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DC poised to relax affordable housing in Waterfront deal

The DC Council is rushing to a final vote on Tuesday to roll back affordable housing at the Southwest Waterfront. The vote would relax existing requirements in the land deal that make 30% of new housing affordable for residents at low incomes.

Image from the developer.

The Southwest Waterfront project will replace acres of parking lots and low wharf buildings with a lively, walkable district. But creating a great neighborhood means doing more than building high-end condos and attracting top-tier retailers. The neighborhood also needs to include a range of residents with different income levels.

The Anacostia Waterfront Development law requires that the redeveloped public lands provide 30% affordable housing for families at very low incomes, protect water quality to a high standard, and include strong local hiring and workforce development.

But at the request of the developer, the Council's bill would cap the amount of affordable housing built in the project. The developer wants to switch some commercial development for residential and not have to meet the affordability standards for the added housing units.

Without an independent financial analysis of the developer's reasons for asking for the rollback, the public has no way of knowing if this is necessary or a good deal. And if the Council passes this, it sets a precedent that any community benefit required by law can be renegotiated at any stage of the agreement.

The Southwest Waterfront is one of the earliest projects to advance as part of the city's Anacostia Waterfront Development plan. Cutting back the affordability requirement is a bad precedent. The city often touts its 30% affordable housing set aside as it shows its plans to redevelop public land with private partners.

The deal for the Southwest Waterfront has been in the works for several years, but this move to cap the affordable housing on site was sudden. The Council advertised its November 19th hearing on the bill only a few days before. The bill has already sailed through its first procedural vote and is heading to its second and final one tomorrow.

Backtracking on this commitment—with little public notice or debate—casts into question how the city conducts a competitive process to give land to the private sector. The Southwest Waterfront lands were awarded after more than a dozen development teams proposed to meet the city's standards for community benefits and offer exciting mixed-use market rate projects that conformed with redevelopment plans.

The developer has offered verbally to include some portion of the new housing above the capped amount as affordable to households earning 100% of area median income, or over $100,000 for a family of four. Since DC's median family income is a little over half of area median income, this hardly seems like a good deal. It doesn't fulfill DC's commitment to use its land resources to address the tremendous housing challenge that many of DC's working families face.

Rather than simply accepting this offer, the District needs to sponsor an independent evaluation that includes input from affordable housing experts and the broader public. And it should set a precedent against opening up commitments to community benefits at the last minute and with little notice.

If provisions of the law need to be revisited, we should have a fair public debate informed by independent analysis to assess if the deal is still a good one for the public.

Click here to send the D.C. Council a message saying we shouldn't rush to rollback important commitments made on affordable housing.

Cheryl Cort is Policy Director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Cheryl Cort is Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth. She works with community activists, non-profit groups and government agencies to promote transit-oriented development, housing choices, economic development and pedestrian safety, especially in less affluent communities. 


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Setting aside 30% of the housing as "affordable" will only make the remaining 70% more expansive, which means that people who make an average income will wind up priced out of the area. In the meantime, lower income residents who may qualify for the pricing break probably still won't be able to afford the units due to unstable sources of income as well as the increased cost of living in the area. Welcome to supply and demand.

by Matt on Dec 20, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

How about people with federal salaries? Create some housing that we can afford!

If you want to create a livable city, make it livable and affordable for those of us who work here!

by Redline SOS on Dec 20, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

How is the "very low income" that the current law requires of 30% of the (original) housing defined? I'm guessing that the canonical poster children of affordable housing--firefighters, police, schoolteachers--make too much to be "very" low income, but I'm also guessing they don't make enough to afford market-rate units.

Did anyone vote against the bill in Council's first reading?

by thm on Dec 20, 2010 10:59 am • linkreport


Actually, that developer's proposal sounds *exactly* like what you'd want. Median area salaries are about in line with median fed salaries.

Personally, I'd rather see some sort of gradient leading up to the median. Reserving 30% of the space in what is going to be an otherwise very expensive development for the "very poor" is only going to exacerbate DC's inequity problems, and raising the cap just shafts the poor, who still do need a place to live.

A healthy society does not have rigidly delineated classes -- it has a continuous spectrum that allows for some degree of mobility. The developers and zoning commission would do well to account for that.

Also, @Matt: This is not a zero-sum game. Yes, it will drive up the prices of the other units, but it's not a direct subsidy from those units. Unless it's truly impossible to turn a profit on "affordable" units, it's even possible that the additional units will have no impact on the prices of the surrounding ones.

by andrew on Dec 20, 2010 11:04 am • linkreport

While I agree that the provisions for affordable housing opportunities are important, I am more concerned about the issue of transparency (or lackthereof) particularly where the burden of demonstration on the part of the developer is concerned.

This indeed is a bad precedent.

by Andrew on Dec 20, 2010 11:06 am • linkreport

Matt hit the nail on the head. Frankly, I think the 30% set aside for low income housing was overly ridiculous. Developers (at best) break even on affordable housing and at worst take a shellacking on them. Why? Because the cost of the market rate and low income housing is for all intents and purposes, the same. The only differnce between the two are that the inside finishes on a low income unit are a little cheaper, but the 10-15K difference in internal finishes don't make up for the 25-30% lower price differential on the entire unit. The costs of affordable rate units are borne on the backs of the market rate buyers and commercial tenants. End of story.

During the boom, when developers could increase their pricing on a monthly basis, no one really cared about the cost of low income units, but they are a serious deal breaker now. The District can't have its cake and eat it too in this regard. If the city wants someone to spend billions of dollars literally redeveloping a huge block of property in the nations worst recession, then there needs to be concessions on both sides.

And Redline SOS, I've seen you rail against housing prices a few times now as a fed. If you don't mind, what is your current situation (age/salary)?

Lastly, as I always contend, there is tons of "affordable" housing in the District specifically, and the region as a whole.

by freely on Dec 20, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

@Matt: Agreed. From DCHD,

Very low income households (Maximums from 1 to 4 persons)
$ 36,450 $ 41,400 $ 46,600 $ 51,750

I can't imagine how low the artificial price has to be for these incomes to afford to buy anything. No way the developer does anything other than take a bath on those, which means the other 70% jack up to cover the loss. Which means working professionals in the middle are effectively told "eat it...go rent". The "wallpaper" problem in market intervention, you simply push the bubble somewhere else.

Again, policies that screw the middle to help the poor, while the rich happily skate.

by John on Dec 20, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

The only way you are going to make housing more affordable for all is to increase the supply. Having a few units at below market rates just benefits a few connected individuals. The quicker towns can allow increased density (whether it be in a redevelopment district or by removing historic restrictions in Dupont), the more affordable housing will become in the region.

by Madison on Dec 20, 2010 11:32 am • linkreport

Why should my tax dollars go to provide housing to low income renters in a development that I could never afford to live in myself? There is something terrible wrong with a picture like 30% affordable housing in some of the best and highest priced areas of the city.

by G. on Dec 20, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

I agree with Matt that 30% affordable housing is excessive set aside.

As for the response from Andrew @ 11:04 that it should be "possible to turn a profit on 'affordable' units"... well, in a development that's hi-rise with underground parking, a concrete skeleton, and ground floor retail it's rather difficult. Those are expensive infrastructure costs. In other cities those costs can be spread out over more units because they build higher. In DC we have the height limit (and I DO think the height limit is worth preserving)

Now, a wood framed building, with no underground parking, like what EYA builds with it's townhomes it would be possible. That's a better vehicle for affordable housing.

by Jason on Dec 20, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

The Washington Area Median Income is $103,500 for a family of four.

Affordability is a middle class issue.

by crin on Dec 20, 2010 11:39 am • linkreport

@freely - Renter in Silver Spring. No money for a down payment. 65% of income goes to rent and loans. $90K left on student loans. 34. GS-12. Former Hill Staffer before law school...chronically underpaid for 5 years. I can afford around $1200 for rent/ start adding in condo fees and it all goes out the window.

by Redline SOS on Dec 20, 2010 11:40 am • linkreport

You gotta love it when democrats behave like republicans and give in to unproven and unquantified "market pressure".

by Jasper on Dec 20, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

Cheryl, thanks for posting. I struggle with the concept of affordable housing, everywhere I've lived that has it (L.A., Denver, D.C.), I've seen it manipulated badly by the people who are not supposed to be the beneficiaries. The other result seems to also be a donut hole in the market for people making a modest salary. So as a liberal, I still find this concept hard to swallow since the laws of economics seem to work in unwanted ways against a large segment of the public that you want to help, the moderate income employed.

The one aspect of this deal that is outrageous, however, is changing the requirement this late in the game. If we're going to allow a change, it should be done at the outset so all other bidders have an opportunity to evaluate the overall economics of the deal, then bid accordingly. This change in the deal seriously disadvantages the District.

It's akin to having an open bid on a property, then miraculously up-zoning it after the winning bid has been chosen. You just gifted the developer with thousands of dollars in value that could have been captured in the bidding process if the up-zoning was done before the bid.

by wil on Dec 20, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

I live in Silver Spring and qualified at the beginning of the year for affordable housing, but since getting a raise to just over the salary cap, I will be forced to move from my apartment due to not making enough to pay for the market rate rent in my building. I never thought I would hate getting a raise so much...

by Doug on Dec 20, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

@Redline - you should have gotten a roommate to lower your housing/utilities costs and started saving up a downpayment all this time. I'm not sure how you expect bellyaching that the government should subsidize housing for federal employees to improve your situation.

by Jason on Dec 20, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

Jason, I think you miss 2Redline's point.

by G, on Dec 20, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

@Jason...did you read I'm 34? Why at age 34 should I have to share my living space with anyone? You don't consider that a failure of zoning and housing policy? Is not the American dream homeownership? I had a roommate for the 5 years I lived in DC prior to law school. Why am I not entitled to my own living space at an affordable price?

by Redline SOS on Dec 20, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

@Jason: You seem to miss the point. This kind of market intervention creates, as wil notes, a donut hole for people like Redline.

In effect, we take people who have less income and say "here ya go, have a nice place on your own"! Hell, "Have nice place you can own!".

Then we go to people in the middle like Redline and say "Suck it up...get a roommate in a crappy rental...whiner". But the policies help create the donut hole they are trapped in.

by John on Dec 20, 2010 12:01 pm • linkreport


Ok, you didn't say what step you are so I'll assume Step 1 which is $75,000 per year, well above the District median income. Your problem isn't salary, its debt, which I hate to say, was a personal choice of your own making.

I've never understood why people choose to wrack up ~120K or more in lawschool debt by going to top schools, and yet then choose to work the lower paying non "big law" jobs... instead of choosing to go to someplace more affordable like the University of Maryland (non-resident total, 65K). It just doesn't make sense to me.

Lastly, if you think you've been chronically underpaid for 5 years, one would wonder why you don't look around for a better alternative.

You make a lot of money for your age. ocustif veruy

by freely on Dec 20, 2010 12:02 pm • linkreport

So, should people like Jason and me pay taxes to have that money used to subsidize people to live on the SW Waterfront in a place where neither of us could hope to afford to live, law school debt not withstanding?

by G. on Dec 20, 2010 12:06 pm • linkreport

To reinforce freely's point:

$75K gross, for someone living in Montgomery County, nets out to $51K (after $5,700 payroll taxes, $12,500 federal income tax, $5,500 state and local income tax).

65% of that on rent and loans comes out to $33,150. Subtract out the $14,400 paid in rent, means you are paying $18,750 a year to pay down your law-school debt (i.e., one-fifth of the outstanding balance).

That right there is your bummer - you took on this law-school debt with a short maturity and did not take the biglaw job that would allow you to pay it off easily.

And if you did not have to pay $18,750 a year (after-tax) in debt service, you could easily afford a mortgage or a much spiffier apartment in the area.

by rock_n_rent on Dec 20, 2010 12:16 pm • linkreport

Again, we have a problem with (intentional?) imprecision in terms. What does "affordable housing" mean? It either means the promotion of units for middle-class people (workforce housing). Or it means set-asides for the extremely poor (low-income housing).

At the risk of sounding like a Scrooge here, DC needs more affordable housing for the middle-class. We *don't* need more "affordable housing" as a Trojan-horse for low-income housing. The suburbs do; we don't.

by oboe on Dec 20, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

@John - no, I get it. But the answer to the donut isn't to subsidize Redline as well.

Subsidies are an unsustainable route. We need more market supply to meet the market demand not set aside supply for certain income groups.

... and I lived with roommates for 8 years.

by Jason on Dec 20, 2010 12:22 pm • linkreport

According to Southwest TLQTC, half of the 30% set aside for affordable units are for those those making 30% of Area Median Income, with the other half for those earning up to 60% of AMI (so about $30k and $60k respectively for a family of four, using crin's number).

by Steven Yates on Dec 20, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

@Jason: Same here actually, just bought 2 years ago. I agree completely. I'm just saying that it isn't fair to bash on Redline (or me 3 years ago) for noting and being pissed about the donut hole. I agree with you that the solution is to not create the donut hole in the first place and increase supply instead.

by John on Dec 20, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

"And if the Council passes this, it sets a precedent that any community benefit required by law can be renegotiated at any stage of the agreement."

Which is already true. May I direct your attention to the Renewable Energy Incentive Program.

"Why am I not entitled to my own living space at an affordable price?"

@Redline SOS ... Wow. entitled? Get over yourself. You don't like the housing market here, I'm sure they need lawyers in Pittsburgh, too.

by Andrew in DC on Dec 20, 2010 12:49 pm • linkreport

Lets be clear, first its the city who writes down the cost of the land to subsidize the affordability requirement. Higher income households are not subsidizing by paying higher prices. Supply and Demand dictates that supply can only charge what Demand is willing pay. The developers will charge the maximum they can get away with no matter what.

Second, if you earn 100% of Median (ie a single earning $70,000) are you willing to pay 30% of your income ($1,750 per month)in rent and/or willing to accept price controls for a studio apartment when you have options in the market such as paying less than 30% of your income and/or having no long term price controls? Because that is what the lower income households will have to do to qualify.

Finally, our economy needs to house lower income households so they have access to jobs. Because without them you can't get your latte, buy H&M clothing. So either support living wages or affordable housing. You decide.

by Arggh on Dec 20, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

I do not understand the subsidy argument. The suggested losses are virtual, i.e. compared to a non-existing situation. That makes no sense.

Zoning is a political decision. The city (i.e. the people) can decide that it wants to cater to all its citizens, it can zone in a way that forces developers to build for everyone: low, medium and high income. Saying that's messing with market forces is akin to complaining that anti-gauging laws are interfering with market forces.

In different words: Market forces do not rule us. We rules ourselves (through the city council). And the people get to decide how they want their city to develop, not these opaque, unaccountable market forces.

by Jasper on Dec 20, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

>> "Finally, our economy needs to house lower income households so they have access to jobs. Because without them you can't get your latte, buy H&M clothing. So either support living wages or affordable housing. You decide."

Who actually believes DC is anywhere near the tipping point of having too little unskilled labor?

by Jason on Dec 20, 2010 12:56 pm • linkreport

I can't sympathize with the bellyaching about being 34, and having to share a living space with someone. Cry me a river. I'm 41, and I've got a boarder, and always have since the 14 years that I've owned my house. I've never needed to take on a 2nd one, (I've got room) but I'm about to finish a master's degree, and the extra roomate would pay down that debt faster, so its tempting despite the fact that I'd have to share a bathroom for the 1st time since my late 20's. Yes roomates can suck, and fortunately I've been lucky with them, but they can also be the path to home ownership and housing affordability.

by spookiness on Dec 20, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport


I am getting a little off tangent with the following but I've never really understood the argument you make, or the one the author of this post made:

"The neighborhood also needs to include a range of residents with different income levels."

My question is "why"?

How many baristas, gas pumpers, janitors can afford to live in say...Manhattan, or downtown SF, Chicago or Boston?

The answer is none, and they haven't been able to for decades yet I haven't read about the gas stations and starbucks in any of those places shutting down for lack of employees.

Why would a fictional potential market rate buyer of these new future units prefer to live amidst folks who can't afford to and get 50% discounts to do so? What benefit does that person get?

I've never really understood this level of social engineering. It costs everyone involved and enormous fortune and results in almost inperceptable results.

This argument is even stronger in a place like the District with its existing enormous swaths of affordable housing.

by freely on Dec 20, 2010 1:05 pm • linkreport

To make housing more affordable, you need more housing. The 30 percent set aside doesn't really work as other have said because it simply increases the cost of the market-rate condos.

by Randall M. on Dec 20, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

There's no "loss" of affordable housing under this change of plan-- there will be the same amount of affordable housing as there would have been under the original plan. However, reducing the amount of retail worries me-- DC already has a lot of residential-only neighborhoods with no available retail amenities nearby, leading to a lack of foot traffic and a decrease in safety.

by JustMe on Dec 20, 2010 1:11 pm • linkreport

@freely: I couldn't agree more.

Not only is there no benefit to the market-rate buyer from having subsidized housing in the neighborhood, there is a major cost. In my neighborhood, the kids who live in the affordable-housing units are the main source of crime: they're the ones doing the muggings and the gay-bashings. I'm sick of paying higher rent to subsidize other folks and then having those folks' kids beating up my friends and neighbors. Get rid of affordable housing, and there'd be a lot less crime in my neighborhood.

by Rob on Dec 20, 2010 1:16 pm • linkreport

These comment discussion where people deride/mock/dimiss other people's life/school/job choices are always so productive...
Sellout Redline, sellout! Partnership and the condo of your choice awaits!

by Wahmbulance on Dec 20, 2010 1:22 pm • linkreport

@redline, maybe jdunderground would be a better place for you to gripe. I think I should be paid more to compensate for the cost of my law degree, but I also know that even with my loans, I'm doing far better than most.

by Also a lawyer on Dec 20, 2010 1:24 pm • linkreport

I don't know when the comments section here got to be as yuppified as PoP but it's not a good thing. Everyone whining about mixed income development: I don't care about your housing values, and poor people should not have to live in crime-ridden ghettos so that your property values can rise slightly faster.

by Nate on Dec 20, 2010 1:26 pm • linkreport

Perhaps I missed it, but this post lacks some basic details, and I doubt everyone saw the Examiner article with those numbers: without the proposed legislation, 168 of 560 units will be affordable (half up to 30% ami and the other half up to 60 % ami). If the legislation passes, 150 units will be designated affordable. My 2 cents: While I do see that the affordable-housing rule distorts the market, as a SW resident I'd hate to see the income mix that exists here be completely absent in our new waterfront developments.

by sw resident on Dec 20, 2010 1:29 pm • linkreport

An unconstrained market does a good job allocating housing supply to meet demand, but we don't have an unconstrained market. We have placed some restrictions on what can be built and where according to various community values. Because of these existing interventions, it's wise to compensate for their market inflation by artificially holding down some of the housing stock.

While some of the costs of meeting the 30% affordability mark are passed on to market-rate residents, others are not. Some are made up for in design and construction differences (smaller units, no granite counters) between units, and some can be absorbed in the profit margin.

That being said, I think the developer's idea of reserving some for 100% median is not a bad one. It helps fill in that donut hole that commenters are mentioning.

by Daniel on Dec 20, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

@ freely: How many baristas, gas pumpers, janitors can afford to live in say...Manhattan, or downtown SF, Chicago or Boston? The answer is none

If you check the income data in this great tool:

you'll see that Northern Manhatten has a median income range of $17k-$50k. Income in Chinatown has a lot of poverty as well. In San Fran, I see a couple of areas with a median of $18k. The SW side of the loop in Chicago has a track with a median of $16k. And in Boston there's a few low income areas near Brookline and Roxbury. You'll also see that their income has gone down in the last decade.

So, based on Census data, you are wrong.

by Jasper on Dec 20, 2010 1:43 pm • linkreport

@also a lawyer - jdunderground isn't discussing the failures of housing and zoning policies in the district. or the height act, which i contend reduces available units and raises rents on those remaining by creating an artificial level of demand.

then you add in subsidized housing for the poor and a donut is created. there is no available affordable housing for middle income federal employees. yes, i may make $51K net this year. last year my net as a gs-11 was $38K. $1780 in rent and loan payments (to the feds) is a joke (which is a complaint against both fed atty compensation, federal pay freeze and GOP threats to reduce our pay/workforce). You're squeezing federal employees into the outer suburbs if they are married with kids or into marginally safe areas. Or if they're single, into group homes, apartments which they can't afford, or into outright dangerous areas.

by Redline SOS on Dec 20, 2010 2:05 pm • linkreport

So if SW Resident's numbers are correct, the affordable housing component will go from 30% to 26.7%.

That's really not a grab-yer-guns sort of change in numbers.

Although, it is very telling that Ms. Court left out any of the actual numbers - nor did GGW think to add in that rather important information - in her piece.

Now, either that's just sloppy writing or that's an intentional omission intended to frame the debate in a far more positive light. Given Ms. Court's advocacy for the set-asides, I'm leaning towards the latter. Which would be rather intellectually dishonest. But hey - it's for the children!

by Fritz on Dec 20, 2010 2:18 pm • linkreport

Yeah, thanks to sw resident for attempting to clarify. The proposed law defines "affordable unit" by referring to the LDA. So, without knowing how the LDA defines it, we can't know. The existing Anacostia Waterfront Initiative law says that 15% of units are to be affordable for "moderate-income households" (defined as between 31-60% of AMI) and 15% for "low-income households" (defined as less than 30% of AMI). The current numbers:
30% of AMI (household size 4): $31,050
60% of AMI (household size 4): $62,100

Yes, there is a HUGE donut hole between the affordable units and market rate units. It boggles the mind. Columbia Heights built a bunch of these earlier this decade and the ADUs sold for roughly a third to a quarter of the market rate units. Recognizing this gap, the industry has come up with the notion of "workforce" units, available to folks making up to 120% of AMI. Requirements for workforce units were written into the LDA of at least one Columbia Heights condo building as long ago as 2004.
So to offer the compromise of 100% AMI units actually makes sense from a public policy point of view. Otherwise, someone making say $65,000 would not qualify for ADUs but could hardly afford to buy anything in virtually every neighborhood in the District.
The debate as to whether ADUs result in higher prices for the market rate units misses one important possibility - the District subsidized the developer by selling the land to them at a drastically reduced rate. Or property taxes will be reduced for some long period of time. If the costs for the project are lower, then the developer can afford to set aside some ADUs and still make a profit.
G's argument about taxes used to subsidize affordable housing that they can't use - I expect you're the same guy who says - "hey I don't use public transit, I shouldn't have to pay for it" or "hey, I don't have kids, why should I pay taxes for public schools." It's a societal good.

by Josh S on Dec 20, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

Tommy Wells replied to my e-mail: "I think there's been some confusion around this bill.

We are not losing any affordable housing from this project, and in fact, are gaining workforce housing. The original plan approved by DC had a total number of units with a percentage set aside for affordable housing -- that's not changing. It's 30% affordable housing, the largest amount of any project in DC.

The developer now wants to add more housing to the project, but with a smaller amount of new affordable housing percentage. That means that more housing will be created overall, with new additional affordable/workforce housing, but the additional units seeking to be created would not fall under the same percentage requirement.

I hope that helps clear up some of the confusion."

by Liz P on Dec 20, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

If 'Redline' has no money for a downpayment, s/he has no business buying a place. That's one of the reasons so many people have been screwed by the housing bust, because they bought with little or no downpayment, so they have no equity.

by Marian Berry on Dec 20, 2010 3:08 pm • linkreport

wah wah wah, I can't get the salary I want without taking a "sellout job," thus can't get the urban-chic condo I desire in the area I crave. There really should be a charity for that.

by ChrisW on Dec 20, 2010 3:19 pm • linkreport

@redline: It was a subtle hint for you to whine about your salary somewhere else. You make the same complaints each time you post, but those complaints may not fall onto deaf ears over there.

by Also a lawyer on Dec 20, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

@ Redline: $1780 in rent and loan payments (to the feds) is a joke

Ah, your real problem is that you have a hard time paying for your education. That is a legitimate issue, for all kinds of reasons. But it has little to do with affordable housing for the poor.

by Jasper on Dec 20, 2010 3:36 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Again, to be fair, it does when everyone here sneers at Redline, while happily taxing him to fund affordable housing programs.

Again, it is just a bit infuriating to watch people smugly support the donut hole, and tax money for HPAP, people who make less than you can live in better places than you do...partially at your expense. That's a bit of a pisser.

It's especially a bit of a pisser when it often comes from people who got their education covered by Mumsy and Dadsy. This town is chock full of "self made' members of the inheritor class. It really comes across as sneering at the downscale striver who got uppity and took out education loans, and is embarrassingly getting in the way off alleviating upper class guilt by taxing said striver to help the poor. How gauche.

Not saying that's what everyone here is (which obviously I can't know)...but it sure comes across that way.

by John on Dec 20, 2010 3:53 pm • linkreport

Redline makes regular, old-time posters like myself look bad...

by MPC on Dec 20, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

"workforce housing"-also, student loans aren't just for tuition, as someone up-thread suggested. They are for living expenses while you're a full-time student; housing, food, books, transportation, clothes, medical expenses. Living takes money when you're a full time student, just as when you're working full time or unemployed. Living expenses can really rack-up the loan amounts even if you go to a low tuition school.

by Tina on Dec 20, 2010 4:11 pm • linkreport

@ John: while happily taxing him to fund affordable housing programs.

I asked above about this taxation. I don't understand it. If a developer a required to built certain units, how is Redline taxed for that?

This town is chock full of "self made' members of the inheritor class.

Yes it is. But I don't belong to them. I am not made, nor have I inherited anything of value.

by Jasper on Dec 20, 2010 4:44 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Reduced cost of land from the city, tax abatements, etc... Then there are all of the discount financing and outright grants on top of that through the DCHD. Plus, the donut hole effect of affordable set asides driving up the market price (an implicit vs explicit cost created indirectly by policy vs direct taxation).

Like I said, I'm beyond that point now, happily "sold out" and not doing anything went to school for but pays well (I describe myself as a whore for money) but for most of the 2000's I lived the lovely world of being just a bit above the top line for all of this stuff, with every year keeping me about $5K above. And it is a piss off to listen to people demand more and more market skews widening the donut hole, and more and more tax funded programs which while too "rich" to qualify was well in the bracket to pay for.

So you get to watch people with a lot less than you buy into places and areas you are priced out of...partially with your money. And that's a piss off.

Like I said, I'm not saying increase subsidies to other folks. I just find the knee kerk sneering and insults to be just a bit out of line.

by John on Dec 20, 2010 4:56 pm • linkreport

@MPC - you make your self look bad by insulting people like me who have been commenting and attending HH's for over a year.

by Redline SOS on Dec 20, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

G's argument about taxes used to subsidize affordable housing that they can't use - I expect you're the same guy who says - "hey I don't use public transit, I shouldn't have to pay for it" or "hey, I don't have kids, why should I pay taxes for public schools." It's a societal good.

Well, okay then. If it's a "societal good" then let's have that conversation. How exactly does it serve the city to end up with a population comprised of nothing but the very rich, and the desperately poor? I understand how the societies in suburban MD and VA have been served over most of the last half-century by confining most of the regional poor to DC. Not sure I understand how it serves DC residents or strengthens the city though. Seems to me we should be distributing the burden of things like public housing and homeless services across the region, or at the very least sharing the financial cost of that burden.

To use your analogy, DC's social policies are a bit like DC providing a free, high-quality education to every school-kid in the metropolitan area at the cost of DC taxpayers. Every social good has a cost; those costs must be shared equitably.

by oboe on Dec 20, 2010 5:17 pm • linkreport

I actually don't have a problem with this. I thought 30% was a ridiculously high number. Apparently what is happening is that the developers would like to cap the number of applicable units at 500, where 30% of the first 500 units must be affordable, and any of the units over 500 can be market-rate.

by Eric on Dec 20, 2010 5:36 pm • linkreport

@Aargh Finally, our economy needs to house lower income households so they have access to jobs. Because without them you can't get your latte, buy H&M clothing. So either support living wages or affordable housing. You decide.

Actually, that's not true. The companies that own these shops will pay what they have to pay (in the way of salaries) to operate these shops. Yes, they may have to raise the price of what they sell ... or take less in profits, but they're not going to do without people to make the lattes or sell the clothes. When we give these folks subsidized housing. We subsidized the business owners.

by Lance on Dec 20, 2010 7:33 pm • linkreport

It's like the old argument that we need places for our teachers and firemen and police to live in the community. If the city just paid them enough, they could live wherever they wanted to live ... including near their jobs .. or not .. The choice would (and should) be theres ... and not some Councilmember's ..

by Lance on Dec 20, 2010 7:35 pm • linkreport

@ Freely

"How many baristas, gas pumpers, janitors can afford to live in say...Manhattan, or downtown SF, Chicago or Boston? The answer is none, and they haven't been able to for decades yet I haven't read about the gas stations and starbucks in any of those places shutting down for lack of employees."

One difference they especially in Chicago or CNY have is probably better transportation to downtown from all areas unlike the DC area; there are places inside the beltway where you wont be able to take transit into the dense areas outside of rush-hour.


Why not take the route that is used everywhere else on the globe the poor live outside of the city but that is made up for by having descent transit (mix of commuter train, subway, lightrail, tram and bus) in the city radiating in all directions so there is easy access for all the come.

by kk on Dec 20, 2010 7:56 pm • linkreport

@kk, if Tregoning gets her way and the new zoning code becomes a reality, that's exactly what we'll have here ... a highrise, dense, urban, Manhattan-like enclave of uber-expensive buildings ... with streetcars, and Metros, and bikepaths to bring in the lower and middle wage-earners.

by Lance on Dec 20, 2010 10:36 pm • linkreport

Hey Lance, have you ever been to Hamilton Heights?

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 21, 2010 7:41 am • linkreport

Well, Oboe, actually I completely agree that the greatest need in DC is for "affordable housing" that is affordable to the middle income folks. But actually, what's more important than just saying "30% affordable housing" is some rules / regulations on how to set the prices. Cause let's say you identify someone who makes 60% AMI. Great, you've got a customer. But what if you charge them a rent / condo price that results in them paying 45% of their gross income on homeownership? Not really "affordable" even if the price received by the owner is lower than what the market rate unit would go for.
Finally, please please please before you repeat the DC is providing a good that VA and MD are taking advantage of, please provide some evidence. I'm quite sure there are A) poor people in VA and MD and B) affordable housing programs in both states and their localities and C) people in those jurisdictions using those programs.

kk - What is this "everywhere else on the globe" you're talking about? It's completely nonsensical. As if it was human nature to have societies the way you describe them. Or even plain old natural. It's whatever the combination of thousands of decisions makes them be. Your comment reveals an almost complete lack of curiosity.

by Josh S on Dec 21, 2010 8:49 am • linkreport

And furthermore, Oboe, so what if DC is providing a better affordable housing program than neighboring jurisdictions? Isn't arguing against that sort of like the kid arguing that why should he clean up his room when his brother didn't?

by Josh S on Dec 21, 2010 8:52 am • linkreport

>>G's argument about taxes used to subsidize affordable housing that they can't use - I expect you're the same guy who says - "hey I don't use public transit, I shouldn't have to pay for it" or "hey, I don't have kids, why should I pay taxes for public schools." It's a societal good.

I think you'll find most DC residents against (or skeptical of) "affordable housing" understand and support transit and education. So this is a useless statement meant to distract. Besides the "right to housing" does not justify subsidizing someone to live in a premium location in an expensive otherwise upscale building. The type of building that most of the taxpayers at median and slightly above income cannot afford.

I live a block from City Vista. I met a newly minted Duke University graduate who was sold a 2BR condo for 150K which is 1/3 market price. This isn't a firefighter supporting a family of 3. This is a college graduate from a prestigious university who may not make much money YET but that's only because she's put in little/no time in the working world to earn her dues. Gifting her this unit is not a societal good it's a societal gouge. She's not an exception either, I also know of others are < 25 years old and GSA employees.

by Jason on Dec 21, 2010 9:38 am • linkreport

@ Jason, that is totally absurd. It's hearing things like that that make me feel that housing subsidies should only be directed toward the truly disadvantaged - those who would be otherwise HOMELESS, not otherwise living in a group house in Columbia Heights.

To the broader problem of affordability for the middle class - that in this area you can have mid-career folks who still can't afford to live without roommates unless they move to an area that is dangerous or has a horrendous commute - we need broader solutions, not handouts to a select few.

by L on Dec 21, 2010 10:18 am • linkreport

@Josh S,

And furthermore, Oboe, so what if DC is providing a better affordable housing program than neighboring jurisdictions? Isn't arguing against that sort of like the kid arguing that why should he clean up his room when his brother didn't?

No. In fact, I can't think of a less apt analogy.

It's more like arguing against one of three roommates making up the difference in rent when the other two roommate's regularly come up short. Better yet, it's like one paying roommate making up the shortfall in rent, while letting a fifth and sixth roommate who both have substance abuse issues live for free in the paying roommate's room. And when the first roommate complains, telling him "Well those guys *like* living in your room. And besides, your room is the unofficial 'homeless guy' room." Hey, look! Here comes a seventh roommate. Where should he live? Let's put him in with the other guys in the first roommate's room. After all, he's got better support services in place. And that's where the new guy wants to live anyway. At some point, Roommate 1 is going to say, "Fuck this. We need to have an equitable distribution of services, or I'm opting out."

You already see this *within* DC. Ward 6 has a huge concentration of homeless shelters, methadone clinics, the DC jail, etc, etc... And while the Ward 6 councilmember is one of the most liberal, pro-services members, he's asking the question, "Where are the homeless shelters in the Ward 3?" But as you say, how is that relevant? As long as Ward 6 is housing everyone, what does it matter whether any ward west of the river is providing services, right? It's relevant because you need public support for services; and most DC residents tend to support this stuff so long as they feel the burden is being distributed equitably.

(An interesting observation: No one even raises an eyebrow when Ward 6 or Ward 8 argue that Ward 3 needs to do more. These kind of intra-District issues are totally uncontroversial. But whenever one makes an argument that would be equally uncontroversial--except that it reflects inter-jurisdictional policy--suddenly it's the most radical argument imaginable.)

Obviously, it's even more complicated than that, since DC's role as the regional poverty services center frees up a huge amount of money for MD and VA to invest in other things--infrastructure, amenities, schools, etc, etc... This tends to accelerate the process of selection whereby the middle-class moves out of the city to the suburbs because suburban schools work, there are functioning community centers, and so forth.

Supporting poverty is very expensive--financially and socially. When poverty is too concentrated--as it is in DC--you end up with large negative secondary effects: the schools suck; there's a lot of crime; you get accosted by violent homeless and mentally ill on the streets; you try to provide summer jobs for kids, and the sheer numbers swamp the program. In DC we're constantly bankrupting *ourselves* in order to keep poverty concentrated in our city. And again, it's so ingrained in American culture to simply say, "Well, that's what city living is about." A big part of the urbanist movement should be a rejection of that conceit.

Bottom line is, no, you can't supply such services in isolation. Otherwise you end up paying a premium to corner the market on social dysfunction. Are there poor people in the suburbs? Of course there are. Meanwhile, DC has 15-20% of it's residents living on less than $10k per year. MD and VA have fewer than 5%. You're incredibly naive if you think this situation is some sort of organic development. It's the result of 50 years of regional policy.

by oboe on Dec 21, 2010 11:22 am • linkreport

@ oboe: Are there poor people in the suburbs? Of course there are. Meanwhile, DC has 15-20% of it's residents living on less than $10k per year. MD and VA have fewer than 5%. You're incredibly naive if you think this situation is some sort of organic development. It's the result of 50 years of regional policy.

So what are you saying here? Do VA and MD have less poor people because they take better care of them? Or do you truly think that poor people from VA and MD move to DC for the hand-outs?

by Jasper on Dec 21, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport


Are you serious? Or are you just completely uninformed about the history of US cities post 1950?

The DC metro area, like every other city in the country (except NYC) has its poverty concentrated at the core. That has been the case since middle & upper class people fled to the suburbs post WWII. Necessities like housing and transportation were and are cheaper in the center city, so the poor were forced to stay there and the poverty trap keeps them there.

The unique problem DC faces is that in this city, the city core is a completely separate jurisdiction from the rest of the city. No other city in the United States is like this. Every other city in the country has a state supporting it to some extent - and the state gets revenues from all those more wealthy suburbs. DC doesn't have anything like this.

So do people move from VA and MD for the "hand-outs"? Maybe not directly. The reality is that they aren't as easily able to move. But if you have to move (you get evicted, etc.) and it's easier to get housing in DC than in MD or VA, then wouldn't you move there?

by MLD on Dec 21, 2010 2:08 pm • linkreport


So what are you saying here? Do VA and MD have less poor people because they take better care of them? Or do you truly think that poor people from VA and MD move to DC for the hand-outs?

I agree with most of what MLD said, though to answer your point "Do VA and MD have less poor people because they take better care of them?" No. They have fewer poor people for three reasons.

First, because of a half century of regional public policy--implicit and explicit--where nearly all of the region's African Americans were penned up like animals, and denied any sort of economic opportunity.

Secondly--since those legal and quasi-legal impediments were mostly lifted--the obstacles to living in the suburbs are much greater for poor people than living in the city.

And finally, because the services in MD and VA are much less generous than in DC. There are folks out there who are never going to be able to hold a job. MD and VA have a five year limit to TANF benefits. DC has no such limit. What would *you* do at the five-year mark? Maryland (not sure about Virginia) has a residency requirement for family shelter. DC has no such requirement.

And so on, and so on... You ask, "Do you truly think that poor people from VA and MD move to DC for the hand-outs?" If you were thrown off the welfare rolls in MD or VA, and you had a choice between living under a bridge in MD, or entering the social services pipeline in DC, what would you do?

Here's a hypothetical: if we instituted a policy of moving all DC's social services to Ward 8, then managed to pass legislation that each ward was now financially autonomous, no one would have any problem recognizing how ridiculous and unfair that system was.

But when we're talking about arbitrary lines on the map demarcating MD from DC, suddenly we're supposed to think about DC as though it's some sort of island--an ecosystem entirely unto itself. At the end of the day, we can't effectively address any of these poverty issues without making poverty a suburban issue.

by oboe on Dec 21, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

@ oboe: If you were thrown off the welfare rolls in MD or VA, and you had a choice between living under a bridge in MD, or entering the social services pipeline in DC, what would you do?

I strongly doubt that the poor have this institutional knowledge. Quite frankly, I have no clue how, what and why people in that situation do what they do.

I am still not sure how to interpret your comment. Is DC having more poor than MD and VA due to successful DC policies?

by Jasper on Dec 22, 2010 9:52 am • linkreport


Two things. Setting aside your doubts, "the poor" aren't pigeons or something. Most people are quite savvy about navigating bureaucracies. You can be damned sure folks know these things when their survival depends on knowing them.

Secondly, DC has a greater number of poor than MD and VA *despite* having successful policies. We started with a shit-ton more for historic reasons. Because of the nature of suburbia, when the poor rise into the middle-class, they tend to become suburban residents (and taxpayers). Because of the nature of the city, when folks fall out of the middle class, they tend to become city residents. There are a lot of poor people. And, in America, we make new ones everyday.

The natural inclination seems to be to simply shrug and say, "Well, the city is where the poor live (and are supposed to live), so all of the costs--social and financial--should be borne by city dwellers." I understand why that's a very, very attractive position for suburbanites to take; I don't understand why that's the default position for most urbanists as well.

by oboe on Dec 22, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

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