ULI Advises Washington, D.C. on Increasing Affordable Housing

Washington, D.C.—one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets—sought assistance from ULI’s renowned Advisory Services program on ways to more equitably distribute affordable housing throughout the city, including increasing the supply of affordable units in the Rock Creek West Planning District, which is one of the most affluent areas.

The panel, chaired by ULI Trustee Philip Payne, chief executive officer of Ginkgo Residential in Charlotte, North Carolina, was composed of leading ULI members with significant expertise in affordable and workforce housing. The panel’s assignment stemmed from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to provide 36,000 housing units across the city by 2025, with 12,000 of those being low- and moderate-income units. Specifically, panelists considered and provided strategic recommendations on the following:

– Identifying and prioritizing the barriers to new housing production, focusing on an area of D.C. characterized primarily by single-family homes and corridors of more dense development;

– Outlining specific tools, policies, and changes that will enable the District to overcome cost barriers and development capacity constraints;

– Developing a strategy to produce a significant amount of affordable housing in Rock Creek West over the next six years; and

– Identifying opportunities to increase residents’ engagement with and support for affordable housing in Rock Creek West.

  • “The work of our panelists in Washington, D.C., is an excellent example of ULI’s commitment to help communities build affordable housing. It is a testament to the willingness of our members to give their time and expertise to help create cities where everyone can live and thrive.”

    – W. Edward Walter, ULI Global Chief Executive Officer

Following a week of site tours and interviews with public officials and a broad range of community stakeholders, the panel concluded that the city can build momentum for increasing the supply of affordable housing in Rock Creek West by garnering community buy-in through outreach, marketing, and education initiatives, and by simplifying the development process. A report with detailed recommendations, delivered to Mayor Bowser, included the following:

Gain community support. The panelists recommended that the city create a marketing and education campaign to communicate the vision of affordable housing to stakeholders and create political will for support, and adopt a proactive strategy of engaging the real estate community in discussions around affordable housing.

Understand the housing production gap. Between 2010 and 2017, the panelists found that the District gained about 92,250 residents but built only 18,000 total new units throughout the city, creating a gap of about 22,000 units and driving up rental costs. The Advisory Services panelists urged the city to closely examine the housing production gap and its ramifications.

Streamline and improve the development process. The panelists advised the city to 1) create small area plans and consider them with great weight in the decision-making process, 2) closely examine the housing codes for unintended consequences, 3) promote construction and conversion of accessory dwelling units, and 4) partner with community land trusts and other shared-equity homeownership models to expand affordable, sustainable homeownership activities.

Consider nontraditional methods to create more housing. The panelists recommended consideration of master-leasing existing housing on a trial basis, allowing “gentle density” increases in all Rock Creek West neighborhoods and specifically upzoning corridors near subway stations and bus stops.

The panel in Washington, D.C., was part of a series of ULI advisory panels convened to assist some of the nation’s most expensive cities with strategies to increase access to affordable and mixed-income housing, which is a priority for many areas seeking to attract and retain talented workers in various stages of their careers. The panel’s recommendations drew upon knowledge shared in a report published by the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, Attainable Housing: Challenges, Perceptions, and Solutions; as well as insights from previous panels focused on housing challenges in Chicago; Naples, Florida; Los Angeles; and Dallas.

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