Re: Wash Post: In upper Northwest, displacement happened long ago

Carren Kaston

Regarding Matthew Frumin's op-ed, as far as I'm aware, the people who are opposed to the Comp Plan amendments see their goals precisely as they are enunciated in the op-ed: "....we can and should at least try to reverse the momentum of segregation that has shaped our communities over the past 100 years."  

The point of those who are opposed to the Comp Plan is that it will not reverse segregation. Whether there are enough people of color living in Ward 3 now to be displaced isn't the point. The housing that the amended Comp Plan will subsidize the construction of is not affordable enough to allow people of color to move into our ward from other parts of the city (nor to allow people of low and modest income already living in the ward -- whatever their color, including seniors and others living on a fixed income -- to find another home in the ward if they choose to or need to relocate).

In addition, the op-ed says: "And, with D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh’s (D-Ward 3) thoughtful refinement for Rock Creek West, complemented by the use of innovative tools such as land trusts, limited equity co-ops, social housing, homeownership subsidies and, importantly, public investment...." But so far -- and I very much hope it will change -- Mary Cheh does not favor public investment -- for example in the Wardman Hotel. Nor as far as I know does she favor land trusts or social housing, etc. Yet those are precisely the things that could make Upper Northwest genuinely affordable. I'm sure many listserv members have read discussions of the lack of affordability actually provided by IZ+. And Council Chair Mendelson himself conceded, at a meeting hosted by Empower DC, that high market rents do **not** have a trickle-down affordability effect -- what CM Cheh calls "filtering" -- supposedly "the process by which older units are made available to lower-income tenants and owners [at prices low enough for them to afford] as higher-income tenants and owners move to newer units." Instead, the prices of those older units also rise.

In addition, while there's provision for a Small Area Plan (SAP) on Upper Connecticut Avenue (though many who live there feel the process isn't being conducted in a transparent manner, residents are blocked from knowing what takes place in meetings, and the area to be densified has suddenly spilled over into small streets with private homes many blocks east and west off Connecticut Avenue), CM Cheh has so far not helped set up SAPs for other parts of Ward 3. She says in her recent statement on the Comprehensive Plan and Ward 3, referred to in the op-ed, that she will support more SAPs after the Comp Plan amendments have passed.

However, that needs to happen before the Comp Plan amendments are voted upon, not after, in order for growth and development to have a chance of involving the community. If it happens after the Comp Plan amendments are approved, the community will be shut out -- as has already happened with the Office of Planning's sudden designation of developer-friendly ULI to conduct a study and issue a report on what should happen under the Comp Plan in Friendship Heights and Upper Wisconsin Avenue. It's troubling to read, in Mary's statement, that the "
Zoning Commission, in its reasoned analysis, [will] weigh the various factors and come up with a decision not inconsistent with the Plan, which is the legal standard." That is to say, the end result is already known -- a Zoning Commission decision "not inconsistent with the Plan" -- when the reasonableness and ethics of the Plan are precisely the issue.
Cheh's statement ends with the minimally aspirational comment that "Regardless, even if greater density weren’t certain to provide more affordable housing, capping density is certain to constrain affordable housing." Is that enough of a basis for supporting the Comp Plan amendments? Shouldn't we instead insist that the amendments themselves be amended so that they're sure to provide affordable housing? In my view, the Comp Plan amendments should specifically call for "affordable" housing that has higher percentages than the measly 20% or even 30% of units per luxury building that have been discussed -- possibly as high as 50% of the units or even more -- since the urgent need in the city is for large numbers of affordable units for those making 30% AMI and less. There are innovative models of housing that can help us reach that goal, if the District would only have the vision to think big and bold and financially support them to the same degree that it promises, in the Comp Plan amendments, to support the old models that have produced a miniscule amount of affordable housing across the city over several decades.

Carren Kaston

-- original message --

Excellent opinion piece in the WAPO written by Matt Frumin, reposted here  

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