Principles for Affordable Housing and Economic Development

April 2022

NW Opportunity Partners CDC is committed to building strong communities as we achieve Mayor Bowser’s goal of 1990 new units of affordable housing in Ward 3 by 2025; and to revitalizing commercial areas in partnership with local business groups and Black and Brown entrepreneurs from across the city.

To meet the city’s needs for affordable housing, economic mobility, sustainability, and neighborhood integration and to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes of the past, private developers, non-profit housing providers, and public agencies must significantly up their game to guarantee that:

Potential Black and Brown residents and business owners will be guaranteed a seat at the table as members of the “should be” community in all development discussions alongside current residents, property owners and elected representatives so that together we can significantly advance racial equity.

Legitimate neighborhood concerns about impacts on light, air, scale, traffic, small businesses, etc. will be negotiated on their own terms and not be labeled as opposition to affordable housing.

Community visioning using the best ArcGIS planning tools[1]to create a common visual understanding of development choices before property owners lock in plans for new development will be used.  Visioning tools like CityEngine can reduce friction and foster consensus as we build for economic and racial diversity in hot-prospect neighborhoods ripe for large-scale development, especially in Friendship Heights, at the Marriott Wardman Hotel site, Van Ness, Tenleytown and other transit-accessible sites along Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues.

Ambitious housing goals for Ward 3 will include:

  • Setting firm targets for affordable units by neighborhood
  • Identifying promising sites such as the Lord and Taylor in Friendship Heights and moving quickly to secure them and actively working with community-based organizations to put together a redevelopment plan that will include robust, truly affordable housing and a variety of community amenities
  • Creating an Affordability Acquisition Fund to enable pre-qualified nonprofit affordable housing developers to move nimbly to purchase properties in high-demand areas like RCW
  • Prioritizing new affordable units with 3-5 bedrooms per unit to accommodate families, including multi-generational families
  • Ensuring that new rental housing serves 0-30% Median Family Income (MFI)
  • Fostering limited equity cooperatives to serve 30%-80% MFI
  • Creating home ownership opportunities for those up to 80% MFI
  • Additional neighborhood services including education, health, social services, commercial and access to public transportation will accompany significant new housing production and/or transformation from non-residential to residential so that the quality neighborhood services meet all needs. 
  • Design and construction of affordable housing will be sustainable, energy efficient, context-sensitive and beautiful.

We cannot rely on the same old strategies and myths to reach our goals:

Reliance on Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) will not achieve our goals. Few new affordable housing units are now under construction in Ward 3. Moreover, IZ is not designed to accommodate households living at the lowest income levels and does nothing to further the development of homes for these households.

While building more market rate housing may lower costs for other luxury housing, there is no evidence that lower costs will trickle down to those most in need of affordable housing.

Both tenant-based and project/sponsor-based vouchers are important tools to create new affordable housing.

Conversion of rent-controlled apartments to means tested affordable housing is not a housing production strategy.  Ward 3 has over 10,000 units of rent-controlled housing serving many lower income residents who do not qualify for means tested housing, could not afford market-rate housing, and would therefore be displaced.

We cannot wait for private developers to drive the process and set aside only a minor portion of their projects for affordable housing and community needs.  To create a range of affordable rental and ownership housing the DC government must exert real leadership to:

Bring all stakeholders to the table to create a vision for each neighborhood so that the sum of individual projects will meet both community aspirations and affordable housing goals.

Invest public funds in creating deeply affordable housing through acquisition of land and blocks of units within large developments, acquire and redevelop non-rent-controlled buildings as limited equity cooperatives, and establish land trusts and other mechanisms to reduce housing costs.

Provide deep subsidies through grants to develop projects, provide gap financing, issue project-sponsored vouchers and grant tax abatements for deeply affordable housing.

We are committed to sharing our experience with people across the city and to welcoming partners who can help us achieve our goals.

[1]   The ArcGIS tool, CityEngine, offers novel capabilities for the efficient design of master plans and architectural sites.  I

We believe in the power of shared vision and sustained commitment to create dynamic communities for all people, regardless of income.

NW Opportunity Partners Community Development Corporation