May 06 2014

Housing Affordability out of Reach in Washington, D.C.

I’ve written about gentrification for The Grid before, but the displacement of low income residents in relation to rising rents, while disconcerting, is actually a piece of a much broader paradigm moving into place all over the country – a full blown housing affordability crisis. In Washington, D.C. the average rent has risen 10% since the recession. And D.C. is not alone as cities all over the country are beginning to exhibit a similar disparity between housing and income.

The result is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for working and middle-class Americans to live in places that offer a mix of quality housing, employment, and recreational opportunities. And if the middle-class, a socio-economic cohort that politicians in this country have committed to praising whenever the opportunity presents itself, cannot afford to live in a traditional neighborhood then our cities are truly in threat of being overwhelmed by corporate interests, and being correspondingly homogenized. If this happens, cities will cease to be the places of vibrancy and opportunity that they have long been regarded as.

Luxury Apartments in SE D.C.

In D.C., this is evident in the ever increasing presence of luxury condos and apartments. This is not to say that luxury real estate is bad for the city. The problem is that the system accommodates a developer’s interests above all others. The result is a profit-centric approach to construction, rather than a citizen-centric approach. One manifestation of this reality is the overwhelming presence of banks within a neighborhood. Not that banks are bad either, but they’re boring. The presence of two or more banks across the street from one another is the universal signal that a neighborhood’s vitality has been surrendered to corporate interests, who are maximizing their per square foot rent opportunities by leasing to a safe, wealthy tenant.

Neighboring Banks in NW D.C.

Another problem is that affordable housing is hardly affordable any more. A brand new two bedroom affordable unit in my neighborhood, Columbia Heights, rents for roughly $1,700. The income restriction requires that the two people living there make a combined $68,000. After the math, that works out to about a third of their income being spent on rent alone. Factor in transportation and sustenance, and the question that stands out is, how are they going to save money? Or plan for retirement?

On the one hand urban planners are excited about new revenue streams coming from high-wealth real estate. Yet, on the other, there is a divergent feeling of angst that the city may be in the process of losing the very essence of its greatness, which is the diversity and richness of culture that has made it such an appealing place to begin with. But what, if anything, should be done in a “hot” real estate market like D.C.? With so much redevelopment pressure surely the District can leverage the desire to build within the city to ensure that all of its residents are being provided for. The question is, what are the levers that will accomplish this?

Credits: Images by Chase Keenan. Data linked to sources.

Chase Keenan

Growing up in Tampa, Florida, Chase Keenan learned first hand what it means to live in a city that is built for cars rather than people. The influence of this experience, and his recognition of the urgent threat climate change poses, led him to pursue a career in urban planning. Now he enjoys the vibrancy that comes with life in Washington, DC as he completes his final semester of study at the George Washington University, where he is working towards a Master's degree in Sustainable Urban Planning. His focus throughout his studies has been aimed at understanding urban resilience, and how our cities can be better prepared to face the challenges of the future. But while he may be an urbanist by trade, he’s really a jack of all trades at heart, dabbling in hobbies as varied as snowboarding, muay thai, creative writing, and the piano.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 at 9:12 am and is filed under Chase Keenan, Community/Economic Development, Housing, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Housing Affordability out of Reach in Washington, D.C.”

  1. Dinar Ramadhani Says:

    Hi, I’m Dinar from Indonesia. I’m glad to read you post because I find the same case happen here in Jakarta, Indonesia, the city I live now. I’m doing the research for the same topic by the way :)

    The situation become worse here as the buyers are intend to invest in such this property rather than buy it to dwell it themselves. In result, the apartment cost is rising significantly even just during a year, up to 30%. Ironically, there are more vacant apartment than the dwelled apartment in the downtown. The workers over CBD can not afford to buy one, therefore they live in suburbs which cause a massive traffic jam in peak hours everyday. I’ve experienced being trapped in traffic jam for about 3 hours in it was so exhausted. I can not even imagine if I had to get up earfor the next day to embrace such that traffic jam again in the morning, routinely.

    Some experts had done the research to calculate the loss of this traffic jam happen in the downtown of Jakarta. They said that the loss reached about 200.000 dollars everyday (polution, gas consumption, psychological aspects).

    So I’m sure it’s important for government to control the growth of properties together with the cost they offer. If the government let it handled bby the market, I’m afraid the growth of properties can not be the solution of housing backlog, but made this case even worse.

    Thank you for the post and let me share the same idea like yours. I’m glad to see you following post :)

  2. Busy With Purpose Says:

    In Philly there is a lot of gentrification going on because our poverty rate is so high and we have alot of vacant land, which many developers take advantage of since many are profit driven. As a concerned resident, I’m working to connect with and empower other concerned residents to ensure that we are at the table with our local political leaders when they make community development decisions. If a developer is coming to a neighborhood, neighborhood leaders should be at that table with the city and the developers from the very first discussion about development. The entire process needs to be more transparent just like our local electons need to be since it helps determine which leaders would favor this type of community engagement. We are their bosses after all.

    Inclusive development vs exclusive development will turn the development process into a citizen-driven process and ensure that residents, many of whom are the working poor and work hard to try and provide a good life for their families, will be able to work with developers to revitalize their neighborhood so that they too can benefit from the revitalization. They were there first so there is no reason why their needs shouldn’t be addressed and met first since the developer is redeveloping their community.

    There are programs and services like the Citizens Planning Institute to help residents mobilize, but they are not always easy to find. There is a disconnect between the resources and the residents for some reason. They need to spend more money on marketing these services better and funding our schools to help people work their way out of poverty instead of building condos that sit empty because many residents live on less than $25,000 a year.

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