Learning from Experience: Affordable Homeowners in DC

Today, Manna came out with a paper entitled Learning From Experience: Affordable Homeowners in Washington DC . This paper is written in response to a recent report by the Coalition for Smarter Growth entitled Public Land for Public Good, for review by the Mayor’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force, and in light of the upcoming review by the City Council of the Inclusionary Zoning law.  Manna agrees that it is imperative that the District government prioritize affordable housing in public land development, and the report does a fantastic job of laying out the growing need for affordable housing in the District for low and moderate income families, particularly those under 53% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

While the Task Force devises housing priorities for the next eight years, it not only needs to take into account the affordable housing crisis in DC but also the experiences of those who have lived in the affordable housing that has been developed on city surplus land.  As an experienced developer of all types of affordable housing along the Continuum, Manna fully and unreservedly supports the redevelopment of public land that includes a set aside of affordable housing units in market-rate buildings as it relates to rental.  Manna also supports the use of public land for buildings that are completely affordable, for all types of much needed housing across the Continuum.

The required set aside of affordable units within market-rate buildings and the city policy that regulates it is called Inclusionary Zoning (IZ).  Though Manna supports the rental portion of IZ, Manna is greatly concerned about IZ ownership units.  This concern is based on Manna’s 30 years of experience successfully working with lower income owners, our research on IZ condominium programs in other cities, and the experiences of affordable owners who were integrated into market-rate condo buildings during the 2000s by the Williams and Fenty Administrations.  The effect of long-term resale/rental restrictions and/or escalating condo fees on these 30-80% AMI owners are extremely problematic, and officials from the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) have said that IZ policy does not address these issues.

Public Land for Public Good recommends that the DC government continue to prioritize the set aside of “for-sale units, focus[ing] on households earning 50 and 60 percent AMI, and no higher than 80 percent AMI.”  However, this recommendation and the report overall is silent on the negative experiences of existing affordable homeowners, which is not only extremely problematic for future affordable owners, but also the DC government who will oversee restrictions on these affordable units.  As a result of this silence, the report’s insistence on a “better community engagement process” and giving preference to the knowledge of affordable housing developers needs to begin now.

As the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force considers the recommendations of Public Land for Public Good in the context of its full report and recommendations to the Mayor, we ask that they carefully consider the experiences of affordable homeowners laid out in this report.  We ask that the Task Force separate rental from ownership IZ units and focus solely on rental for permanently and long-term restricted units.  Further, we ask that the Task Force consider policies already under consideration in the City Council and elsewhere in the DC government – policies that offer homeownership opportunities to low and moderate income families that allow for socio-economic growth and a recapture and recycle of funds for the City to develop more affordable housing.

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