This Local Partnership Hopes to Fix the D.C. Region’s Housing Shortage

Photo credit: Aude (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

By AJ Earl

With Amazon’s HQ2 site selection coming down to the wire and Crystal City looking likely to house half the new headquarters, a group of business leaders and a major urban research organization have partnered to challenge the region to address its livability issues. The Greater Washington Partnership and the Urban Institute are collaborating on a new Regional Housing Framework to push local governments to increase the housing supply, especially affordable housing.

This new housing framework provides solutions for regional governments that focus on three areas: the need to preserve existing affordable housing; produce more housing in every income level and in sustainable, accessible areas; and protect renters and homeowners from unscrupulous acts by land owners and other acts of displacement.

Specific information on how the partnership plans to realize these three proposals has not yet been made public, but it plans to release that information before spring of this year. Research from Urban highlights the policy areas where the partnership will likely suggest action in its final framework, which include zoning and transportation.

The Greater Washington Partnership, comprised of local CEOs and civic leaders, is focused on the area from Richmond to Baltimore. So why are business leaders getting involved in housing advocacy?

“We know from the research of the Urban Institute and others that a well-functioning housing system is important for both overall growth and for ensuring that growth enables economic mobility,” said Greater Washington Partnership CEO Jason Miller. “We’ve been having conversations with leaders in the region and advocates in the housing space for the last several months. What we heard consistently was we need the large employers at the table, we need the large employers trying to define the need from a broader economic competitiveness standpoint.”

The Urban Institute, a nonprofit that studies urban areas and the problems they face, has been researching the potential impacts of Amazon’s HQ2 on the region. Its newest data release shows there is already a severe shortage of homes, and this shortage will only worsen with a sudden large influx of workers.

According to Urban Institute President Sarah Rosen Wartell, the main issue rests with the insufficient supply of low- and middle-income housing.

“We have a particular concern about the growing gap between the amount of supply that is being produced in the area and the degree of demand,” said Wartell. “We see the consequences of that with both rising rents and real scarcity of supply, particularly with much of the new supply coming at the very top of the market. We’re seeing real challenges in the supply of housing affordable at the bottom and the middle [income levels].”

Urban’s report on the impact of HQ2 points to a study by George Mason Universitythat says by 2023, the region will add 149,000 households that are cost burdened, (that is, households that make below 80% of the area median income).

Both organizations are enthusiastic about the opportunities this partnership opens up.

“In my experience, the business community has not previously made the availability of affordable housing for all incomes a major priority,” said Wartell. “This is really an important moment, and potentially one that gives new momentum and new support to policymakers.”

Miller says, “We felt that it was important to launch this regional housing framework in partnership with Urban, who is obviously a leader in the country on housing and housing policy, to define a set of actions that the region can take together and a shared commitment to action that can tackle some of the challenges that our housing system faces.”

Other groups involved in the framework include the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a regional nonprofit organization of local governments, and the Housing Leaders Group of Greater Washington, a group of public and private sector leaders concerned about housing affordability.

AJ Earl (Comanche Nation) is a journalist, historian, and current graduate student at American University studying Public History. They are originally from South Texas but most recently lived in Portland, Oregon. Their interests include urban history, museums, and strongman training.

This article was originally published November 6, 2018 on Greater Greater Washington as part of the Urbanist Journalism Fellowship, which is supported by the Island Press Urban Resilience Project.

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