Bowser Calls For More Affordable Units In New Housing Developments In Mayor Muriel Bowser's quest to add more housing to the District, her administration is asking to increase the amount of affordable housing developers are required to include in certain projects.
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Bowser Calls For More Affordable Units In New Housing Developments

In D.C., large residential developments have to include some affordable housing. Mayor Bowser wants to toughen those requirements for certain new projects. Ted Eytan/Flickr hide caption

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Ted Eytan/Flickr

As part of her goal to build 36,000 additional homes in D.C. by 2025, Mayor Muriel Bowser's administration wants to require some new development to include more affordable housing.

Under current law, new residential development with 10 or more units must dedicate at least 8% of its square footage to below market-rate living spaces. That law — called Inclusionary Zoning, or IZ — has attracted criticism from some affordable housing advocates, who say it's insufficient for a city that's seen an influx of luxury apartments and displacement of low- to moderate-income residents.

Montgomery County, by contrast, requires at least 12.5% affordable housing in new construction, though it applies to buildings with 20 or more units.

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The administration took a step toward stiffening its affordable housing rules on Friday when it asked the District's Zoning Commission to consider requiring more affordable units from developers seeking to build bigger than current zoning allows. In a memo sent to the commission, staffers with the Office of Planning recommended mandating those developments include between 10 and 20% affordable housing.

The city's goal, says Office of Planning Director Andrew Trueblood, is to capture more affordable housing from larger private developments. The tougher rules would only apply to projects that request zoning map amendments, which are currently subject to regular IZ requirements.

Trueblood acknowledges that the change, if approved, wouldn't produce a wave of additional affordable housing, because zoning map amendments aren't that common. "This isn't thousands of units," Trueblood says. "It's probably in the hundreds of units" over five years, the period during which Mayor Bowser wants the city to add 12,000 additional affordable homes.

But the planning director thinks more map amendments could be in the pipeline as the Bowser administration seeks changes to the city's Future Land Use Map, or FLUM, to accommodate more density.

"It is anticipated that requests for zoning map amendments may...increase at properties where the draft FLUM increases the land use designation to a higher category," says the memo sent to the Zoning Commission.

The administration's proposal could also yield more affordable housing in upper-income areas, where Inclusionary Zoning is the primary source of new below market-rate homes, the director says.

"Inclusionary zoning isn't the biggest program that produces affordable housing in the city, but it is the biggest program that produces affordable housing in high-cost areas," Trueblood says.

The new proposal is one of several actions the Bowser administration has taken to increase production of housing — including affordable homes — citywide. The Council recently approved Bowser-backed amendments to the city's Comprehensive Plan that make it harder for residents to appeal zoning decisions, dealing a blow to activists who use the appeals process to delay new development. Bowser also pushed to increase affordable housing funds in the 2020 budget, winning a partial victory in the Council, though her pitch to fund middle-income housing fell flat.

The Bowser administration has also been trying to soften residents' resistance to new housing, holding a public meeting in Tenleytown last month that aimed to educate residents about redlining and other exclusionary land-use practices that solidified segregation in the District.

Bowser sparked controversy last fall when she said at a real estate conference that residents who fight new housing should be made to look shameful.

The Office of Planning has asked the Zoning Commission to consider holding a public hearing on the Inclusionary Zoning proposal sometime this spring.

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