Greater Greater Washington

Where will DC's next 200,000 residents go? The mayoral candidates weigh in

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the first of 2 posts on discussions about housing with candidates for mayor. See all of the posts here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

"We've been a city of 800,000 before, and we're going to be a city of 800,000 again," said Muriel Bowser. "Keep in mind, the city's population at one time was 800,000 people," said Jack Evans. "The city used to have 800,000 people, but we have only 640,000 today," said Andy Shallal.

When talking about growth and development, multiple candidates for mayor brought up this number. In many cases, they were citing it as evidence that there must be plenty of room in the city to add 200,000 new people. How can there notthere used to be!

But the city looked very different in 1950. Families were much larger. A lot of row houses had become boarding houses during World War II. Homeowners lived in one room and rented the rest out to unrelated people. Americans got married younger and had children younger. In short, our existing houses that have one or two empty nesters or a young couple with one child today might have held 5 or even 8 people 60 years ago.

What would our candidates for mayor do about it? Mayor Gray talked about "air rights." Evans and Bowser both pointed to less developed areas of the city; Evans highlighted Shaw, where we were speaking, as a corridor ripe for new housing and retail. He talked about his experience pushing for the Whole Foods, then Fresh Fields, to come into Logan Circle; during the first meeting, Fresh Fields representatives wouldn't even step out of the car, while today that is "the largest-grossing Whole Foods in the chain on a per-square-foot basis."

Bowser referred to her efforts building support for development at places like Walter Reed. She would like to see DC more proactively plan for the housing we need, through citywide and small area plans. She promised to make sure that the Comprehensive Plan, which is up for revision again soon, finds room in the city to grow back to 800,000. That's important, because according to the Office of Planning, even building everything to the limits in the Comp Plan won't be enough for our housing needs after 10-20 years.

Where exactly the housing might go, Bowser was less clear. She also proudly defended her efforts to remove a floor from a proposed building at the Takoma Metro, saying that there needs to be a participatory process to make sure residents are comfortable with a new development. But, I asked, doesn't that mean that every project will get a little smaller, lose a floor, and so on, I asked? Will that prevent us from building enough housing in the aggregate?

She wasn't concerned. "There are going to be some very smart people to make sure [the new residents] will have a place to live." And later, "The thing I know where there is a lot of demand is that the units will be created. In markets where people are looking for housing, and it's profitable for them to create housing, they will."

Tommy Wells criticized most of the thinking on this issue as being very "linear" and "two-dimensional," saying that as our needs change, many people will use space differently. More younger residents are willing to move into smaller spaces because instead of needing to own or rent all the space they'll use, people are "using the collective of shared space that they all pay for together," such as common rooms in buildings and public places like parks in the city.

Meanwhile, he said, offices are also using less space as fewer employees have their own offices, employees spend more time working at home, and people use common areas. Therefore, he said that people at one of the downtown business improvement districts think that some office space can become housing.

Andy Shallal is worried about the trend toward building smaller units. "I think those types of developments [are] overdone throughout the city," he said. "They're temporary housing, because when people get married, have a child, they can't really live in those small spaces. I'm just worried about this rush to build these small units, cookie cutter units, is going to make the city less desirable for families that want to live in larger homes."

Wells has an idea to deal with that:

I've been working with another architecture firm and a major developer to do what I call "flex buildings." With a flex building you can build small apartments, but as your life changes you can aggregate, so if you have a small child or your life changes in another way, you can add above or below or to the side, instead of bldg a fixed infrastructure with 3-bedrooms, 2-bedrooms and 1-bedrooms. That's an old way of thinking. The future of cities like ours is an adaptable way of thinking, not a linear use of space.

Another way to add flexibility is to let people rent out their basements or garages, as has been proposed in the DC Zoning Update. Shallal said, "I think we have to have some flexibility in those types of zoning laws. ... These homes are empty nesters now with one or two people living in a 3-4 story townhouse. For those people who are becoming elderly, maybe they want to have a little income and stay in their home. ... I think it's a great way to keep people who have lived here a long time to be able to stay in the home they've lived in ... rather than building another high-rise of apartments that are overpriced and end up requiring lots of parking."

Bowser isn't on board. She opposes the Accessory Dwelling Unit recommendation in the DC zoning update, though she tried to couch her opposition as minor and generally praised the zoning update. "I think that having our zoning codes not be reviewed in a comprehensive way for 50 years ... I think that they spent a lot of time on a lot of different issues. I think at the end of the day I have only 4 areas I wanted them to ... that's pretty remarkable for a 5 yr process. I think they have looked at all of the concerns."

What she didn't say is that the "only 4 areas" of concern are essentially the major policy recommendations of the zoning update, such as accessory apartments, corner stores, and parking.

Bowser also reiterated her opposition to any changes in the height limit.

I think the Congress should focus on things that we've asked for, and we've asked for budget autonomy. I think Congress should focus on how we unhinge our city from the federal government's budget. We're not a federal agency, we're a city. We collect our own taxes and we should be able to spend our own revenues. ...

You've got to wonder why they are focusing on something that nobody in the city has saideven including the development community, the government, the councilmembers saidthat we need or want and the things we do need and have asked for have been totally ignored. You've got to wonder about the motive, don't you?

Mayor Gray, meanwhile, defended his administration's efforts to change the federal Height Act.

What I think wasn't entirely clear was that we weren't proposing a particular change or a specific change in the height limits. What we were proposing was that the District have more control over setting the height limits, which would still give the people of the city a chance, through the Comprehensive Plan, through zoning, through legislation, a chance to be able to address, specifically, proposed height changes.

It was not that we would go out on Rhode Island Avenue and say we were going to have buildings that would be 37 fett tall. It was to say, just like we say with budget autonomy, shouldn't we have greater control over our city, especially areas outside the L'Enfant city? So we've sort of stopped at this stage, and we're working now to try to make sure people are clear about what it that we were proposing. But it wasn't that Building X was not going to become 14 stories higher than what it was.

In fact, Gray became the most energetic and animated just after we'd turned off the cameras, when perhaps he was more relaxed. He told stories about how he'd contacted DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson when Mendelson introduced his resolution against the height limit. It's a home rule issue, not about the heights, he'd tried to convince Mendelson, an argument which didn't go anywhere to Gray's evident frustration.

Tomorrow, we'll look at what the candidates said about public land and subsidized housing. Meanwhile, you can watch the entire exchange on housing with each candidate.

Evans:

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Shallal:

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

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I've never seen anyone speak so much and yet say so little as Bowser. What an empty suit!

by Zorba on Mar 4, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

Bowser is adept at saying whatever the audience wants to hear, even when it's patently, absurdly unrealistic.

I have a very, very bad feeling about this election.

by Crickey7 on Mar 4, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

Vote for Gray, it is the best way of ensuring we don't end up with Bowser.

by William on Mar 4, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

Bowser supports all the major zoning code changes except the majoes ones she is against. #fail

by Gee on Mar 4, 2014 2:12 pm • linkreport

Bowser said "There are going to be some very smart people to make sure [the new residents] will have a place to live."

So she is not going to make this decision - I'm here all week.

Her message is to build it elsewhere, which she believes is a message that appeals to what she perceives as a plurality of Democratic voters. I think it is safe to say that 30% of potential voters are NIMBYs, so she simply needs to turn out that group to win the primary.

I like Tommy's ideas on these issues, but Gray has put his money where his mouth is on the Height Act. If re-elected, Gray needs to get some folks into his agencies that will deliver.

How unsurprised am I that the enviro-NIMBY Mendelson did not even listen?

Gray gets my vote to keep out Bowser.

by fongfong on Mar 4, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

Where will DC's next 200,000 residents go? To hell, it seems . . .

by xmal on Mar 4, 2014 2:20 pm • linkreport

+2 for Wells
+1 for Gray
~~ for Evans
-1 for Bowser
-2 for Shallal

Muriel really is like Ron Burgundy: "I'm going to sayevery word I know! Rectangle. America. Megaphone. Monday. Zoning Code. Height Act. Gentrification."

by PotomacAveres on Mar 4, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

Gray is getting my vote too. Bowser is indeed an empty suit.

If Gray does win, I hope he hires talented agency heads to stop the backslide in city services that has occurred under his watch, though I doubt he will.

by dno on Mar 4, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

+1 PotomacAveres

by JDC on Mar 4, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

Fairly telling that somehow straight lines in VMT predictions are bad, but straight lines on population projections are good.

I'm not that building 200,000 more one bedroom apartments is really going to help us prepare for the future.

by charlie on Mar 4, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

"Fairly telling that somehow straight lines in VMT predictions are bad, but straight lines on population projections are good. "

All projections are uncertain. Except building new highways involves a public investment of hundreds of millions dollars. Most of the policies to accommodate new population in DC involve little or no risk of public dollars.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 4, 2014 3:29 pm • linkreport

Note - except for privately financed highways, like the beltway express lanes, where the risk is private.

that is why I am more worried about proposed publicly financed arterial interchanges, the rte 7 widening, etc than about the beltway express lanes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 4, 2014 3:30 pm • linkreport

I really don't see the problem in the short or long term.

Yes, household size was bigger in 1950, but after bottoming out in 2005 at 2.15 people/household, it has started climbing again and is currently 2.17 as DC slowly transitions from a city of young people that moved out as soon as they had kids, to a city where more young people stay and have their kids.

There were also 229,000 housing units in the District in 1950. That number has grown 31% to 300K now, with a full 37% of all those new housing units (26K of them) having been built in the past 10 years alone, and another 10K permitted and in the existing pipeline.

You can say there were "group houses", but I am not sure what, if any real difference there is now as every row home in the district gets converted to mult-family. 2 houses on my street have been converted in the past 3 years I've lived there from SF rowhomes. One was where the grandparents were raising the two grand kids (4 total residents) to a 4 unit condo building that houses a total of 7 people, the other 4 unit condo that was converted has 8 full time residents.

So we call it something different but the truth of the matter is, the same number of people, if not substantially more are living under the same roof.

by Housing on Mar 4, 2014 3:34 pm • linkreport

Accessory apartments go a long way to helping accommodate more heads under on one property without truly affecting the built environment. It is too bad Muriel doesn't get this.

by William on Mar 4, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

She wasn't concerned. "There are going to be some very smart people to make sure [the new residents] will have a place to live." And later, "The thing I know where there is a lot of demand is that the units will be created. In markets where people are looking for housing, and it's profitable for them to create housing, they will."

This vague, empty, hand-waiving statement disqualifies her from being Mayor. She just doesn't get it. She doesn't know and doesn't care. That answer was just a Rumsfeld-esque dismissal of the entire issue and that's just disappointing.

by Cavan on Mar 4, 2014 3:42 pm • linkreport

Housing

AFAIK, most group houses, etc are in housing thats either close to a metro station or within walking distance of downtown. Whereas in 1950 multi person households were standard throughout the District - all those autocentric neighborhoods were new or newish, and had families with kids. Today they may have one or two elderly people, and so appear to have plenty of room to add population by going to 4 person households. Is DCPS really going to reach the point where SFHs and THs throughout the district are going to be desirable to families with children? And how many of those families will be one child families, much more common than in 1950 (and there are more suburban alternatives for the larger families.) As for group homes and subdivided houses, will that become common in the places far from metro and far from downtown? What will the housing market in places CLOSE to metro and downtown have to look like for that to happen?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 4, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

fongfong, that was my thought exactly. You know its bad when the prospective Mayor says there are smart people somewhere who will figure that out...

by BTA on Mar 4, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

Can Muriel deputize Kaid Benfield to be that smart person?

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 4, 2014 4:04 pm • linkreport

In all seriousness, we need to rethink how we will with multi-household homes. By that I mean a home that contains more than one unrelated household (which itself can be one or more people). Group homes are fine, but there can be other configurations such as old rooming houses that would work. Also we need to think about the aging population too. It's not just all young people and young families. I think some kind of institutional group home would make a lot of sense. You could locate residents in ground floor rooms and use upper floors for staff or install elevators. The city would also benefit by freeing up housing stock if that would get some older residents that live alone out of homes which are kind of dangerous if they dont have care.

by BTA on Mar 4, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

First, reaching a population of 800,000 is completely arbitrary and therefore a trick question. We need to provide housing to meet the needs our our current population and plan for future growth based on solid analysis of economic and population trends.

Second, +1 PotomacAveres

Third, not everyone will be able to or want to live in the District. Housing is a regional problem and is tied to our region's transportation problem. While the District should work to make the city attractive to all, Arlington, Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince George's should also be accessible. We can't subsidize every District property or chide every person who purchases a $500,000 for $800,000 because someone sells it at that price.

What we can do is create more density in the core and near metro stations while also creating additional density along our transit corridors both inside and outside of the District.

by Randall M. on Mar 4, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

"As for group homes and subdivided houses, will that become common in the places far from metro and far from downtown?"

Considering I am a solid mile (18 minute walk) from the nearest metro stop and houses in the 2 block radius are being condo-ized at an amazing clip, I think your answer is clearly "yes".

And yes, while the population density was more evenly spread through the District in the 50's, there wasn't a metro system which has spawned population densities 3 or 4 times (50K people sq/mile) what was seen in DC then.

Density is being moved around, that doesn't mean it isn't possible to re-accomodate 800K people in DC with smaller households. It is happening as we speak.

And, really... Bowser is the youngest of the group at 42, but even she will likely be collecting social security by the time DC comes close to seeing 800K residents again, and that is only "if" DC is able to maintain the fastest yearly growth rates of any major US city indefinitely.

None of them care to put much thought into it because it isn't remotely near an issue now.

by Housing on Mar 4, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

"None of them care to put much thought into it because it isn't remotely near an issue now."

If I wanted to vote for leaders without a vision for the future, I'd move to a state and vote for Congress.

by Adam L on Mar 4, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

Randall: The 800,000 number was not part of the question. I led with it because 3 candidates all brought it up. My question was how we would accommodate the 1,100 new residents coming into DC and build the 41,000-105,000 new housing units that forecasts (in that case, the GMU CRA study) estimate we need.

I think a lot of candidates said "we used to be 800K" as a way of handwaving away the fact that we need more housing; if we used to have 200K more people, then surely there is room! But living styles and family sizes have changed.

by David Alpert on Mar 4, 2014 4:46 pm • linkreport

"Considering I am a solid mile (18 minute walk) from the nearest metro stop and houses in the 2 block radius are being condo-ized at an amazing clip, I think your answer is clearly "yes"."

dont answer if you want to protect your anonymity, but I wonder where that is?

"Density is being moved around, that doesn't mean it isn't possible to re-accomodate 800K people in DC with smaller households. It is happening as we speak."

Its happening both with high rates of new construction, that may not be sustainable as the easy sites are used up and with gentrification spreading and creating social discontent in transitioning neighborhoods. Since virtually all candidates want to lessen the impact of gentrification, AND all but Grey Evans and Wells seem to want to lessen the impact of new construction, I don't think "well we are growing now" is an answer.

"None of them care to put much thought into it because it isn't remotely near an issue now"

But buildings last a long time, decisions on publicly owned land will foreclose possibilities decades from now, transportation decisions will have impacts for generations, and the zoning code gets update once a half century. This is an abysmal approach to planning the future, to dismiss an issue like this because its not immediate.

As for rate of growth - metro DC is the nations capital, and is unlikely to grow less rapidly than the nation, which should be between 1/2 and 1% a year for a couple of generations or so. And metro DC NOW is a metro area of almost 6 million people - its center is unusually low density compared to many other metro areas, esp ones with major employment concentrations at the center. The recent growth is simply the overcoming of an anomaly, and thats likely to continue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 4, 2014 4:47 pm • linkreport

AWITC it could be Cap Hill, H St NE, Mt. Pleasant (maybe), Petworth, Bloomingdale, etc.

by BTA on Mar 4, 2014 5:02 pm • linkreport

Capital Hill and H Street are relatively close to the employment center on the Hill, and not all that far from employment center near the WH. I would bike downtown from either. Ditto, more or less, from Bloomingdale (which like the above, isn't terribly far from a couple of metro stations)

The only place you mentioned that really could serve as a model for the many autocentric peripheral nabes of DC is the parts of Petworth more distant from the Petworth metro station.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 4, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport

@AWITC

He is not talking about Petworth a mile from the Metro. This is not really happening at all at Sherman Circle and north. TONS of houses getting flipped, but almost none are getting turned into condos.

by Kyle-w on Mar 4, 2014 5:14 pm • linkreport

It's definitely possible to add an additional 154,000 people if the lame mayor/Council will finish what they started 10 years ago: redevelop Hill East, Poplar Point, etc. into a dense neighbourhoods. Where's the progress after 10+ yrs?

And what about the hundreds of vacant DC-owned properties that could be sold to residential developers?

by Burd on Mar 4, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

I'd add, David, that large sections of residential units have been replaced with commercial buildings, as that kind of building spread out because they can't go up.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 4, 2014 5:31 pm • linkreport

I am, as always, amazed that the vast swaths of the city under draconian historic preservation laws are not brought up as an obstacle. These regulations are the single greatest obstacle to affordable housing in the city right now. For some reason, there has been a collective decision to act as if preservation law is a one-way ratchet and can only cover more territory and with ever more aggressive interpretation of the black letter law. Let's hear a candidate talk about changing historic preservation and then we will be talking about meaningful change.

by Hill Dude on Mar 4, 2014 5:35 pm • linkreport

That might be true on Capitol Hill, where most of the land is zoned for rowhouses, but in other parts of the city, like Shaw and 14th Street, there has been plenty of development which have added significant population density.

by William on Mar 4, 2014 5:41 pm • linkreport

I like Wells. Too many of the "smarter" growth people are one trick ponies- (abolish the height act). Inability to be innovative and think outside the box is a shame but typical of ideologues.

We have 20 years if present growth continues before DC reaches "build-out" at current zoning. I understand developers want their holdings to be worth much more immediately, but they need to appreciate how well they're doing.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 4, 2014 6:38 pm • linkreport

Bowser is clearly a run-of-the-mill political panderer with zero vision of where this city should go in the future. She also seems to have an amazingly tenuous grasp regarding any substantive policy. If the race looks wide open in its closing days I'd go for Wells, but if Bowser looks like she is surging I'd have to vote Gray just to try and stop her.

by Will on Mar 4, 2014 7:05 pm • linkreport

Inability to be innovative and think outside the box is a shame but typical of ideologues.

Well, Tom, thank God we have you here to help us to think outside the box. We're all completely incapable of innovation. Heck, Alpert used to work at inside-the-box Google, famous for their lack of innovation.

Too many of the "smarter" growth people are one trick ponies- (abolish the height act).

Name one smarter growth person who's only position is that the Height Act should be abolished.

Wells is still my guy, but at the top of my list of disagreements with him is the Height Act. If he disagrees with raising the limit, I can understand that. But wanting Congress to set it - that just doesn't make sense.

Also, the soccer stadium.

by David C on Mar 4, 2014 10:08 pm • linkreport

can we slow down the density talk again, until at least the huge swaths of blight are filled in? how many people can fit in condos on new york ave, rhode island ave, bladensburg, benning.. etc...

by markus on Mar 4, 2014 10:12 pm • linkreport

I would be curious to hear responses to questions on WMATA accountability and ensuring that the operation is as solid as possible.

This is where Muriel Bowser concerns me. She is a Metro board member but yet speaks little about how she has used her position to improve WMATA, or at least hold staff accountable for the operation. I am unable to attend Metro board meetings but I do read about them from several sources, GGW, the Post, WTOP, etc. and never hear about tough questions being asked, especially related to major service meltdowns (Red Line almost daily, I'm looking at you).

I realize that some rail cars are decades old, and that probably has a lot to do with the train problems, but it would be nice if Ms. Bowser would start asking questions as if she cares about residents who use Metro to get around but are often delayed and inconvenienced. Same for her pushing bus lanes on 16th St, something that would seem to only help WMATA *and* DC.

by Transport. on Mar 4, 2014 10:34 pm • linkreport

can we slow down the density talk again, until at least the huge swaths of blight are filled in?

Sure. And, also, let's not plan for retirement until we're at least done working.

by David C on Mar 4, 2014 10:43 pm • linkreport

Where will they go? Somewhere rent is below $1500 for a family of four and is still Metro/VRE/MARC accessible.

by Redline SOS on Mar 5, 2014 7:05 am • linkreport

Hey, Mayor Gray -- Maybe you should stop talking about the Height Act and talk about picking up the trash instead. Many neighborhoods in DC have had their pickup suspended an entire week, when the usual practice after inclement weather is to get to it in a day or two. Our streets are lined with garbage bags -- do your job or you will lose it!

by Alf on Mar 5, 2014 8:23 am • linkreport

I don't see a lot of reason to change the accessory dwelling provision. A number of my neighbors rent their basements to tenants currently. It actually works well, because if things get too out of balance (noise, too many vehicles, etc.) the owners will get called on it. Right now, everyone strives for model tenants and minimal impact on neighbors.

by Jasper2 on Mar 5, 2014 8:27 am • linkreport

Also, requirements for new projects need to change so that a certain amount of units are larger, 2-3 BR for families who can't or won't live in a SFH. A new apartment building in NW is just smaller units, apparently filled mostly by AU students who have parents with big checkbooks, when multifamily housing for families is unavailable.

by Jasper2 on Mar 5, 2014 8:30 am • linkreport

Firmly in the Anyone But Bowser (ABB) camp. My heart says Wells, but if he can't close, I guess I'll have to go with Grey. Bowser is a disaster for smart growth and young folks trying to make this city more livable and more affordable. What I don't understand is who is voting for her and why?

by 11luke on Mar 5, 2014 8:54 am • linkreport

Also, requirements for new projects need to change so that a certain amount of units are larger, 2-3 BR for families who can't or won't live in a SFH. A new apartment building in NW is just smaller units, apparently filled mostly by AU students who have parents with big checkbooks, when multifamily housing for families is unavailable.

I don't know that I'd go about requiring such a thing, but this does touch on a real issue: there are many areas where, from a developer perspective, it will never be economical to build 3BRs, much less 4BRs, because you can get more money by building more smaller units. Those units are then rented out to groups of young adults whose collective housing income is higher than what a comparably-sized family would typically be willing to pay.

In other words: you can get more money by building for, and marketing toward, groups of young people who are all working, have no dependents, and have lower expenses in the other areas (healthcare, child care/education, etc.) that tend to reduce families' total income available to spend on housing.

Wells' flex building concept could potentially address this and merits serious consideration.

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 9:00 am • linkreport

As much as the smaller units can fill up the better it is because then the supply of existing larger units can expand anyway.

People generally live with roommates out of necessity than desire. And the more people you can remove from the pool of needing roomates (by having smaller units) the more room you have for families that also need multiple rooms. Then, families and group housing aren't competing against each other as hard.

by drumz on Mar 5, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport

@drumz

As much as the smaller units can fill up the better it is because then the supply of existing larger units can expand anyway.

People generally live with roommates out of necessity than desire. And the more people you can remove from the pool of needing roomates (by having smaller units) the more room you have for families that also need multiple rooms. Then, families and group housing aren't competing against each other as hard.

That might be how it should work in theory. In practice, only the smallest units (microunits and studios) are drawing off individuals. Those can be fine, although you can't have a building full of them, and it's particularly problematic for condo buildings, which want continuity among owners/residents. The individual units also suffer from the same price inflation that the larger units do, so they typically end up being occupied by either wealthier young people or two-income couples.

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

I'm definitely in favor of mandating more two bedrooms. Do most families really need three/four bedrooms though? I shared a bedroom with my brother until I was like 12. I think the real problem is that we have a lot of SFH occupied by one or two people. We need to think of ways to incentivize people to downsize.

by BTA on Mar 5, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

In practice, only the smallest units (microunits and studios) are drawing off individuals.

Individuals who would likely then pair/group up for a shared space otherwise.

But like you say, what's the legislative fix? I'd certainly wouldn't want to be dictating house sizes through my local government. At that point, the government should just start building housing on its own.

by drumz on Mar 5, 2014 10:51 am • linkreport

1. From a competitive standpoint, maybe cities are better off with a bunch of young people and few families. That raises the ratio of taxpayers to students and should require less tax revenue. I'm visualizing a plot that shows the total revenue or expense per person plotted against age. Children are all expense for the city. If a city had nothing but childless adults in their 20s and 30s it would probably be awash in money. I say this not to say that we should try to drive families away, but just to question what extent we should go to to accommodate them.

I remember a speaker I once saw who had a very Jonathon Swift like argument that Mormons were bad for cities because they have lots of kids that need education and they pay no alcohol or cigarette taxes, and it was all backed up with real stats and such. Of course, one only needs to look at Salt Lake City to see that it's not true.

2. That having been said, I don't see the building of smaller units as a market failure that needs government intervention. We already have zoning, historical preservation and other government interventions that protect and encourage SFHs.

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 11:00 am • linkreport

DC can't sustain itself just by recruiting wave after wave of young, often single, myopic little twits.

by Jasper2 on Mar 5, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

Jasper2, well I don't think it's right to discriminate against those who are nearsighted. In fact it's illegal.

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

" In practice, only the smallest units (microunits and studios) are drawing off individuals."

Are all 1BR units inhabited by couples? Wouldn't that draw off couples who would otherwise live in 2BR or larger units? It seems to me that the most common unit size in the new buildings is 1BR's.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 5, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

@BTA

Do most families really need three/four bedrooms though? I shared a bedroom with my brother until I was like 12. I think the real problem is that we have a lot of SFH occupied by one or two people.

I mean, in many jurisdictions (including DC) it is actually considered child abuse to have siblings of opposite sexes sharing a bedroom once they hit puberty. I think that's a little nuts (my mother grew up in a Soviet communal apartment where personal space was effectively nil, so my take on such things is different from most Americans), but it is going to be a concern for couples looking to have 2 kids.

Inside the Beltway, I'm guessing that the situations where SFHs are occupied by 1-2 people involve either very wealthy people or the elderly (or both).

Individuals who would likely then pair/group up for a shared space otherwise.

But like you say, what's the legislative fix? I'd certainly wouldn't want to be dictating house sizes through my local government. At that point, the government should just start building housing on its own.

Sure, you might be removing those folks from the multi-BR market, but it's not a big part of the segment, I don't think. Roommates and cohabitation have effectively become the norm.

I'm less sure on the legislative fixes. Flex/modular arrangements of various kinds would be good. Other incentives to set aside family housing could also be good, although it seems like there's a strong preference among some/many GGWers to take a very laissez-faire approach to letting the market and developers determine what they build.

@David C

I think what we need is less government interventions that protect and encourage SFHs and more government interventions that protect and encourage dense(r) family housing. If we're getting into the government intervention game, let's put it toward good purposes.

Also, yes of course from a purely tax base & utilitarian perspective it's better to have a city full of nothing but yuppie DINKs and gays. But that is, um, not sustainable, and it carries major social equity issues. Cities are built to serve people, not the other way around.

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

@AWITC

Are all 1BR units inhabited by couples? Wouldn't that draw off couples who would otherwise live in 2BR or larger units? It seems to me that the most common unit size in the new buildings is 1BR's.

In my experience, 1BRs are mostly inhabited by either couples or non-couples who subdivide the 1BR into two sleeping quarters.

Most of those couples wouldn't be able to afford a 2BR in a tolerable area; if they weren't sharing the 1BR, they would most likely be living with roommates (together or separately) in a group house or larger apartment.

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

"if they weren't sharing the 1BR, they would most likely be living with roommates (together or separately) in a group house or larger apartment."

couples sharing with roommates. Hardly seems like a good way to live (apologies to your Soviet roots.) And some people think that the current levels of rents/prices is acceptable, and people complaining about it are whiners.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 5, 2014 11:39 am • linkreport

"Bowser is clearly a run-of-the-mill political panderer with zero vision of where this city should go in the future. She also seems to have an amazingly tenuous grasp regarding any substantive policy. If the race looks wide open in its closing days I'd go for Wells, but if Bowser looks like she is surging I'd have to vote Gray just to try and stop her." What Will said. Wow is Bowser awful. I can't understand how someone that incompetent (and wrong-headed) can make it as far as she has in politics. Pretty sad statement about the electorate, actually. In any case, thank you for this article series; very informative.

by Arnold on Mar 5, 2014 12:07 pm • linkreport

Legally child abuse or socially? If that's an issue then make the 3 BR units available but maybe mandate small bedroom sizes. I've lived in 8x8 rooms or so (hell in college that is only slightly smaller than a dorm room I shared with two people for a year).

by BTA on Mar 5, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

My feeling is that many of the rowhomes in the CoHe and U St. area are actually occupied by several people at once...many of them college (undergrad and grads) who rent the entire building (under 1-2 people on the lease) and then they sub-let at least 6-12 other spots inside the home.

This was the case for the neighbors to my left and across from me in CoHe. The ones that get converted to condos is a different story, but many have not been converted, and are being used in essence, like "group homes."

by LuvDusty on Mar 5, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

"can we slow down the density talk again, until at least the huge swaths of blight are filled in?"
"Sure. And, also, let's not plan for retirement until we're at least done working."

Not a fair comparison. Development turnaround isn't 40+ years.
Depending on how long you consider the property development cycle - if long, developers will plan development in the core knowing that the height restrictions will be lifted, and if short, then we can afford let these frontier areas grow. DC isn't just L’Enfant City, all of it needs to be great, not just areas currently hip. Forward thinking can't just be density, but how best to utilize underdeveloped areas of the city.

by markus on Mar 5, 2014 2:02 pm • linkreport

more government interventions that protect and encourage dense(r) family housing.

I just don't see any sign that this is a problem right now. And I'm not clear on why the market is failing if it is.

But that is, um, not sustainable, and it carries major social equity issues.

Why is it not sustainable? People will still have kids, just not as many of them will live in the city. And which social equity issues are you talking about? If DC's ratio of 1BR apartments to 2-4 BR homes were to suddenly double, what social equity issues would that carry?

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

if long, developers will plan development in the core knowing that the height restrictions will be lifted,

Why would they do that? Do they know something I don't? Are they unaware that almost the entire council opposes this? Or that the majority of residents oppose it? Or that Congress would need to make it possible - and that they are somewhat unpredictable? Why would anyone think that there is more than a 50% chance that the height limit will be raised in the next 100 years?

Forward thinking can't just be density, but how best to utilize underdeveloped areas of the city.

OK, whatever, but that doesn't means we stop thinking about density. And if developing the frontier is so much more important than density, then why not lower the height limit?

Limiting all development to 40 feet would really push greatness into the areas that are not currently hip. And 30 feet would be even better. In fact, we should just ban all new construction over one floor. At least until everything frontier is developed. And THEN we can go for density by raising the height limit one floor at a time - but only when all buildings are built up to the current limit.

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

David C

I would say your 50% prediction is laughable.

If current trends continue unabated.. The Democrats take over the house in 2020 or so, and the democrats then control President, Senate, and House. This is due to demographics, and ignores silly things like ACA and such.

Within DC, the young white population is growing very quickly, and will within a decade be a majority. The young white population currently moving EOTP is much more in favor of increasing the height limit as EOTR and WOTP currently is.

By 2024, DC has a white mayor certainly, and anti-development CMs are gone. Bowser, Cheh etc. W1/W4/W5 keeps shrinking geographically, and W3/W7/W8 continue having to pick up a TON of progressive residents during the next census.

In addition, the city gets to 800,000 people, and is much more gentrified than even today.

A city of 800,000 wealthy Americans that is in favor of increasing the height limit... Do you think a Democratic controlled congress and presidency is going to fight that?

by Kyle-w on Mar 5, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

@David C

I would say we are 50% to increase the height limit in the next 10 YEARS, not 50 years.

Statehood, that is a whole different ball game. However, given the above scenario, if it happens, I think we get Statehood too...

by Kyle-w on Mar 5, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

kyle-w, that's a lot of predictions about the future much of which is undermined by the line "if current trends continue unabated." Trends rarely continue unabated. If the trends of the 60's and 70's had continued unabated, DC would be heading towards zero population.

Predicting Congress and White House both in Democratic control in 2020 is bold, to say the least. Dems are on the verge of losing the Senate - that's "the current trend".

I'm less than 100% sure that demographic changes in DC will continue. I'm much less than 100% sure that those changes will result in a change of opinion on the height limit (Remember Wells, Cheh and Evans all support the current limit, and those Wards are what you are predicting DC will look like in 2020).

I have no idea what a white Mayor has to do with this. Gray supports raising the Height limit. Wells and Evans do not.

800,000 people by 2020? Also a bold prediction. Not even possible at "current trends".

Do you think a Democratic controlled congress and presidency is going to fight that?

I would not be surprised if they did. They opposed statehood the last time they took a vote. They did almost nothing to improve home rule the last time they controlled the show. When was the last time that Democrats in congress came through for DC? If you are depending on them to give DC home rule, you're only slightly better off than someone depending on Republicans (Issa at least seems amenable).

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

@BTA

Legally child abuse or socially?

Well, let me rephrase: foster/adoption rules frequently dictate segregation by sex, as do the rules of public housing and some other buildings/complexes. It's not encoded in law beyond that, AFAIK.

@David C

"more government interventions that protect and encourage dense(r) family housing."

I just don't see any sign that this is a problem right now. And I'm not clear on why the market is failing if it is.

I think the not-infrequent public complaints of gentrification and family flight from cities like DC and SF would be signs.

As to why the market is failing, I think at its core it boils down to the fact that housing is simultaneously a basic human necessity, a consumer good, and is being used by many as a source of income and as an investment vehicle (both long and short term). All in an environment of complex but very mixed regulation, where each regulation tends to only focus on one or two of those aspects. The market is gonna have a really hard time coming up with anything like 'socially optimal outcomes' in that kind of a dynamic.

"But that is, um, not sustainable, and it carries major social equity issues."

Why is it not sustainable? People will still have kids, just not as many of them will live in the city. And which social equity issues are you talking about? If DC's ratio of 1BR apartments to 2-4 BR homes were to suddenly double, what social equity issues would that carry?

I mean, if you think it's sustainable to effectively segregate society on the basis of whether you have children or not, that's your prerogative. Insofar as birth rates are highest among those of lower SES though (the two correlate quite closely for the most part), there definitely are social equity issues to dislocating all families out into suburbia, with the various costs that that entails.

I think the question of what would happen if the ratio of 1BR apartments to 2-4BR residences suddenly doubled is an interesting thought experiment. How do you think that might affect a city? I think we have some insight into a possible answer from the infusion of people who might be inhabiting those 1BRs over the past decade or so (and ).

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 4:49 pm • linkreport

I think to say that our country is demographically changing is very fair. To argue against that honestly just isn't possible. We are getting more hispanic. Its happening. I don't see anything happening (short of rounding up hispanic people and deporting them) that will change this trend.

The 2020 census is going to wack the republicans in the face. Without them fixing immigration, the redistricting will crush them. Democrats already took back a ton of local house and senate seats, and if demographic changes from P1 continue happening (they will) then they will continue to get more.

If you are to argue that demographic changes will not continue in DC, that is fair. I disagree, but it could happen. I agree that current CMs in those wards support the Height Act, but CMs are temporary. W1 has changes enough that the Grahamster has a great chance of losing this coming primary. By 2024, we will have a whole slate of new CMs, all that matters when projecting out that far is who the electorate will be, and I say vastly different than even today's electorate.

Agree, white mayor is irrelevant. Just inserted as a piece of how the city will likely change, but both black and white mayors/CMs will have the opportunity to vote for/against.

All reasonable projections though. So we get to 750,000, or even 725,000 a decade from now. The difference is the make-up. 725,000 DC residents in 2022 looks a LOT different than 600,000 DC residents in 2009. Both in make-up, and in wealth, and as we all know, money talks.

by Kyle-w on Mar 5, 2014 4:55 pm • linkreport

I think the not-infrequent public complaints of gentrification and family flight from cities like DC and SF would be signs.

Complaining is not a sign of failure. It is a sign of losers. Almost all decisions have losers. But also winners. Other than some people who are complaining, what is the downside?

I mean, if you think it's sustainable to effectively segregate society on the basis of whether you have children or not, that's your prerogative.

I do. But you think otherwise. Why is that?

there definitely are social equity issues to dislocating all families out into suburbia, with the various costs that that entails.

Restatinig this doesn't make it any more true. What costs? How much? For the record, no one is arguing that we should dislocate anyone. I'm just asking why we should make it a goal to accommodate one type of household over another? And if we are going to, why would it be expensive households?

I think we have some insight into a possible answer from the infusion of people who might be inhabiting those 1BRs over the past decade or so (and ).

And what is that insight?

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 5:03 pm • linkreport

" Complaining is not a sign of failure. "

I would say that a sustained mismatch between price and economic cost (full cost, including a return on capital) is a sign of market failure. AFAIK that exists in spades in the WUPs in the DC metro area, and esp in DC itself, these days.

I am not sure all the reasons for that, but I strongly beleive that a large part of the reason are misguided regulations that discourage the supply of housing. There may be other barriers in the development process that are not of govt origin - whether those would lead to a pro density policy being Ben-cost positive, Im not sure.

In the context of density restrictive regulations that are almost certainly Ben-cost negative, any negative externalities from gentrification add to that negative Ben-cost. Its possible that gentrifications externalities are not net negative (perhaps the folks leaving will get external benefits from living in the suburbs, such as better education - one could posit that new residents will get social capital from their new communities, though the time factor in building social capital leads me to be dubious of that, both because they are new, and because, following the pattern you outline, they typically move to the suburbs when they have children).

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 5, 2014 5:24 pm • linkreport

"What costs? How much? For the record, no one is arguing that we should dislocate anyone. I'm just asking why we should make it a goal to accommodate one type of household over another? "

Im not sure how you get that from this

"I think what we need is less government interventions that protect and encourage SFHs and more government interventions that protect and encourage dense(r) family housing. If we're getting into the government intervention game, let's put it toward good purposes."

I read dizzy not as suggesting we favor one demographic group over another (either income, or family status) but that we favor denser forms of development, so that we can increase the total number of units available.

While in theory one could have a market failure in ALLOCATING the housing stock, due to the market not recognizing various social capital externalities, equity issues, I agree that its VERY difficult to quantify those, and problematic to use policy to address them (though that said, it is the policy of DC to do so via various affordable housing programs, and the political debate seems to be about how much to expand such programs suggesting that the public choice is to address an alleged market failure) Its far easier, I believe, to identify a market failure in the quantity of units supplied, though even that is of course controversial.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 5, 2014 5:43 pm • linkreport

@David C

"I think the not-infrequent public complaints of gentrification and family flight from cities like DC and SF would be signs."

Complaining is not a sign of failure. It is a sign of losers. Almost all decisions have losers. But also winners. Other than some people who are complaining, what is the downside?

By definition, a socially optimal outcome would minimize losers and maximize winners. I don't believe that to be the case now, nor do I believe your preferred scenario moves in that direction.

Now, there are all sorts of other political and social downsides I could describe, but if you're attitude is "some people will be losers," then it seems pointless to discuss them, since the same reply can be used to wave away any downside.

"I mean, if you think it's sustainable to effectively segregate society on the basis of whether you have children or not, that's your prerogative."

I do. But you think otherwise. Why is that?

I mean, there's a pretty significant literature out there on why segregation is unsustainable in a prosperous and democratic society. Here's a good example.

"there definitely are social equity issues to dislocating all families out into suburbia, with the various costs that that entails."

Restatinig this doesn't make it any more true. What costs? How much? For the record, no one is arguing that we should dislocate anyone. I'm just asking why we should make it a goal to accommodate one type of household over another? And if we are going to, why would it be expensive households?

I'll leave it to Brookings or The Urban Institute to quantify it, but briefly encapsulated: the civic benefits and urban efficiencies of living in cities are particularly helpful to those of lower SES and wealth. In most general terms, this is because cities have more public goods, so those less able to afford private goods rely on public goods more.

"The expensive households" you cite are more expensive because they have children, which are necessary for the continued existence of cities and all other human endeavors. Therefore there is an inherent social interest to supporting their creation, development, and growth.

No, people won't stop having kids, but are you really arguing that we should be investing less in future generations in favor of affluent young childless people? Darn kids not pulling their weight!

"I think we have some insight into a possible answer from the infusion of people who might be inhabiting those 1BRs over the past decade or so."

And what is that insight?

Broadly: allocation of political effort and resources toward things that are of interest to that demographic over those that are not. Your posts are a nice case in point, actually.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/gentrification-in-dc-how-will-we-remember-those-displaced/2012/10/08/a9eb5ebe-1158-11e2-a16b-2c110031514a_blog.html

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 5:59 pm • linkreport

I would say that a sustained mismatch between price and economic cost (full cost, including a return on capital) is a sign of market failure. AFAIK that exists in spades in the WUPs in the DC metro area, and esp in DC itself, these days.

I agree with the first statement, that would be a sign of market failure. But since I have no idea what a WUP is, I'm not sure there is any evidence that there is such a mismatch when it comes to the market for different size housing. Not one that would make mandating 2BR units necessary or even one that justifies hand-ringing about the lack of 2-3BR units.

Im not sure how you get that from this

Why would you? I wasn't responding to the quote you cited. But he does talk about "government interventions that protect and encourage dense(r) family housing." Why is "family" housing the issue?

I read dizzy not as suggesting we favor one demographic group over another (either income, or family status) but that we favor denser forms of development

Fine, but I was originally responding to BTA who said "I'm definitely in favor of mandating more two bedrooms" and Dizzy does say that "you can't have a building full of" microunits. Since obviously one can, I read that as mores that one should not be allowed to. Which is favoring one group over another. And Jasper2 also calls for requiring a certain amount of 2-3BRs, so that was what I was responding to above.

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 8:58 pm • linkreport

Now, there are all sorts of other political and social downsides I could describe, but if you're attitude is "some people will be losers," then it seems pointless to discuss them, since the same reply can be used to wave away any downside.

I waived away your use of public complaints as justification for a market failure because public complaints are not data. That's basically an anecdote. You didn't even cite an example or polling data. If you would like to describe actual facts and data that show and possibly quantify the political and social downsides of a city light on families, I will not wave those away.

I mean, there's a pretty significant literature out there on why segregation is unsustainable in a prosperous and democratic society.

I don't have time to read the book you cited. Does it address self-segregation of people by age and family status? From the synopsis it doesn't seem to. Is there any evidence that allowing for development of housing that attracts and serves a disproportionate number of single people is unsustainable? And is that evidence some place where I can read about it without buying a book?

briefly encapsulated: the civic benefits and urban efficiencies of living in cities are particularly helpful to those of lower SES and wealth. In most general terms, this is because cities have more public goods, so those less able to afford private goods rely on public goods more.

I'm not talking about people based on their SES. Why are you? I'm talking about people with kids and people without kids. From what I see on Capitol Hill people with kids can be very well off.

The expensive households" you cite are more expensive because they have children, which are necessary for the continued existence of cities and all other human endeavors. Therefore there is an inherent social interest to supporting their creation, development, and growth.

There is. There is also an inherent social interest in creating manure storage ponds, but that doesn't mean we have to do that in the city.

No, people won't stop having kids, but are you really arguing that we should be investing less in future generations in favor of affluent young childless people?

I'm arguing no such thing. Let me see if I can explain what I am arguing since people seem to be confused.

DC is unique in the US in that it is a small, entirely urban "state". If people live in the suburbs, they are not just outside the city, they are outside of the state. so when DC competes for businesses and residents with surrounding jurisdictions, there is more at stake than when Norfolk competes with Virginia Beach, (because in the Norfolk example some of the winnings will go to the state and Virginia Beach will still benefit from that).

So, in the DC region of many millions of people, DC only has 600,000 people. Which people do we want? From a market and competition standpoint we want to compete for the people with the most money and the fewest needs. That's young, urban single people. Other people are not going to be sent away. They are going to be dragged into the street and clubbed to death. And they aren't going to be left without education. They will just have to buy housing at the market price - like everyone else. We won't mandate that homes be built to accommodate them and let developers build what the market will bear. Now, for reasons Dizzy stated above, they'll build more 1BR units. I fail to see how that is a problem. If you think we should instead compete for those with lots of children - people who cost more than they bring in - then I ask how will DC pay for that, when we don't have suburbs and a state to rely on?

In fact, allowing for such a demographic change to happen - one that is sustainable for as long as America keeps making young people - will give DC resources to build a world class school system. Which is far from investing less in future generations. It does mean that Maryland and Virginia will have to educate marginally more students. Boo hoo.

And to be clear, I'm not arguing that we should go the other way and actively intervene to bring in young, urban single people. I'm just arguing that we should not step in to keep them out. And requiring a certain number of 2 and 3 BR units does that. Just as mandating parking drives out car free people.

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 9:28 pm • linkreport

So, in the DC region of many millions of people, DC only has 600,000 people. Which people do we want? From a market and competition standpoint we want to compete for the people with the most money and the fewest needs. That's young, urban single people. Other people are not going to be sent away. They are going to be dragged into the street and clubbed to death. And they aren't going to be left without education. They will just have to buy housing at the market price - like everyone else. We won't mandate that homes be built to accommodate them and let developers build what the market will bear.

This is as succinct and honest of an argument in support of hyper-gentrification as I've ever read. Thank you - I understand your argument completely now.

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 9:37 pm • linkreport

I think to say that our country is demographically changing is very fair.

Agreed

I don't see anything happening (short of rounding up hispanic people and deporting them) that will change this trend.

Things often happen that no one sees coming.

The 2020 census is going to wack the republicans in the face. Without them fixing immigration, the redistricting will crush them.

We'll see, but even if so, the 2020 census won't show up in elections until 2022, and since they control more state legislatures redistricting is unlikely to crush them. Also, there is no guarantee that they won't fix immigration or find a way to appeal to hispanics that works better in the future.

Democrats already took back a ton of local house and senate seats, and if demographic changes from P1 continue happening (they will) then they will continue to get more.

Well, Democrats look likely to lose this election, despite demographic changes. And there is no guarantee they will win in 2016. People called the Republicans dead in 2008. GHW Bush was a juggernaut in 1990. Clinton was done in 1994. Democrats were going to get killed after the Lewinsky affair. Hilary was a sure thing in 2007. Etc... So, picking the results of elections 1 or 2 years out is very difficult, 6 years out and you might as well be picking the winner Masters tournament in 2020.

all that matters when projecting out that far is who the electorate will be, and I say vastly different than even today's electorate.

Possibly, but that doesn't mean they won't like the Height Limit. Lotsa white people like the Height Limit. So do hispanics. I'm not sure support for it has been trending in one direction or another.

For your scenario, you need the following things.

1. Democratic President
2. Democratically controlled House and Senate
3. Majority of DC council supports removing or raising the Height Limit
4. DC Mayor supports removing or raising the Height limit
5. House and Senate vote to allow DC to remove or raise the Height Limit
6. DC council votes to remove or raise the Height Limit

The odds of all 6 things being true in 2020 is far lower than 50%. Heck, #1 is probably a 50-50 proposition on its own. If someone wanted to bet that all 6 of those things would be true in 2020 and would give me even odds if I bet that at least 1 would not, I would ask them if I can cover a $25,000 bet.

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 10:12 pm • linkreport

This is as succinct and honest of an argument in support of hyper-gentrification as I've ever read.

Oooh...hyper-gentrification. That sounds bad. If name calling = victory, then you are totally winning.

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 10:17 pm • linkreport

I don't believe I called you any names, David. I merely characterized your stated logic and principles - that because DC is a city-state, it needs to maximize the number of people with high incomes and low demand for government services - as being a concise and honest argument in favor of hyper-gentrification. That is, I think, a perfectly fair description of the process that would be required to transform DC's demographics from what they are today to your desired end state of filling the city with "people with the most money and the fewest needs."

by Dizzy on Mar 5, 2014 10:39 pm • linkreport

So you don't see (or use) the term "hyper-gentrification" as a pejorative?

by David C on Mar 5, 2014 11:26 pm • linkreport

A different argument is one I make from time to time. DC isn't under-inventoried in housing appropriate for families, it has more than one hundred thousand rowhouses and single family houses, not that I think that families can't be accommodated in units in multiunit buildings, as many are.

cf. http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2006/06/high-density-living-in-vancouver.html

Another way to think about the general issue is in terms of comprehensively planning to meet the demand from various demographic segments, which we don't really do. Then the gaps in availability would be more apparent and it would be easier to address them.

Although I would concede that housing appropriate for families is comparatively expensive to buy or rent, so that it doesn't accommodate lower income households, except in subsidized situations.

Now for the most part, land appropriate for single family housing has been mostly developed, with exceptions here and there as property is converted from other uses (e.g., the old Methodist Home on New Hampshire Ave. NE by Comstock Homes, or infill housing projects here and there such as by EYA in Brookland, Toll Bros.? near Ft. Totten, etc.). But because of the high cost of land, new SFH is mostly being constructed without lots, and in the case of rowhouses, lots much smaller than those typifying extant neighborhoods.

What the market has been significantly under-supplied in has been housing for non-families (singles). It has only been recently that the primary form of housing production in the city has been apartments, targeting that demographic. It is fostered by the type of land that is available for such development, which tends to be located in mixed use commercial districts and at Metrorail stations.

E.g., in my neighborhood, critics of building multiunit buildings proximate to the Metro have lamented "why isn't there new single family housing being constructed" when probably 90% or more of the total housing in the greater neighborhood is in fact single family detached and attached housing.

Anyway, from an economic standpoint, David C. is right. DC's ability to grow is constrained significantly, so it does need to focus its economic planning accordingly, in order to ensure financial viability, while managing to the best extent possible, equity considerations.

But yes, the costs for servicing families is very expensive, as the cost per child for K-12 ed. is about $15,000/year in public schools, either traditional or charter, and a typical household with two employed adults paying income, sales, and property taxes is paying less than the cost of servicing the household.

by Richard L. Layman on Mar 6, 2014 7:12 am • linkreport

WUP = walkable urban place (Christopher Leinberger's term)

DC has more of these than most of the other jurisdictions in the region. There is high demand to live in such places, which drives up pricing beyond strictly in-district considerations.

It's hard for DC acting on its own to have fully equitable policies etc. because the market within DC is also shaped by out-of-DC economic forces that operate at the scale of the metropolitan area.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2014/01/applying-super-gentrification-thesis-to.html

by Richard L. Layman on Mar 6, 2014 7:19 am • linkreport

@David C

So you think Hillary in 2020 is only a 50/50 shot? Is she only a 50/50 shot this fall?

Things often happen that no one sees coming.

WHAT?!? So somehow, the fact that the Hispanic population skews much younger than the white population, and they are immigrating to America, somehow they aren't going to represent a larger share of the electorate?!

We'll see, but even if so, the 2020 census won't show up in elections until 2022, and since they control more state legislatures redistricting is unlikely to crush them.

They lost a ton of seats in 2012. I believe the number was roughly 700. They had the seats when redistricting happened, but don't have nearly as many now.

Also, there is no guarantee that they won't fix immigration or find a way to appeal to hispanics that works better in the future.

And pigs could take off and fly sometime soon as well. They are not touching immigration, nor will they, at least until after they get crushed in 2016. If you notice, Republican legislators are consistently moving further and further right. The word Amnesty means you lose your GOP Primary. Full Stop.

Well, Democrats look likely to lose this election, despite demographic changes. And there is no guarantee they will win in 2016. People called the Republicans dead in 2008. GHW Bush was a juggernaut in 1990. Clinton was done in 1994. Democrats were going to get killed after the Lewinsky affair. Hilary was a sure thing in 2007. Etc... So, picking the results of elections 1 or 2 years out is very difficult, 6 years out and you might as well be picking the winner Masters tournament in 2020.

Democrats are going to lose a few senate seats, due to the fact that the guys running for reelection were brought in during the 2008 Dem wave. 2016 is Repubs brought in during the Repub wave of 2010, coupled with Hillary on the ballot. I still do not believe they lose the majority.

1. Democratic President
2. Democratically controlled House and Senate
3. Majority of DC council supports removing or raising the Height Limit
4. DC Mayor supports removing or raising the Height limit
5. House and Senate vote to allow DC to remove or raise the Height Limit
6. DC council votes to remove or raise the Height Limit

You are looking at these independently. They are not independent. If Hillary gets elected in 2016, she is a shoo-in for reelection in 2020. With her on the ballot for 2020, turn-out is big, and Dems win more house and senate seats than they would have.

Possibly, but that doesn't mean they won't like the Height Limit. Lotsa white people like the Height Limit. So do hispanics. I'm not sure support for it has been trending in one direction or another.

Talk to the young people moving into the city. Support among new residents for raising the height limit is much higher than among existing. New young residents who favor raising the height limit will continue becoming a larger and larger share of the electorate.

Also, those 6 scenarios just have to line up once, for a month, or even a week, and it is done.

by Kyle-w on Mar 6, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

" New young residents who favor raising the height limit will continue becoming a larger and larger share of the electorate."

Over time those new residents will buy condos, and gain a financial interest in rising condo prices.

I think its possible you overestimate the impact of culture on these issues, and underestimate the impact of financial self interest. I understand that there are some people whose positions on density, etc are hard to reconcile with their financial self interest (in particular african american renters who take NIMBYIST positions) But I doubt very much that all those Ward 3 NIMBYs are motivated by cultural resentment of people who look like their own adult children (or in some cases grandchildren.) I think it much more likely they are motivated by the desire to see further appreciation in the value of their own properties, and are willing to use limitations on supply to achieve that. I am skeptical that all of the new young people will be above that kind of reasoning.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 6, 2014 11:08 am • linkreport

So you think Hillary in 2020 is only a 50/50 shot? Is she only a 50/50 shot this fall?

I think Democrats are 50-50 for 2020. Hilary is less than that. I don't know what you mean about this fall. But she is no shoe-in for 2016.

So somehow, the fact that the Hispanic population skews much younger than the white population, and they are immigrating to America

That they are immigrating to America now is a fact. That they will continue to do so is not. There are many scenarios that could cause future immigration patterns to differ from current ones. War. Recession. A rise in xenophobia.

They had the seats when redistricting happened, but don't have nearly as many now.

They still have more than Democrats.

They are not touching immigration, nor will they, at least until after they get crushed in 2016.

Parties are amazingly resiliant. Losing makes them change and they abandon ideas that make them lose. Democrats used to be the party of segregation and MLK was a Republican, but Democrats changed. No Republican candidate for president in 2016 will say anything as dumb as "self deportation".

The word Amnesty means you lose your GOP Primary. Full Stop.

Marco Rubio probably won't lose his.

2016 is Repubs brought in during the Repub wave of 2010, coupled with Hillary on the ballot. I still do not believe they lose the majority.

We'll see. Lots of things could happen. No one saw the House check bouncing scandal that cost Democrats so badly in 1994 coming. No one saw the Mark Foley scandal coming in 2006. What if Bill Clinton is caught cheating again? What if Hillary gets sick? What if...(lots of things)? Heck, she may not even run.

Given a choice between Clinton in 2016 and all other candidates, I'd put my money on the field.

Support among new residents for raising the height limit is much higher than among existing.

Young, new residents don't tend to vote. And they may not vote on that issue. And they eventually become existing residents.

by David C on Mar 6, 2014 12:19 pm • linkreport

I think Shallal on to the problem of the very small units. We very much need buildings with 3 rooms. McLean Gardens in NW is good example of how slightly larger apartment spaces can attract and keep young families in DC. Without these options DC will never reach 800,000. My row house had 10 kids raised in it, today we have 5 people and can't imagine any more. Families are the key to growth and that means you have to have more than efficiencies.

by DC Parent on Mar 9, 2014 12:24 pm • linkreport

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