Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Affordable Housing

Development


How can Virginia balance traffic flow with a sense of place on Route 1?

A study of Virginia's Route 1 finds that people want "to create destinations, ... not a throughway." They also want better pedestrian and bicycle safety, and really want transit, but they also want to see traffic flow faster. What's the best way to balance these?


Route 1 today. Image from the study.

If this major public investment can succeed in creating walkable, livable transit communities along the corridor, the state and localities need to find ways to keep vehicle speeds down and not force people to cross long distances. They can start by designing roads to create a sense of place instead of inhibit it.

In fact, building better places could also speed up traffic flow, by making it possible for more people to get to local shopping without driving, or by taking other roads in a street grid instead of all piling onto Route 1 itself.

How fast and wide should Route 1 be?

The study assumes that the speed limit would remain 45 mph and lanes would be 12 feet wide. A road built for speed will create a less comfortable environment at center median transit stations. It will increase the distances pedestrians have to cross. And it will reduce the sense of connectivity between transit-oriented neighborhoods on either side of the road. Perhaps the speed will impact transit ridership as well.

There's a history here. A few years back, VDOT proposed reducing posted speeds to 35 mph, but faced a huge public outcry and the local supervisors made VDOT drop the proposal.

Bicycles struggle to find a place

The study also looked at ways to accommodate bicycles. Options included on-road bike lanes or an on-road cycletrack (among others), but the 45-mph road and wide lanes essentially forced the study team to select an off-road, 10-foot shared-use path for both bikes and pedestrians. This will almost certainly spark concerns about the impact on pedestrian safety, on the efficiency of bike travel, and the risks to bicyclists and pedestrians crossing intersections.

1997 British study on the relationship between vehicle speed and pedestrian fatalities shows that higher speeds mean more pedestrian fatalities.


Graph via WashCycle.

State and local officials should authorize the consultants to study an alternative with a 35 mph posted speed, 11-foot lanes, and on-road cycle tracks, to evaluate if this approach will not only smooth out and maintain good traffic flow, but will improve safety for all users, while enhancing the walkable, transit-oriented centers that the community seeks.

Will housing remain affordable if transit improves?

Until recently, the Route 1 corridor in Fairfax and Prince William hasn't seen the same level of investment as other parts of the two counties. It hasn't moved beyond aging strip malls, an unsafe pedestrian environment, deteriorated streams, and plenty of traffic.

This is also an area with an important supply of affordable housing, and many are concerned that the promise of new transit investment will increase land values and eliminate existing market-rate affordable housing.

Given that Fairfax County's commercial revitalization corridors are also the location of most of the county's affordable housing, the county needs a proactive approach when planning major new transit investments in these corridors. That must preserve affordable housing in good condition and include new affordable units in new development projects.

Unfortunately, the county has severely cut back its housing trust fund, and its inclusionary zoning policies for affordable units don't apply to buildings over four stories. The study should consider how new transit will affect property values and the current supply of affordable units. The county needs to commit to a robust housing strategy for the Route 1 corridor like the one Arlington adopted for Columbia Pike.


Potential development at Beacon Hill with BRT or LRT.

Change is indeed coming to the Route 1 corridor. The demand to live closer to the core of the region and expansion at Fort Belvoir are already driving new investment, including the recently-completed Beacon of Groveton, the Penn Daw development, and upgraded strip shopping centers.

Long-time residents are hungry to see more change come sooner. Many at the meeting pressed to move the transit project forward as soon as possible. That's a challenge given the lead times required to plan, fund and build major new transportation projects. Fairfax and the state should make this transit corridor a top priority. They also must support investment in Metro's core capacity so that the rail system can handle the new riders.

The study team should complete the traffic analysis by the end of April; the economic, land use and funding analysis will follow by the end of May; and they will recommend an alternative by July. The next public meeting is in June. In the meantime, take their survey and make comments on this form.

Transit


Behold how the Purple Line corridor is changing

When built, the Purple Line could dramatically improve transit commutes in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. To explore that and other changes the line will bring, researchers created a series of maps including this one of the "commute shed" of each Purple Line station, or how far you can get on transit before and after it's built.


All images from the Purple Line Corridor Coalition.

Two weeks ago, the Purple Line Corridor Coalition organized a workshop called "Beyond the Tracks: Community Development in the Purple Line Corridor" to bring different stakeholders together and talk about ways to prepare for changes along the future light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, which awaits federal funding and could open in 2020.

The coalition is a product of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, which hosted the workshop. Members of the group include nonprofit organizations, developers, and local governments in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. At the workshop, they looked at examples from cities like Minneapolis and Denver, which recently built light-rail lines.

The 16-mile corridor contains some of the region's richest and poorest communities, in addition to major job centers and Maryland's flagship state university. When it opens in 2020, the Purple Line will help create the walkable, urban places people increasingly want. However, rising property values could potentially displace small businesses and low-income households. To illustrate and explore these issues, the Center for Smart Growth produced a series of awesome maps.

Like the DC area as a whole, the Purple Line corridor is divided from west to east, with more jobs and affluence on the west side, and more low-income households on the east side. Many of the estimated 70,000 people who will ride the Purple Line each day in 2040 will come from communities in eastern Montgomery and Prince George's county to jobs in Bethesda and Silver Spring.

But today, getting between those areas can be difficult and time-consuming, whether by bus or by car. It's no surprise that many commuters along the eastern end of the Purple Line have one-way commutes over an hour.

These maps, and the map above, show the "commute shed" of three Purple Line stations, or how far you can get on transit in an hour. In all three cases, the Purple Line opens up huge swaths of Montgomery, Prince George's and DC to each community. While the Purple Line only travels through a small portion of our region, it adds another link to our existing Metro and bus network, meaning its benefits will go way beyond the neighborhoods it directly serves.

But better access comes with a price, namely rising property values. The revitalization of downtown Silver Spring has resulted in higher home prices in surrounding neighborhoods because of the increased demand to live there. But Silver Spring and Takoma Park still have substantial pockets of poverty, meaning that low-income residents may not be able to afford to stay in the area once the Purple Line opens.

There are two ways to ensure that neighborhoods near the Purple Line remain affordable for both current and future residents. One is to protect the existing supply of subsidized apartments. Many complexes near the Purple Line have price restrictions for low-income households, but they will expire before it's scheduled to open in 2020.

The other is to build more new housing near the Purple Line. New homes are usually expensive, but increasing the supply of housing to meet demand can result in lower or at least stabilized prices. We're starting to see this in downtown Silver Spring, where thousands of apartments have been built in recent years. But Montgomery officials reduced the number of new homes allowed in Chevy Chase Lake and Long Branch due to concerns about changing the character of each neighborhood.

There are a lot of great and interesting communities along the Purple Line. But many of them are dramatically different places than they were even 10 years ago. They'll be different in 10 more years, whether or not the Purple Line is built. We can't preserve these places in stone, but we should try to ensure that the people who enjoy and contribute to these places can stick around in the future.

Politics


DC's mayoral candidates voice ideas for affordable housing

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 second of 2 posts on discussions about housing with candidates for mayor. See all of the interviews here.


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

Mayor Gray has pledged to spend $100 million a year on affordable housing, and recently also agreed to devote half the city's surplus to affordable housing once the rainy day fund gets paid down. What does that money get for DC residents, and is it enough?

Gray touted 47 affordable housing projects that are underway, all across the city, which he said can "buy down" the cost of housing, particularly rental housing. Will those 47 projects make a real dent in our housing problem? He said,

I think it's a significant dent in the housing need in the city, but I think hopefully we'll set a tone in terms of the culture, to say that we've got to have economically diverse housing in the city. The commitment in the housing plan I put together is that we would either create or preserve 10,000 units by 2020.

We already have reached the point where over 2,000 units have been created or are under construction, and the pace is picking up. 10,000 is not going to solve the problem. It is a huge down payment, a huge investment.
I think, too, as opportunities become available in the city with additional resources, I want to continue to invest in housing.

Tommy Wells argued that the government has not made it enough of a priority, especially in public land deals from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

We have large tracts of land, from the McMillan Reservoir to Walter Reed to Reservation 13 to Poplar Point. If we start with the idea that our city needs affordable housing, then instead of looking at which developer can make money on this and then add on affordable housingaffordable housing on those tracts and those developments have been the secondary priority.

Wells specifically mentioned that DC has not built independent living facilities for seniors. He also suggested DC find more "creative" ways to use buildings, like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library downtown.

We have real estate on top of MLK Library. The Mies [van der Rohe] bldg was built for 5 stories. The structure is there. That is one of the most desirable places to live in the country. It's also one of the most expensive. If we thought of that as being the possibility of affordable housing for seniors, the place whereI can't think of a better place to live as a senior. You're on top of a library, you have services, medical services, the Y nearby...
He also accused the government of not being "smart" enough with its investments to ensure there is affordable housing in areas that will soon become more desirable. "We need to be land banking today on every route we're planning for the streetcar," he said. "We know the land value is going to go up. We need to be land banking along the streetcar lines so that we don't come back and say, 'Oh gosh, now this is so expensive, we need more cash out of the Housing Production Trust Fund in order to have less housing than we would have had if we had been smart to begin with."

Both Wells and Bowser talked about the problems of preserving affordable housing as well as creating more, and said that even DC's current investment will only do so much. Bowser said,

$100 million will get us little. If we do it for 10 years we'll get 10,000 new units. Our waiting list for public housing closed at 70,000 people. That already demonstrates a gap. We could spend a billion dollars and still have 10,000 people who are still in need of an affordable unit. An affordable housing strategy can't just be about creating units. It has to be about preserving and investing in the units we have.
Bowser also pointed the finger at the Gray administration, which she said has slowed development projects on public land to a "trickle."
When I first got on the council, we were approving city-initiated projects every month. Now it's a trickle of projects that come out of the Deputy Mayor's office. It's a trickle coming out of DHCD. And there's just not enough urgency around the creation of [affordable housing] units, and we need to get more.

More than that, we see projects getting canceled and rolled back. I can't tell you the concern over the Deputy Mayor's office canceling the Park Morton project, or Lincoln Heights. So I can tell you there's interest in developing housing in DC.

Do we have to incentivize it in some parts of the city, yes. Do we have to have some government involvement, absolutely. But I haven't seen at this point anybody saying that I don't want to build anything in DC.

Jack Evans claimed credit for the Housing Production Trust Fund existing in the first place. "Everyone you talk to is going to take credit for that, but the bottom line is, it was a piece of legislation that had been in existence that Mayor Williams, myself, and Councilmember Fenty decided to put in place and fund."

Evans also talked about his efforts to extend rent control, and to provide tax breaks for homeowners.

I championed the tax cap that started out at 25%, went down to 10%, and I'm looking to see if we can even lower it further so that people in the city, all across the city, who own homes won't find themselves in the situation where their property taxes are driving them out. And on the senior level, again I have a bill that moved out of my committee, that if you're a senior citizen and you earn less than 60,000, are 75 years old and lived in your house for 15 years, you don't have to pay property taxes at all. ...

Last night I was over at Thomas house, a senior building, and many of the residents there were talking to me about how they have homes and how helpful this will to be for them to stay in their home instead of going into a retirement home.

Evans mentioned that residents of east of the river neighborhoods say they don't want all the affordable housing over there, but spread throughout the city. He said he wants to put that housing everywhere. When I asked how some would go in Ward 3, west of Rock Creek Park, he said it should happen when there is new construction involving public land, but didn't specify further where that public land might be.

Bowser also brought up this concern from east of the river. She cited Inclusionary Zoning as a way to get affordable housing elsewhere, and seemed confident that initial "kinks" could be worked out.

Andy Shallal would go further and increase the amount of housing DC requires under inclusionary zoning. IZ "asks something from developers that receive so much. We need to ask for much more, much higher percentages." Similarly for public property, he said, "We have to be mindful of how we use that public property, and not just give it away willy nilly, to make this city a pawnshop for developers."

Watch the complete housing discussions with the candidates:

Evans:

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Shallal:

Politics


Hear the candidates: Ward 6 on housing

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 are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 6 on the DC Council. See all of the articles here.


Images from the candidate websites.

It's not that easy to find specific policy issues where Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson disagree. Both candidates vying to succeed Tommy Wells talk about affordable housing, jobs, seniors, and education.

Indeed, in their freeform statements about affordable housing, both cited the need to ensure housing for families as well as singles and roommates. Compare the candidates' initial statements on affordable housing:

The biggest difference between Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson is in their political paths. Allen worked as Wells' chief of staff and knows city policy backward and forward. Thompson also has a long record in public service, but at the federal level working for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; he has not been very active in local politics or policy in the recent past.

Thompson has been a quick study and has compelling values for the ward, though ones not very different from Allen's. Thompson said the ward needs "new leadership," but when pressed, did not articulate much in the way of specific objections to Tommy Wells' tenure, while Allen is running on the record he and Wells built.

When I asked each candidate about how DC would add the 41,000-105,000 new housing units it needs in the next 20 years, both cited Hill East as a place with substantial development opportunities. While continuing to emphasize the need for family housing, Allen also said we need to add housing by using existing buildings in "smarter or more flexible ways," like accessory dwellings:

We're a community full of alleys. We have a lot of homes that have carriage houses or they have alley access properties. To be able to allow those to be legal residences is important. It's important because it allows for that housing to be created.

It's also important becauseI'll bring it back to affordability. If you have a property that has a carriage house, you're looking at rising costs in the city. Being able to have that be part of your rent is actually a great part of making your home help you in terms of achieving affordability.

In a subsequent email, Thompson said he also supports this proposal. He wrote, "With the growing rate of the population in our city, we need to provide more housing and this is a way to do that. Additionally, allowing homeowners to collect income on their property increases the affordability of owning their home, especially seniors on fixed incomes."

When I asked him about housing supply during the interview, Thompson also talked about being "smart," using the same word as Allen, but also said "we've got to make sure we don't overbuild," and that "there are developments on the table in Ward 6 that have split neighborhoods because residents didn't feel like they had the input."

Was Thompson talking about the Hine school development, the mixed-use project at Eastern Market Metro? Among other things, yes, and he had this to say:

Clearly something didn't go right. A lot of folks are outraged. I've talked to folks throughout Ward 6 and that part of Capitol Hill often, and folks feel likesome feel like it's too large. I think it's too large. I think under the current proposal we've got right now it's important we go back and look at this again.

Even talking about the affordable housing units that are offered, they're not like the market rate units. So we're creating housing for 2 different classes of people and making sure people clearly know that's what we did. That's not right.

We're talking about building something that's much larger than anything else in the surrounding neighborhoods. So I think, again, we should have proper community input; input that actually is meaningful and is adhered to before we sign off on projects. It's important. Lots of folks would like to see that project done, including myself, but not under the current proposal.

On this, Allen does not agree. I asked him over email for his view, and he wrote:

This is a project that will create a vibrant mix of housing, retail, office, market space, and important affordable housing in the heart of Capitol Hill and on top of a Metro station. Fitting the character and context of the community is crucial and I believe the Advisory Neighborhood Commission did an outstanding job of managing the complex array of issues and interests put before them.

In regard to affordable housing, a much needed mix of affordability will be created in both the north and the south buildings, including dedicated affordable housing for seniors to help ensure our city prioritizes successful aging-in-place within our neighborhoods.

The project has been the focus of countless community meetings, living room conversations, and many hundreds of hours of public work by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, neighbors, the project's Community Advisory Committee throughout the decision-making and zoning process.

To get the best sense of Thompson and Allen unfiltered, watch the whole 10-15 minute housing exchange I had with each. In upcoming days, we'll look at the two candidates' views on education and transportation.

We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Both locations are now in Ward 6 following the 2012 redistricting (but we talked to the Ward 1 candidates there, too). Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.

Development


Does public assistance affect private spending?

Yesterday, we looked at how our expenditures vary by income, and an important question came up: Do the income figures include government assistance programs? The answer is mostly yes.


Image by the author.

The chart above shows the percentage of total income by source for consumer units at different income levels. Income includes benefits from programs such as Social Security, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Unemployment Insurance. It excludes benefits that are paid directly to a service provider, such as Medicaid or Housing Choice Vouchers, but those amounts are also excluded on the expenditures.

The major source of income that is not accounted for here, or in yesterday's graphs, is refundable income tax credits. That mechanism helps close the gap between after tax income and expenditures slightly for lower income households, but there is still, on average, a significant shortfall that must come from a nongovernmental source.

Development


See how housing and transportation costs hold the poor back

Everyone's spending habits are basically the same. But rising housing and transportation costs hit low-income households hardest.


Consumer spending by income. All images by the author.

Data from the Bureau for Labor Statistics show that people of all income levels tend to spend similar percentages of their budgets on each expenditure category, with some exceptions. For example, as income rises, Consumer Units (defined as families living together, financially independent individuals, or groups of unrelated individuals who budget jointly) dedicate an increasing percentage of their budget to personal insurance and pensions.

Consumers at the lower end of the income spectrum spend a disproportionately higher percentage of their budget on housing costs. But on most other measures, including transportation, health care, and entertainment, the percentages across income levels are fairly equivalent, as shown in the graph above.

But these percentages represent share of total expenditures, and not all Consumer Units are operating with a balanced budget. A comparison of income and expenditures shows that lower-income families and individuals tend to spend more than they earn while higher-income units are able to stash some of their earnings away. The graphs below attempt to illustrate this:


Low-income households spend more than they earn.

When you change the denominator in the first graph from Total Expenditures to Annual Income, a more accurate depiction of our spending habits is revealed. Consumers earning between $5,000 and $30,000 per year spend 62% of their income on Housing, 24% on Transportation and 23% on Food. That's 109% of their income gone just on these three basic necessities.


Low-income households are burdened by high housing and transportation costs.

This modified version of the first graphic presented gives a fuller representation of household finances at different income levels in the US. It paints a pretty bleak picture for low-income families and individuals.

A version of this post originally ran at R. U. Seriousing Me?


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