Housing Complex

McDuffie Bill Aims to Clarify Housing Affordability

It's no secret that D.C. has an affordable housing problem. But really, the city has two affordable housing problems. The first is one of supply: There isn't enough of it. And the second is one of definitions: Much of what's labeled affordable isn't really affordable to many Washingtonians.

The standard metric for affordable housing is area median income (AMI). Many buildings with affordable units offer those units at various tiers of AMI—say, 20 units for households making no more than 80 percent of AMI and 10 units for people making no more than 50 percent. The problem is that the D.C. metropolitan area is very wealthy. AMI, as of 2012, was $107,500 for a family of four. So while 80 percent of AMI might be listed as "affordable," it's $86,000 a year, meaning that families making much less than that have few units set aside for them.

Today, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie aims to help solve the second affordable housing problem, if not quite the first. This morning, he's introducing the “Truth in Affordability Reporting Act of 2013,” which requires affordable housing projects financed or subsidized by the D.C. government—as well as citywide affordable housing data—to list the actual income level alongside the AMI level. So where a project would previously list just "80 percent AMI," it would now be forced to add something along the lines of, "which is equivalent to $86,000 a year for a family of four." Additionally, the bill requires the city to track affordable housing in its database not just by AMI, but also by the equivalent percentage of the median household income of D.C. proper.

"What we’re tying to do is draw attention to the disparities betwen AMI and median family income for the District proper," says McDuffie. "Part of the problem is that a lot of folks in the city get frustrated when they see new projects getting built with affordable housing, only to find out that the income required by the AMI is so high that a lot of people aren’t eligible for it."

According to McDuffie, the D.C. median income for a family of four is $70,000 a year—substantially lower than 80 percent of AMI.

McDuffie hopes that by highlighting the actual income levels for affordable housing, the legislation will encourage the city and developers to offer more housing that's truly affordable, at levels like 30 and 50 percent of AMI. But he decided not to require housing projects themselves to list AMI and D.C. median income side by side, so as to avoid confusion.

The bill currently has eight co-introducers in addition to McDuffie, and he expects more to sign on before introduction.

AMI chart from the Department of Housing and Community Development

  • name

    $80K a year is a reasonable level for "affordable" housing. That's two people making $40k with two kids. It's two couples making $34K without kids.

    It's a fact of modern life that housing prices are dictated by 2 income households. If you don't like it, blame all the college educated white women and gay couples. You can't put the genie back in the bottle now.

    Affordable housing is designed *not* to work. It costs the city too much money when it's designed to work. Zero cities in the country design it to work because they've all figured out it's ruinously expensive.

  • Moira

    Do you realize there are people in DC for whom a job that pays $40K a year is an unattainable dream? Do you realize many families have a single working parent, especially given the high number of men who are incarcerated?

    These are the people who need affordable housing, and $80K (or $77K for a single-parent, 2-kid family) may not even be close to "reasonable" for them.

  • Michael Brown Supporter

    Thank you Councilmen McDuffie for stepping up to the fore unlike other council members whom shall remain nameless...

  • Okeydokey


    If 40K a year is an unattainable dream and you are living in DC, then you need to make some adult decisions and move to a place that is affordable for you. That isn't necessarily 3 states away, but it could be more affordable areas in the DC region such as Rt 1 south of Alexandria, , Chantilly, PG County (Laurel), Baltimore etc. You'll never get ahead trying to scrape together money just to survive in a place like DC.

    Secondly, if 40K a year is an unattainable dream, then you have no business having kids. I am not saying you have to be wealthy to have a kid, but kids are expensive and you need to have some ability to properly care for it.

  • Typical DC BS

    YES Okeydokey!

  • Really?

    Thanks McDuffie. It's a step in the right direction. Cities were built for all not just for some. Furthermore having mixed income along with diversity adds that much more charm.

    I make more than $80k with one kid and it's still tight.

  • Moira

    Okeydokey, I just read here (http://www.huduser.org/portal/sustainability/newsletter_061113_3.html#1) the stat that for a number of neighborhoods in SE, median household incomes were below $31K. Those citizens (whom I'm guessing have a longer history in DC than you do) have a legitimate interest in keeping housing affordable in this city.

    I was pointing out to "name" the silliness of using the word "reasonable" to describe an income, as if the whole population is rich white folks with professional jobs. That's not the city we live in.

    Suggesting that poor people don't have the right to have children is not only morally repugnant, it also greatly overestimates the impact of economic realities on a process that is at heart biological and social.

  • SEis4ME

    @Okeydoke....WOW! You don't think people who make less than 40k should live in the city nor have kids. WOW! WOW! WOW!

    Well why don't you really tell us how you feel about "those" people from your perched position.

  • Tom

    If someone can't afford a neighborhood then they should move. Inclusionary zoning just distorts the market. I have zero sympathy for those who have lived here for a long time and think they are owed handouts in perpetuity. Close the housing projects, crack down on the criminals, and push the bums out to the suburbs.

  • Really?

    Well Tom let's do away with that handout call homestead and see how many middle class folks could pay the full amount of real estate taxes.

    Let's do away with developer subsidies. If developers can't afford to build on their own dime then they can find some other place to go.

    It's just more than poor folks receiving handouts in this city.

    Secondly IZ is a joke. Aint nothing been distorted in the market. Why? DC tracking mechanism that shows how many units have been set-aside for affordable housing is a joke no real data. Only thing distorted is that folks don't like law.

    Geeeze it real clear that the attitudes of the Native Americans haven't died. Manifest destiny alive and well!

  • http://www.dc4reason.org DC4RD`

    What "name" misses at the top of the comments is that most developers building so-called affordable housing are providing studios and one bedrooms, not two and three +bedrooms for families.

    So, in reality yes, two people making 40,000 each and with two kids could consider 80% AMI somewhat affordable. The problem is with the mechanics of what is actually being built by developers -- condos and luxury apartments that don't house families.

    And there is no meaningful push by City planners, City Council, the Mayor, or the Zoning Commission to demand developers build affordable units for families. This is the part of the re-defining which should happen.



    DC ZONING REWRITE -- July 2, 2013, 10:30AM City Council Hearing, Room 500 of the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

    See here >> http://www.dczoningupdate.org/

    The DC City Council will be hosting an update about the rewrite to get a lowdown on where things stand before all of the changes go before the Zoning Commission for review.

    It seems the City planners and zoning officials cannot meet the current laws, so they want to change them. Come find out how and dissent to unnecessary changes. There will be particular emphasis on the proposed changes to the regulations that govern minimum parking requirements for new construction.

    TUESDAY, JULY 2, 2013, 10:30AM
    The Wilson Building, Room 500
    1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW


  • SEis4ME

    @Really...way to knock that nonsense down!

  • Alan

    I make about $40k and live alone. $80k with two kids would be totally doable assuming we aren't talking about a condo in dupont and a nice car. That said I agree with the legislation, we need to focuse on the low and very low income people in the area. I can live on $40k but there are plenty of single parents trying to live on $20k and they clearly need assistance. And for people that blame the parents, that's fine, but it's never the kid's fault.

  • Really?

    Allen the second part of your comment was cool but $80k isn't doable. Especially with two kids. I ain't living in Dupont and don't own a nice car (it's 10 years old now). Here is a great example. It's summer time and you have a school age kid. Which means they have to have somewhere to go.

    Option A- Maybe your married with a wife/husband and the kid can stay home. If your single see option B.

    Option B- You have a family member who lives out-of-state and doesn't mind the kid kicking it w/ them for the summer
    (fee $500)

    Option C- Find a camp (which most parents have to do) Then you get to the point on finding a quality camp. DC rec is ok but the better camps are usually west of the park. If you don't live west of the park you need to figure out a transportation schedule. Can you get there and back and get to work on time? This is all assuming you have a car. If not you better pray the bus isn't late and/or the train doesn't have any delays.

    So then you look at the YMCA (same thought process with transportation). But the average cost per camp is $300 per week per kid. This doesn't include the $100 before and after care. So that's $400 per week for an average camp. $1,200 per month. This doesn't include rent/mortgage nor utilities nor food nor gas to take the kid back and forth.

    By August you have better have figured out your budget for the start of school (school supplies and school clothes).

    I could give you other cost breakdowns of how easy money flies out the window the rest of the year if you like. I'll been the first to admit that I have affordable housing. It's ONLY affordable b/c I was able to buy before the market took off. But, for those who weren't so lucky I just don't see how they do it.

  • Question

    Can someone explain why this legislation stops at requiring transparency/'real talk' about affordability? In other words, why isn't McDuffie calling for an actual change to the income guidelines that are part of development deals? Is it because changing those limits would be done through changing zoning laws (not plain vanilla council legislation)?

    I'm just a little unclear about why this bill isn't saying that, e.g., density bonuses must be awarded only for units that are reserved for residents earning 30-50% of AMI or whatever. As it is, it seems the bill is relying on public shame to catalyze real affordability, which seems a little weak to me.

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  • Katrice

    Wow! These self righteous comments amazes me! So hypocritical.Just kick them out of the city that is the answer. Nobody should get handouts at all if the middle class and the rich are going to complain about the poor getting handouts. No corporate welfare, no homestead tax exemptions, no subsides for developers, nothing! Everyone is on their own! no tax breaks since that is the answer. Be fair across the board! Everything is warranted when the rich are getting handouts it's so called stimulating the economy. Yeah right! Well not having affordable housing poses a bigger issue, homelessness in the city goes up tremendously!