers and amneties but we need employers and amneties to attract the higher incomes. If we don't want to displace our low-income residents then we need to import some higher incomes to balance out the low ones. Councilmember Barry hit the nail on the head when he told Housing Complex reporter Aaron Wiener, "people think we don’t have any money over here. Don’t think that we can be homeowners. Think we’re coke dealers and all that kind of stuff." 

Right now on Reddit a young couple without kids is contemplating a move to Congress Heights and is asking for a recommendation. Unsurprisingly every single commenter (DC residents no less!)  are advising that couple -- those potential Ward 8 residents -- to stay away. This happens every single day.


Think of a healthy community as a glass of lemonade. Too much sugar and it's too sweet. Too much lemon and it's too tart. We need a balance. More so for our lower income residents who could really benefit from nearby jobs, retail, and healthcare.

So build more "affordable" rental and homeowner housing (and lots of it);  but build it where low-income residents will have the best and closest access to jobs that pay a livable wage; high performing schools; and good transportation. By concentrating the bulk of the new affordable housing dollars east of the river we are running the risk of increasing the already high numbers of concentrated poverty. Why are we sending unemployed or underemployed people to the two wards with the highest unemployment rates and the least number of job opportunities? Why is anyone expecting the unemployment numbers in Ward 8 to go down when we are keeping employers away? Why are affordable housing advocates okay with that? There are some organizations that are advocating for more affordable housing in communities where their own staff wouldn't visit -- let alone live. What kind of double standard is that?!



A few months ago a well-known DC developer proposed building market rate units and retail in NW -- while sending all of the "affordable" housing units to Anacostia. Now if that wasn't telling. Don't low income families deserve better? Don't they deserve a chance to benefit from all of this prosperity that everyone is always talking about? We shouldn't have some wards that have a 3% unemployment rate and others with a 24% unemployment rate. It's a river, not an ocean for goodness sakes!

West of the river needs more "affordable" housing -- and fast. East of the river needs holistic community revitalization. East of the river needs wrap around services. East of the river need jobs.  East of the river needs some higher incomes and a bit more density. And most importantly, East of the river needs to stop falling for the okie doke.

And just like that, another long editorial that I really didn't want to write. :(


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5 comments:

i heart newcomb said...

So after watching the first video, I noticed, I noticed the speaker emphasized three things--mixed income housing, "wrap around services," which sounded like public health services but maybe other amenities as well, and high quality education. You've done a great job highlighting the struggles Congress Heights has acquiring the first two but this is maybe one of the first times I've seen you mention education. I don't know why I didn't put two and two together until now, but it occurred to me that in addition to Congress Heights not having amenities and market rate rentals that would appeal to a higher socioeconomic status and support community revitalization, Ward 8 doesn't have schools to attract families or people who hope to have families some day, which is most people, either! This is critical because families when they have a choice usually choose to live somewhere with good schools. How are we going attract families when our own families are looking out of boundary to get their kids a quality education! I feel like that TED video opened a whole new can of worms. We really need that holistic approach. Obviously we need good education for our own kids not just for the sake of enticing people to move in. It seems like another catch 22.

The Advoc8te said...

I agree with your comment 100% . Quality education is critical. We can't move forward without it. I agree -- I haven't spoken about education a lot but I think that speaks more to the fact I don't have children but if I did -- where they go to school would be very important to me. I dare say if I had kids when I moved here in 2007 I may not have moved here.

Another reason why we need to attract those single higher income residents without kids in need of housing. They would be less likely to see the school issue as a problem now.

PG2SE said...

Another great article, Advoc8te! Thank you for the reporting that you do on this. I know it's frustrating, but I really think people EoTR are beginning to coalesce around this issue and put some action plans in place to prevent every new development in our communities from being 100% affordable housing. And I think the awareness you raise on the issue is no small contributor to that. So please continue doing what you're doing. If at times it may not seem so, rest assured, your efforts are very much appreciated!

(So much so that I am actually going to join Reddit so I can add another voice from someone who actually lives in Congress Heights to the mix of that discussion).

PG2SE said...

Another great article, Advoc8te! Thank you for the reporting that you do on this. I know it's frustrating, but I really think people EoTR are beginning to coalesce around this issue and put some action plans in place to prevent every new development in our communities from being 100% affordable housing. And I think the awareness you raise on the issue is no small contributor to that. So please continue doing what you're doing. If at times it may not seem so, rest assured, your efforts are very much appreciated!

(So much so that I am actually going to join Reddit so I can add another voice from someone who actually lives in Congress Heights to the mix of that discussion).

PG2SE said...

Another great article, Advoc8te! Thank you for the reporting that you do on this. I know it's frustrating, but I really think people EoTR are beginning to coalesce around this issue and put some action plans in place to prevent every new development in our communities from being 100% affordable housing. And I think the awareness you raise on the issue is no small contributor to that. So please continue doing what you're doing. If at times it may not seem so, rest assured, your efforts are very much appreciated!

(So much so that I am actually going to join Reddit so I can add another voice from someone who actually lives in Congress Heights to the mix of that discussion).