Building Affordable Housing in Ward 3 (April 27 event video & slides)

Carren Kaston

Behind the April 27 event on affordable housing was the Comp Plan's advocacy of pseudo-affordable housing. This advocacy came under damning assessment by the Council Office of Racial Equity (CORE), which found that the Comp Plan amendments sustain a legacy of racism in housing and will exacerbate racial inequity in our city. The CORE report was the elephant in the room for the entire Ward 3 Vision event and caused the presentations to appear subdued and rudderless as the presenters sought to avoid mentioning the Comp Plan.

Please see this article for background on the Comp Plan amendments:

The DC Council will hold its first vote on the Comp Plan on Tuesday, May 4. Readers who find it objectionable that the Council might be inclined to pass the Comp Plan amendments in their current form especially after the CORE assessment are encouraged to call six councilmembers on Monday, May 3: Council Chair Phil Mendelson, the four at-large members, and the councilmember whose ward they live in, in our case, CM Mary Cheh. At this point, calling has been determined to be as effective as emailing, if not more so. And you can call and leave your message on the office answering machine any time of the day or night, as your message will be tallied and carry weight in urging the Council to avoid the stigma of approving the plan as currently written.

(In some cases, a recording will say you've reached a different number than the one you dialed. That just means that the person who answers the phones in that office has forwarded calls to an individual number.)

Please see below for guidance from Empower DC and the Grassroots Planning Coalition, which are leading the fight citywide against the Comp Plan amendments in their current form.

Carren Kaston

CALL THE COUNCIL - Before May 4th – call the 6 DC Council offices listed below: the 4 At-Large members (Silverman, Henderson, R. White and Bonds), Chairman Phil Mendelson, and your Ward-level Councilperson.

Sample message:

“I am deeply concerned about the continued displacement of Black and brown residents from the city, and it is clear that the Comprehensive Plan does not go far enough to address racial equity. Please support the recommendations of the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition to strengthen the Comp Plan before final passage – particularly: prioritize the development of housing affordable to low-income people, mandate the prevention of displacement, and create new opportunities for resident-led equitable development, including in public housing. I urge you to introduce amendments on May 4th to support these goals.”

Phil Mendelson, Council Chair - (202) 724-8032
Anita Bonds, At Large - (202) 724-8064
Elissa  Silverman, At Large - (202)-724-7772
Robert White, At Large - (202)-724-8174 
Christina Henderson, At Large - (202) 724-8105

Mary Cheh, Ward 3 - (202)-724-8062

- from previous message -
This past Tuesday Ward 3 Vision held an event that examined the challenges to producing affordable housing in Ward 3 and the tools available to overcome those hurdles. 
It included:
  • a look at what "affordable" means and the strategies people take when confronted with housing costs that are beyond their reach;
  • an examination of the costs and revenues of development projects and how these are affected by building affordable housing, and the tools that are available to close the gaps; and a
  • review of a case study that used a variety of tools to build an affordable housing project (not in Ward 3) in DC and how those same tools could be used in high-cost Ward 3.
View the event recording on youtube
Featured speakers
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh; Tracy Hadden Loh, PhD, Brookings Institution Fellow and Greater Greater Washington Board Chair;
Stan Wall, P.E., Partner, HR&A Advisors and ANC Commissioner 3F04;
Patrick McAnaney, Somerset Development;
Andrew Trueblood, Director, DC Office of Planning; 
David Cristeal, LSA Planning, ANC Commissioner 3F01, Ward 3 Vision Steering Committee and former Housing Director, Arlington County (moderator)

Thanks so much for the reference to the CORE report so that I could actually read what the Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA). It can be found on page 33 of the attached link
Relative to our discussions in Ward 3, here’s what it does not say: It does not say that choosing to build fewer affordable homes - as opposed to more affordable homes - in high-opportunity, predominately white neighborhoods with a history of exclusion is a good thing to do. Despite the quite odd implications to the contrary.
Here are some of the things it does say:
On language:
CORE strongly encourages the interrogation of the words we use, why we use those words, and what historical meanings are attached to words, even if they are terms of art. For example, the Land Use Element uses amorphous terms such as “preserve neighborhood character” and “established neighborhoods.” These terms are inherently biased and racially coded, and therefore should be defined to ensure clarity in how and why they are used. Historically, such terms have been used to exclude Black residents in order to maintain “exclusively” white communities.
On community input:
Based on a sampling of sections, CORE is encouraged by the Committee Print’s steps to clarify and strengthen community involvement. The Implementation Element now requires Small Area Plans and other planning studies be conducted using a racial equity lens. The element also requires that these and all other planning documents be evaluated using a racial equity impact analysis
On evaluation through a racial lens:
Based on a sampling of sections, CORE is strongly encouraged by the Committee Print’s incorporation of racial equity evaluations.In the Housing Element, racial equity evaluations are now embedded in a review of federal and local housing programs ... and the allocation of housing improvement funds will consider historic barriers and existing racial gaps in housing access and opportunity
Essentially, as it pertains to Ward 3, these statement essentially are telling us to up our game when it comes to any Small Area Plans we may undertake before zoning changes. It does not say to ignore Ward 's history of exclusionary zoning  and it does not say that "neighborhood character," which it rightly calls out as euphemisms for exclusion must be paramount.  

So if someone wants to argue against the Comprehensive Plan for racial equity reasons, consider that the end result will be continued lack of equity in the very place that person lives.  

Steve Seelig

The previous message is available in full at Message 

Linnea Warren

The word I’d like everyone to focus on is “affordable,” which is something that everyone apparently wants but which means different things to different people. 

To developers, providing “affordable” housing means letting a few people who wouldn’t otherwise qualify as purchasers buy the units the developers choose to build. That’s not the same thing as ensuring that low income residents have a roof over their heads.

We need to pay more attention to the legal implications of the words we use. A lot of terms commonly used in conversation have quite different meanings under local laws; are we all talking about the same thing? 

Instead of getting distracted by historical misunderstandings, let’s focus on what will move us forward.

Linnea Warren
The previous message is available in full at Message