Affordable Housing in the District — Where are We Now?

Benjamin Orr and
Benjamin Orr Research Analyst, Greater Washington Research Program
Alice M. Rivlin
Alice Rivlin
Alice M. Rivlin Former Brookings Expert

July 27, 2011

In 2006, the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force (the Task Force, or CHSTF), co-chaired by Alice M. Rivlin and Adrian Washington, recommended a detailed set of policies to the Mayor and City Council of Washington, D.C. The report, “Homes for an Inclusive City: A Comprehensive Housing Strategy for Washington, D.C.” outlined a 15-year plan to preserve and develop housing in support of a growing, inclusive city of mixed-income neighborhoods.

The Task Force, created in 2003, conducted its research and outreach in 2004 and 2005. Amid a booming housing market, its concerns centered on preserving affordable housing for low-income residents, channeling market forces to create affordable and workforce housing in addition to high-end housing, supporting the development of mixed-income neighborhoods, and reducing the concentration of poverty. Based on the city’s strong housing market and healthy revenue picture at the time, the report recommended doubling annual expenditures on housing, drawing in large part on revenue generated by sales of residential and commercial property. 

Since then, the global, national, and local economic picture has dramatically changed. Although the Washington region weathered the housing collapse and recession better than other areas across the country, the economic downturn caused serious distress throughout the city and contributed to Depression-era unemployment rates in some neighborhoods. Property values were relatively stable, yet sales fell dramatically. Tax revenues have plummeted and the city is facing years of budget austerity even as the need for city services increases.

The legislation creating the 2006 Task Force called for the Mayor to provide annual updates on the implementation of the recommendations and for the Council to hold public roundtables to review the reports. In 2007, the Brookings Institution provided the first annual report. There have been no subsequent updates. 

This paper is the first comprehensive accounting of the District’s progress toward the CHSTF goals since 2007. It reviews recent housing and economic trends, provides an update on the implementation of the Task Force’s recommendations, offers recommendations for continuing to support affordable housing in a budget-constrained environment, and raises issues for city officials and stakeholders to consider as they continue to grapple with growing an inclusive city.