Symposium: Achieving Racial Equity in Housing Outcomes in D.C.
The District of Columbia is becoming increasingly more segregated by race and income. As outlined in the Urban Institute report The Color of Wealth in the Nation’s Capital, this segregation is built on racist public and private practices, and has amplified disparities and inequities in health, education, work opportunities, with effects that continue today.
Built on this foundation, the city’s current lack of affordable housing has contributed to the displacement of longtime low-income residents. In a recent study, D.C. Policy Center Executive Director Yesim Sayin Taylor wrote:
“Housing policies are central to the inclusiveness of a city. Housing defines, in large part, how residents share the wealth created by a city and how they access its assets and amenities. Where we live deeply affects our quality of life and the opportunities available to us and our children, especially jobs and better schools. How we invest in a neighborhood determines the desirability of the housing stock in that neighborhood and how we regulate our housing markets can shape who stays in the city and who leaves. Public policies that control the housing supply and public investments in amenities and services such as schools, transportation, and infrastructure can play roles equally strong as private wealth in defining the demographic make-up of a city. Population growth and demographic changes continually play out through the housing market, and when housing is constrained, these forces further amplify gentrification, economic segregation, and displacement.”
In partnership with the Consumer Health Foundation and the Meyer Foundation, the D.C. Policy Center asked a cross-section of community organizations, traditional and low-income housing developers, housing researchers, government officials, and other stakeholders to answer the question: What is the most important public policy that could increase affordable housing, reduce housing inequities, and create a more inclusive D.C.? What is the biggest obstacle to implementing your desired policy, and how can it be overcome?
The responses we received are fascinating and wide-ranging. Several respondents identified key aspects of current housing policy that can be strengthened, improved, or otherwise utilized more effectively. For instance, Peter Tatian and Mychal Cohen of the Urban Institute propose creating a tax on luxury homes that could be used to expand rent subsidies, while Claire Zippel of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute suggests a range of solutions to help the city realize the potential of housing vouchers to reduce segregation. Thomas Borger of Borger Management suggests reexaminations of existing tools such as rent control, while Chris Smith of WC Smith proposes renewed attention to range of options, from expanding housing voucher access to evaluating the opportunities in city-owned land. Catherine Lampi and Fernando Lemos of Mi Casa also argue for increased public investment in long-term housing sustainability through expanding limited-equity cooperatives and requiring 40-year affordability covenants.
Some respondents offer opposing views on certain topics, such as the role of new development in causing or ameliorating the city’s gentrification pressures, but there were also frequent points of agreement on the need for strategies that drive the returns of home ownership back into local communities. Dominic Moulden (ONE DC) and Amanda Huron (UDC)—among others—highlight the possibilities of community land-trusts and limited equity co-ops as strategies to prevent displacement in the face of gentrification and rising housing prices. In addition to these community-based strategies, Joshua Bernstein of the Bernstein Management Corporation proposes the Washington Housing Initiative, a nascent private-sector-led project by JBG Smith and the Federal City Council, as a new model for how to involve for-profit developers in affordable housing preservation.
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