Left to right: primary winners Robert White, Trayon White, and Vincent Gray (from thekojonnamdishow.org and glaaforum.org)
Washington, D.C. is set to see some new faces in politics come November, as two newcomers and a returnee beat incumbents in the City Council Democratic primaries last Tuesday. Although nothing will officially change until after the November general election, in liberal D.C. a nod in the Democratic primary is tantamount to victory.
So how will the shake-up affect affordable housing in the city?
In the Ward 7 race, the challenger certainly wasn’t an unknown quantity. Former Mayor Vincent Gray marked his return to city politics with a defeat of first-term Councilmember Yvette Alexander. Gray had been campaigning heavily on his record as mayor, citing his work to increase funding for affordable housing programs of all kinds.
“Overall, [under my administration] we invested $287 million in affordable housing and recommended that the city subsequently invest each year at least $100 million in affordable housing.”
The city has since surpassed that number, committing $100 million each year to the Housing Protection Trust Fund (HPTF) alone, plus increasing funding for the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP). Gray has promised to support the HPTF at current funding levels.
Gray also cites more technical concerns, pointing to his effort as mayor to reform D.C. zoning laws and allow for greater residential density. He promises going forward to “support zoning changes to make building more affordable units easier and more straightforward.”
In Ward 8, Trayon White, a neighborhood organizer and alumni of the D.C. Attorney General’s office, defeated incumbent LaRuby May, another first-term councilmember.
Trayon White touched on a number of affordable housing issues throughout his campaign. He has said he supports the $100 million per year to the HPTF and more.
“I support raising additional revenue for housing. D.C. had a $417 million surplus in the last fiscal year. It’s not that we don’t have any money… We have to put more money into housing to ensure decent and affordable living quarters for all.”
Earlier this year, Trayon White called for an increase in HPAP funding that has since been answered by the Mayor and Council’s recent budget. He has also cited a need for tightening rent control laws by closing loopholes and limiting landlords’ guaranteed return on investment.
Like Gray, he supports efforts to allow for greater density and simplified zoning laws to accommodate the development of affordable housing.
In the At-Large race, another White (Robert) managed to unseat long-time incumbent Vincent Orange. Like Trayon, Robert White also hails from the Attorney General’s office.
Zoning law has also been on his mind, especially as it intersects with transportation concerns.
He has called for rezoning struggling commercial corridors to allow for more affordable housing in areas with easy transit access, an important goal in a city that struggles with gentrifying transport hubs.
Robert White has also proposed increased incentives for non-profit developers (like MANNA) that provide affordable housing.
In addition to his big policy proposals, Robert White has been critical of current enforcement of affordable housing laws, writing that “it’s the rule, not the exception, that developers get waivers in order to avoid building affordable housing.”
As Gray, White, and White look to join the Council in November, it will be up to the citizenry to remind them of their ambitious plans for affordable housing in the District.