Housing Complex

Gray Signals Shift to “Demand Side” On Affordable Housing

Deborah Ratner Salzburg, D.C. Housing Finance Agency CEO Harry Sewell, Mayor Gray.

There wasn't much news in Mayor Vince Gray's press conference today announcing the new Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force—finally—which is required to by law update the one from 2006. Thirty four people from the worlds of advocacy, business, and government will deliver a report by this fall, which is a pretty quick clip (until you remember that it was supposed to have been issued at the end of last year).

Sniping about timeliness aside, it was clearly a shift in focus from the traditional conception of what an affordable housing strategy means. Gray came out of the gate strong on jobs—10,000 of them, in fact. That's a direct contrast with former mayor Adrian Fenty's drive for 10,000 units of affordable housing. Which makes sense, given the Economic Times; it's a lot easier these days to beg employers to hire local than to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to building apartments for low-income folks.

The jobs focus, though, is bleeding into the housing strategy. As outlined in a concept paper by D.C. Housing Finance Agency CEO and task force co-chair Harry Sewell, Gray kept talking about the "demand side" of the housing equation, or helping people keep up with the higher cost of living here. "If we don't focus on the demand side, we'll never have enough supply, because we'll have customers who can't move past their economic circumstances," he said. Many of the task force members, he emphasized, were chosen for their ability to provide supportive services that would help people move up and out. The other co-chair, Forest City Washington president Deborah Ratner Salzberg, even said that the demand side focus was what convinced her to accept the appointment.

That means jobs and education, sure. But it also means shifting people who already receive benefits out of the system to make room for others, as I explain in my column this week—emphasizing that public housing is a temporary privilege, not an indefinite right. Without legal time limits, that's hard to do. "It's easier to finish Capper Carrollsburg than it is to do this," says D.C. Housing Authority director Adrianne Todman, naming the HOPE VI public housing project that ran out of money before all the units that got demolished were built back. "Because it's getting folks past a comfort zone of what people have right now."

Understandably, housing advocates get jumpy when politicians start to stigmatize dependency on public housing (kind of like how the staunchest pro-choice activists squirm when lawmakers say abortion should be "rare"). In this case, as long as the "demand side" doesn't substitute for aggressive creation of new supply, it's probably a good thing to bear in mind.

Photo by Lydia DePillis

  • DC Preservation Watch

    The most effective affordable housing policy is one that allows a large variety of home types and sizes to be created. For instance: studios, garage apartments, basement apartments, carriage houses, etc., etc.

    There are two main obstacles here:

    1) The fanatical preservation community that opposes things like new carriage houses and cost-effective modifications to existing homes (that would create new apartments) in historic districts which are often the areas best served by public transport;

    2) Onerous regulations around certificates of occupancy, non-connection between apartments in a single town house, etc.

    Wouldn't it be more effective to let the private sector flood the market with supply than to try and manage this as a top-down policy?

    DC Preservation Watch

  • oboe

    This is good news. Hopefully the days of DC actually building public housing projects is over. Build market rate housing, and if necessary, increase the amount of money available for Section 8 vouchers. Yes we need to get DC's poorest into the workforce, but we also need to pursue policies that will make sure MD and VA also house their fair share of the region's poorest. We need to continue to increase the ratio of middle-class to poor folks in this city if we're going to have any hope of fixing DCPS, DOES, etc, etc...

  • Ward7Resident


    You're absolutely right! This approach is good news! Focusing on chopping at the Demand is a much more logical approach than focusing efforts only on creating the Supply!

    My God! Someone actually gets it!! Bless You!!

    Creating solutions to improve the supply and quality of Affordable housing IS NOT just on DC. Nor should all affordable housing be IN DC! And, we certainly should not impose ALL DC Affordable Housing into Wards 7 and 8 neighborhoods. That approach is also illogical, given current economic development strategies and plans...

    In my humble view, Sustainable Affordable housing is and should be viewed as a REGIONAL CHALLENGE and consequently and rightfully be addressed on a regional basis, similar to public transportation and public safety efforts....

    At the end of the day, a Federal Agency (HUD), funds a great deal of efforts creating/sustaining Affordable housing...so why should our regional governments continue to operate in silos?

    Furtheremore, I just don't get this "All Affordable Housing In DC" thinking. Doesn't make economical sense, long or short term..

    Finally, creating socially isolated pockets of poverty in DC has been tried and proven a strategic failure... so, why go back to that stratgy?

    I'm just saying.....

  • Cat Like

    Which makes sense, given the Economic Times; it's a lot easier these days to beg employers to hire local than to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to building apartments for low-income folks.


    You are an absolute Lydia. One is market conditions you can control, with converting the city supply of distressed housing to affordable or mix use. And the other is market condition way outside your control...and you think that is easier.

    This is a city of planner, developers, MBAs, market analyst but you have this column.

  • Sheryl

    Do ANY of you have any solutions for the disabled? I am being forced to move because of a greedy landlord who is more interested in that Section 8 money than in working with a tenant of TEN YEARS' DURATION (pre-dating the current ownership). There is nothing for me to move into, since I have not yet received a voucher (on the list for two years), nor can I hardly afford the $950 I'm now being charged (a $400 rent increase). I only receive $1000 from Soc. Sec. Disability. What are people like me supposed to do?

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  • http://yahoo.com Shelia Evans

    I sign up for housing in 1999. I recieve Section 8 voucher. To find out all the Housing providers and emergency assistant providers can not assist me with help with my security deposit. Calling the majors office was my last resort. As well as the other agencies no funds. Meanwhile,I am getting plenty of negative feedback from the shelter and the Martin View Properties in SW,Wash.,DC. I work for DC government for years and volunteer countless hours of services.I am so disappointed with what I am experiencing.However,I enjoyed working with the children and senior citizens. Thank You, Seniors and Children of Washington DC for the wonderful memories. I love you all.

  • http://yahoo.com Shelia Evans

    Proverty is not growth. It's a bacteria. God plented seeds. Some fell by the way side and others continue to grow.We are the seed that continue to grow in the strength of his mercy. I believe the storm is over.Be safe and may God be with you and yours.

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