Greater Greater Washington

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Development


Muriel Bowser announces eight sites for homeless shelters

DC is working to close the homeless shelter at DC General and replace it with smaller shelters spread around the city. Today, Mayor Bowser announced where they will go and a set of public engagement meetings to discuss the plan.


Image from NBC Washington.

The DC General shelter has needed replacement for a long, long time. Spreading homeless residents out around the city is generally a good move. To segregate all homelessness in one part of the city forces all of the residents to one area and also concentrates the negative impacts of a shelter.

While a big facility does have some economies of scale and makes it easier to offer some services to all of the residents with staff in a single location, it's not fair for some parts of the city to be able to push all of this necessary service to someone else's community. Living in a mixed-income area instead of an all-homeless enclave also can benefit the shelter residents themselves.

Bowser set as a goal to place one new shelter in each of DC's eight wards.

Our contributors weighed in on the choice of locations.

Kelli Raboy wrote: "It seems like most of the sites have access to at least some transit (mostly frequent bus routes), so that's good."

Neil Flanagan added:

The one in Ward 3 is sort of in between Glover Park and the Cathedral, not ideal from a transit perspective, but it is a lot that's been empty for a while, and it's a lovely neighborhood with decent access to services.

All over, it seems to be in line with expectations of not only equity on principle, but also the benefits of distributing social services more evenly.

Gray Kimbrough brought up an eternal question with social services and below-market housing: It's cheaper to put it in the lowest-cost parts of the city, but spreading it out can be better for the people getting the services and for the communities that would otherwise have the concentration. But it's more expensive.
The 213-bed women's shelter stuck out to me, especially when I realized that it's a prime Chinatown location. This is much of the backstory.

This is taking the place of new residential development which surely could have been traded for a new, less prime location. But it's certainly transit accessible.

It also seems possible to me that that might be the only one to open any time soon (since the article says the others are slated for 2018 at best).

Canaan Merchant elaborated on the tradeoffs:
It would be important to note that the best places for equity might not be the best places to get a good deal for costs. This is an important distinction when you have a lot of stuff moving to places east of the river because it costs less to do things over there but residents criticize though decisions because they say that keeps the area depressed.
Finally, Geoff Hatchard brought up an interesting political side angle:
By explicitly making sure that each ward gets a shelter, you create a situation at redistricting time where you need to make sure you're not moving the lines so one ward gets multiple shelters and another gets none.

Normally, that shouldn't be too difficult to avoid, if you put the shelters closer to the geographic centers of the wards. But, many of these are placed near ward boundaries. The proposed locations in Wards 1 through 4 all could, at some point in the near future, create a type of restriction on how redistricting happens.

(Granted, this is speculative, but having been on the redistricting committee last time around for Ward 5, you'd be surprised what gets proposed as 'requirements' for the drawing of lines.)

It's also somewhat interesting how the Ward 7 & 8 locations are so close to the Prince George's County line. It may not be intentional, but it's notable when one looks at the map.

The community meetings are Thursday, February 11, from 6:30-8:30 pm:
  • Ward 1 - Anthony Bowen YMCA, 1325 W Street NW (Conference Room)
  • Ward 2 - One Judiciary Square, 441 4th St NW (Old Council Chambers)
  • Ward 3 - Metropolitan Memorial UMC, 3401 Nebraska Ave NW (Great Hall)
  • Ward 4 - Paul Public Charter School, 5800 8th St NW (Auditorium)
  • Ward 5 - New Canaan Baptist Church, 5800 8th St NW (Auditorium)
  • Ward 6 - Friendship Baptist Church, 900 Delaware St SW
  • Ward 7 - Capitol View Public Library, 5001 Central Ave SE
  • Ward 8 - Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, 2616 MLK Ave SE (Fellowship Hall)
In the long run, the homeless residents really need not shelters but permanent housing. That housing, too, ought to go in many different neighborhoods.

What do you think of the choices?

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Development


DC added record housing in 2015. That's slowing down price increases.

In 2015, DC permitted more new housing units—4,956, to be exact—than in any year since the Census started keeping track in 1980. This pace of housing growth compares favorably to other cities, and there's reason to believe it's helping to slow rent increases.


Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

The record-setting year is most likely due to both long-term factors (a shift towards city-living among young professionals) and short-term, cyclical ones (federal government job growth having recovered from the sequester).

The composition of 2015's housing permits in DC skewed heavily towards large multifamily buildings, as it has in recent years. Neighborhoods like Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront, where there are fewer neighbors to oppose large development projects, are contributing strongly to the city's overall housing production.


Graph by the author, with data from the Census Bureau.

Accounting for population, DC got more permits than most other major coastal cities

How does DC's year stack up against other cities? Well, it's somewhat difficult to compare these numbers across cities for a few reasons:

  • Initial population matters. For example, 10,000 new units in one year would be a ton for DC, but very few for a bigger city like New York.
  • Population growth matters too. Baltimore has about the same number of people as DC, but there's little reason to build new houses if few people are moving to town.
  • Cities have arbitrary political boundaries. We could use a standardized geographic unit (like MSAs), but that captures a lot of single-family, sprawling development. At the end of the day, we're interested in the extent to which cities are allowing their cores to densify.
But we can still make some back-of-the-envelope calculations. One useful starting place is to scale permits by a city's population. In 2015, DC permitted 7.5 housing units per 1,000 residents.

That matches or exceeds the rates of most comparable coastal cities: Boston (also 7.5), Portland (7.1), New York (6.6, an outlier driven by regulatory uncertainly for the usually low-growth city), San Diego (4.5), San Francisco (4.3), and Los Angeles (4.1). It easily surpassed cities with lower-than-average job growth, like Philadelphia (2.4) and Chicago (2.1). And DC was out-produced by growth-happy Seattle (17.0), Denver (12.0), and Austin (11.0).

There's evidence that all this new supply is slowing rent growth

In recent years, real estate analysts have noted that DC's higher pace of building has led to rents that are slowing in growth, or even declining. This effect is especially seen at the higher end of the market, since most new construction is luxury.

Here's Multifamily Executive covering a new Yardi Matrix report:

The cities that had the smallest rent gains in 2015 were Richmond, Va.; Washington, D.C.; and Baltimore. Echoing other reports, Yardi says Washington's rent gains have been held back because of the large amount of new supply in its market, while Baltimore still lacks job growth. These cities can expect to see similar results in 2016, Yardi says.
A Bloomberg reporter who interviewed DC developers last summer collected relevant anecdotes:
Tepid job gains and a spate of construction that created almost 20,000 units in the past two years made Washington one of the worst markets for US landlords, forcing owners to grant tenants concessions such as months of free rent to keep new luxury apartments from going empty.
And early last year, The Washington Post wrote that an increasing supply had driven down rents, partly by pushing landlords of luxury buildings to lower prices so they could compete.

Any effort to make our region more affordable will require a good deal more market rate housing than what we currently have. Hopefully, DC will build on the successes of 2015 and continue to allow high levels of dense housing construction.

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Transit


Walking and transit score high in Virginia's transportation rankings

Scores that evaluate transportation projects in Virginia recently came out, and many of the highest belong to projects focused on walking and transit. That's because they provide the most bang for taxpayers' bucks.


West Broad Street and Oak Street in downtown Falls Church. Image from Google Maps.

In Northern Virginia, projects that focused on improving walking conditions and transit service came out on top in statewide rankings for cost-effectiveness. These included:

  • Sidewalk work in downtown Falls Church between Park Avenue and Broad Street (#2 statewide)
  • More marketing of transit and carpooling in the I-66/Silver Line corridor (#3)
  • Improving crossings at several intersections on Broad Street in downtown Falls Church, including at Oak Street (pictured above) (#8)
Passed in 2014, a state law commonly known as HB2 requires Virginia's Department of Transportation to use an objective and quantitative system to score transportation projects. The idea is to make planning more transparent, but high score doesn't guarantee funding nor does a low score preclude it.

In the most recent rankings, 287 transportation projects from across the state received two different scores, one based on the total projected benefit and one based on the benefit divided by the total funding request.

Each of the projects above would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, while most other projects would cost many times that amount. For total project benefits, the addition of High-Occupancy/Toll lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway has the highest score, but it requires a $600 million public investment.

Here's more detail about the law

Virginia law requires that "congestion relief" be the primary metric in scoring projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Scores also account for a project's environmental impacts, how it fits with local land use plans, and what it might do for economic development.

Three agencies developed the evaluation system: Virginia Department of Transportation, the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The agencies have posted a wealth of data on the HB2 website. You can search for projects in various ways, including by jurisdiction. Data points such as whether or not a project has bicycle facilities, and how it is coordinated with nearby development projects, are posted in an easily navigable format.

What do you think of the analyses? Is there a project in your area that scores higher or lower than you would have expected?

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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Meta


Here's Greater Greater Washington's budget for 2016

Our goals for 2016 include targets for raising more money, including from our upcoming reader drive, foundations, and corporate sponsors. When we posted the goals recently, some of you asked to hear more about our budget and why it's getting bigger.


Budget image from Shutterstock.

Last spring, Greater Greater Washington was in a very different place financially. We had just formally set ourselves up as a nonprofit organization,* and through the reader drive and gifts from our board, editors, we were pulling in enough to pay for a half-time editor (Jonathan Neeley).

However, editing the blog is much more than a half time job, and a part-time job is not a recipe to keep someone for the long haul. Our all-volunteer editorial board and board of directors were amazing, but most are far more interested in urban policy than running fundraisers. What to do?

What it takes to be sustainable

We could pull off an annual reader drive, but that alone would not make a sustainable organization. We especially needed someone to run the organization—to do all the financial tracking and tax filings and office policy writing and fundraising that it takes. Plus, there was a lot more we wanted to do—write more about topics besides transit, especially housing; about Maryland and Virginia and east of the Anacostia; about politics, education, and more.

Fortunately, the Open Philanthropy Project wanted to fund organizations that care about how not enough housing for everyone pushes housing costs up and up. A combination of a direct gift from Cari Tuna and a grant to our fiscal sponsor* funded us to grow to three people: Jonathan full-time, a Managing Director (Sarah Guidi), and a Housing Program Manager, who we're working on hiring.

Big opportunity, big challenge

This is a big opportunity and we're really excited about it. It's a chance to make the blog better, and also achieve far more than we can by "just" running a blog. We're doing this to make the city and region better, and want to find ways to actually push the ideas we discuss toward action. This is chance to do that.

It also creates a big challenge. First, we have to do a great job with the housing program Cari Tuna and Open Phil have funded. Second, even though this grant let us grow to three staff, they didn't give us 100% of what we need to operate with three people. They provided two years of funding, but there's no guarantee (far from it) that we'll get another grant from them. So, we need to raise more money to keep Greater Greater Washington going at the current level.

Here's our budget

Greater Greater Washington's budget for 2016 is $253,126. This budget is a projection. It reflects what we think it will cost to run the organization in 2016 at this new level of growth.

Most of the time, organizations look at the previous year's expenses to inform the current year's budget. Since this time last year Greater Greater Washington was still a mostly volunteer organization with no full-time staff or office, we didn't really have a budget. So, we had to build one from scratch. Our actual revenues and expenses may look a bit different at the end of the year, but we will aim to keep our revenues and expenses aligned with this board-approved guideline.

What we have to pay for

Management and the board predict it will cost approximately $253,000 to run the organization in 2016. That includes running the blog, carrying out the housing program, and exploring other projects that can further Greater Greater Washington's mission. Here are the main categories of expenses we anticipate in 2016.

FY 2016 Greater Greater Washington Organizational Budget
Personnel$ 179,493
Computer and web20,210
General operating47,923
Reserve5,500
Total expenses$ 253,126



  • Personnel: salaries, benefits, and payroll taxes for three, full-time employees (Staff Editor, Housing Program Manager, and Managing Director)
  • Computer and web: server and hosting fees, plus costs for website upgrades (we are planning to move the blog to a real modern platform this year).
  • General operating: rent, insurance, legal and accounting costs, professional development, processing fees to receive donations, printing, office supplies, etc.
  • Reserve: It is good practice for a nonprofit to build a reserve that can be used to make up for the unexpected loss of a funding source, to purchase equipment not covered in a grant, or to invest in opportunities that will generate additional revenue.
Where the money will come from

Here are the types and amounts of funding we plan to raise in 2016:

Fiscal Year 2016 Greater Greater Washington Organizational Budget
Individual donors$ 72,500
Foundations176,250
Corporate sponsorships11,000
Earned income2,500
Revenue$ 262,250

We're hoping to have foundation funding plus donations from individuals (the reader drive and some large gifts) make up almost 95% of our revenue. Sponsorships from corporations and income from providing services for a fee (earned income) would make up the other 5%.



Other than the reader drive and the foundation funding from Open Phil, these categories are something of a guess as we don't have specific committed revenue for any of these yet nor do we have past years' experience with them. Therefore, there's a good chance the end totals might shift a lot. That's also why the numbers don't all add up to exactly the same as the expenses. We may, however, need to go far above in one of the categories to make up for coming in far below in another.

We hope this is helpful. Please keep the questions coming. One of our major values, as a community-driven site, is being open with you about some of what's going on behind the scenes. Thanks for being a part of our community!

* We are incorporated as District of Columbia Not-For-Profit Corporation. We have applied to the IRS to be classified federally as a 501(c)(4), which is able to talk more freely about politics (as we do on the blog) than the "typical" 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit, but also for which donations aren't tax-deductible. A fiscal sponsorship arrangement with Smart Growth America allows foundations to fund some of our 501(c)(3)-eligible activities. Read more here.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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Transit


National links: No more grocery stores

Walmart has turned many towns into high-dry food deserts, Nashville is considering its transit options, and Uber had to get creative to get insurance. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Alison & Orlando Masis on Flickr.

Walmart's small town shuffle: Walmart is closing shop in a number of small towns despite only recently arriving and putting other grocery stores out of business. Residents say the effect is devastating. (Bloomberg)

Music City moving: Nashville's transit authority is working to put forward a plan for developing transit. The most robust possibility would build new light rail, streetcars, and bus lines, and would cost $5.4 billion. The smallest plan, at $800 million, would focus on buses and the existing commuter rail line. (Nashville Tennessean)

Uber insurance: Uber as a ride hailing service might not exist if not for one of its employees convincing insurance agents to cover drivers. There's a lot of grey area in how to insure someone who is waiting for the app to connect them with a customer. (Buzz Feed News)

Build up for cars: As soon as cars came on the scene in cities, residents and businesses needed places to put them. In dense places, people put cars on elevators and stored vertically. These pictures show how that technology evolved from the 1920s to 1970s. (Mashable)

To live and ride in LA: Transit ridership has gone down in Los Angeles by 10% from the high reached in 2006. Officials are wondering how to attract more high-income riders, and whether they should stick with current plans to build more bike and bus-only lanes. (Los Angeles Times)

Cities as testing grounds: Gridlock at the US Capitol and in state houses nationwide has liberal leaders testing new laws and ideas at the municipal level. The hope is that cities will prove certain laws work, which will lead to change at state and federal level. (New York Times)

Quote of the Week: "The government is one group that doesn't get to choose its customers. We want to make it work for everyone." Jennifer Pahlka, who started Code for America to help cities work better with their citizens. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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