Re: Wash Post: In upper Northwest, displacement happened long ago
Thanks Carren and Elba.
I agree the Comp Plan alone will not reverse the momentum of segregation. But I think it will help. The new Inclusionary Zoning plus ("IZ plus") requirements can push up the IZ requirements from on the order of 10% to on the order of 20%. If the Comp Plan changes led to adding 5000 overall units in Rock Creek West, a huge area, that would include 1000 affordable units. Not a thing to sneeze at. And, there are virtues to mixed income approaches. But also public land and small area planning opportunities offer a path to significantly more affordable housing, including pure affordable projects and higher requirements than 20% in small area plans. So, to my mind, the Comp Plan approach with the emphasis on small area planning offers a meaningful opportunity
And, here we may differ, but I also think we should be adding density at our transit hubs for other reasons. Friendship Heights is broken. One story retail over the Tenley Metro has never made sense. Folks in Van Ness have worked hard in recent years to develop strategies to strengthen the corridor there and done great work. I do think the question is not whether but how much on these density issues. One could argue the Comp Plan proposals call for too much or too little, but those are specific debates in over specific sites around which reasonable minds can differ, not, to my mind, a basis to throw the whole thing out.
I do not know the issues around the Wardman and need to be schooled. But I do not think it is fair to say Mary Cheh does not support public investment in this or other functions. She has brought enormous public investment to the Ward and appears committed to increase affordable housing. She may not support a proposed approach on the Wardman, but that does not mean she generally does not support public investment. Tour our schools, fire stations and libraries. Like you, I also do not know where Mary stands on land trusts and social housing, but let's work on her on those issues and we may well find that with creative and promising ideas we are pushing on an open door.
Empower DC does lots of great work and its fear of major market projects pushing up rents and leading to displacement in many parts of the city is real. A point of my column though was that that concern is significantly blunted in upper NW. Displacement happened here long ago. I doubt increased mixed income development will push up housing costs here. Scarcity has already sent them through the roof. (Here I digress, but one reason values have gone up so high here is that it is perceived to be the one place in the city where you can send a kid by right to great schools from kindergarten through high school. The most important potential affordable housing investment in the city is to ensure great matter of right schools in every community, a thing I have committed over a decade to, see here. Another one is to get our policing and public safety policies right. If folks thought that their kids had matter of right access to great schools and their safety was assured in more places, many more places would be seen as attractive and affordable).
On Chevy Chase DC, I see the recent concerns about the Small Area Plan and I think it is great that more people will engage. But I think they should do so not thinking that something terrible was happening and they must intervene, but recognizing just how great what has been happening is and capitalizing on the work others have gotten started. Leaders in Chevy Chase DC launched task forces on racism and housing, came up with detailed proposals that were the subject of extended debate and modified by that debate, see here. They got a small area planning process launched creating the opportunity to shape ideas for what the corridor will look like. The work to date in Chevy Chase DC has been exemplary and created a real opportunity for Chevy Chase DC to do something inclusive. There is no juggernaut for massive development there. The future land use map amendments call for opening up some blocks on Connecticut Avenue to "moderate" residential development and that can and should be shaped by the small area planning process.
On some of your desire for higher requirements for affordable housing and emphasis on deeply affordable, I personally am trying to come up with what sort of mix I think makes the most sense. I am 110% for doing a lot of affordable housing in upper NW, but I worry that if we impose too high of requirements we will get none and if we create too dense of enclaves of very low income housing we will not achieve all our goals. I take Elba's point about affordable housing becoming a surrogate for ending segregation. The voucher experience in some buildings on Connecticut Avenue is cautionary. Part of that is the lack of support services, but it shows that there are better and worse ways to try to achieve our goals.
These are hard conversations, but very high income White communities with clusters of low income families of color is not my goal. I think the goal should be a more mixed race. mixed income community. How we get there is a puzzle. But mixed income buildings and significant workforce level housing -- teachers, firefighters, police -- strike me as part of the mix. I also am intrigued by the kind of program being floated in Evanston written about in the Post this weekend, see here. Finding the right balance strikes me as a thing to aspire to in ongoing community discussion and small area planning. I am skeptical that broad requirements in the Comp Plan are the best way to do it. Setting a floor and making clear the goal, makes sense to me. And then it falls to folks like you and I and lots of people in the community to figure out the detail in different places. In Chevy Chase DC, even if developments on private land might be at 20%, affordable perhaps something on public land -- over a renovated Rec Center and library -- could have a higher proportion or be pure affordable. Ditto in Friendship Heights over the WMATA bus terminal. And then still there can and should be a legitimate debate about what the income mix should be.
So, directionally, I do see the proposed Comp Plan amendments as appropriate. They will be tweaked by Chairman Mendelson in response to input from many and then there will be a flurry of debate once he releases his draft, but to my mind the direction is appropriate even as they will appropriately be refined. And the really good news is that it seems that nearly everyone is talking about how to make our communities more inclusive. At another time that might not have been the case, indeed was not the case. It will be a great and ongoing debate about how we get there and you and I may differ on the best path, but it is terrific that our discussion will be about how best to achieve what looks like generally shared goals rather than whether to pursue those goals.
All the best,
The referenced previous messages are at #172266 and #172254
Matthew Frumin's original Washington Post piece is available here: