Affordable Housing at The Wharf?

One of the largest developments to ever happen in DC, The Wharf, has finally revealed itself to many “Ooh’s & Ahh’s”. With progressive legislation in place, and a highly-celebrated public-private partnership, let’s see what is there for us in the affordable housing realm.

Manna.wharf

Of the 649 apartments becoming available in Phase 1, DC’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) highlights that 30% of the units will be affordable housing. But over one-third of those “affordable” units are considered workforce housing, pegged at 100% or 120% of AMI- or for those families making between $110,000 and $132,000  per year.

While it is not a problem to have “workforce housing” – it is a problem to have that included in the affordable housing calculations. It makes it confusing for the general public and forces us to scrutinize the numbers to see exactly what they’re talking about.

 The most confusing thing is DMPED spotlighting how half of the affordable housing units are for those households at 30% AMI and 60% AMI- but that is only true if the “workforce” units aren’t included in the calculation.

However, that same statement boasts how a third of the total 639 units are “affordable housing,” which can only be true if the “workforce” units ARE included in the calculation. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, DMPED.

You can't have your cake and eat it too... unless there's another cake we don't know about

You can’t have your cake and eat it too… unless there’s another cake we don’t know about

In any other situation, us housing advocates would be quite pleased to have 20% of a development’s units at less than 60% of AMI- because that’s about double what Inclusionary Zoning rules require- and us housing advocates are conditioned to accept whatever pieces of success we’re given.

manna.oliver

However, let us not forget that much of The Wharf came from the selling of public land by the district. WAMU’s story in 2013 revealed that the publicly-owned land valued at $95 million was sold to Paramount Development Corporation for *drumroll* $1.

manna.shock

Yes, you heard that right. $1. Oh yeah, plus $200 million in public subsidies and tax breaks. That is an incredibly steep price to pay for just 131 affordable units so far, one-third of which are micro-units.

Micro-Units, between 330-360 square feet

Micro-Units, between 330-360 square feet

And so, I think we are completely in the right to develop more transparency in this process and to ask why the numbers that DC’s DMPED highlights are not quite true to reality. Also, what is the point of a high percentage of affordable housing if there isn’t much housing to begin with? For a project this large, 649 units is not very much, plus the fact that there are more hotel rooms than apartment units, and so it seems to be another aspect of this development- and future developments- worthy of scrutiny.

Phase II of The Wharf is still in process, and let us all pay attention to ANY sale of public land that does not include high amounts of truly affordable housing, with opportunities to increase the equity of those DC residents who need it most.

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