Tuesday, March 12, 2013

DC Mayor Vincent Gray's Promise of Affordable Housing

This article about mayor Gray's "effort" to create affordable housing appeared in today's City Paper: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2013/03/12/gray-task-force-unveil-proposals-for-affordable-housing/ . In began to send an e-mail response to my associates here in DC; but, then it occurred to me that my e-mail was, in essence, a blog post. So, after reading the article, read my post below.....

Gray has committed to the creation of 10,000 units of affordable housing by 2020 (5 years after the term that he's serving ends, with there being uncertainty as to whether or not he'll win in 2014 or be able to complete a second term, being in his 70"s).

While I commend his "effort", his math is way off. $100M for 10,000 units comes out to $10,000 per unit, with the cost of creating a single apartment unit in DC exceeding $100,000. The article says that it would take $500M to $1 billion to keep his promise. I also made that point during the March 5th Press Conference on Poverty which took place in the Wilson Building (City Hall). One of the people quoted in the article called it "a wonderful down payment". So, we'll take it for what it's worth.

I take issue with this quote though: "Our vision is simple and aspirational: The District of Columbia is a city that provides housing that is affordable for all who wish to live and work here," I'm left to wonder how many of the jobs in DC pay considerably lower than $30/hr ($60,000/yr.) which is the amount required to live in DC where the rent averages $1,600/month. Is Gray going to make housing affordable for every McDonald's employee and carpenter's helper? After all, such jobs contribute to the life of the city.

The answer may be encrypted into the article, though it's not hard to find if you're paying attention -- and doing the math. Mayor Gray plans to create 3,000 units of market-rate housing every year through 2020. he plans to create 10,000 units of affordable housing by 2020. That means that in the seven years that it takes to create 10,000 units of affordable housing, he will have created 21,000 units of market-rate housing. So, the low-wage worker is still being squeezed out of DC -- at the end of the workday, after they've contributed to the life of the city.

I qualify my last statement with a few facts. Over 7,000 of DC's 620,000 residents (about 1 in 90) is homeless. About 70,000 people were recently on the DC Housing Authority's wait list. At least 100,000 families in the city are rent-burdened, paying more than one-third of their income in rent. At least 50,000 of those families are extremely rent-burdened, paying at least half of their income in rent. Recent stats have indicated that a net gain of about 1,100 new residents per month (13,200 per year) are moving to DC which means that there is a lot of high-end development taking place in addition to the 3,000 units per year that Gray is proposing.

So, whether you compare Gray's 1,428 units of affordable housing per year to the thousands of market rate units going up every year or to the large and growing number of needy, homeless and rent-burdened people, it's just a drop in the bucket. But as I said earlier, we'll take it for what it's worth.

All of this talk about affordable housing raises the question: "How do we define the ambiguous phrase 'affordable housing'" Many of the homeless and housing advocates will tell you that you shouldn't need to spend more that 30% of your income on rent. But that still doesn't answer the question of what income bracket mayor Gray will cater to with this pot of money. his budget director said (off the record) on March 5th that the mayor is focused on helping those that make 30% or less of the AMI (area median income) which stands at around $110,000 in the DC Metro area right now. But his statements were not reflected in the article. Let's hope that he's right.

Here is the Fairbudget Coalition's list of recommendations on how gray should spend the $100M: http://washingtonlegalclinic.wordpress.com/

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