Washington Housing Initiative Addresses Affordable Housing in DC

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The Urban Institute released a report on the innovative approach by the Washington Housing Initiative to address the need for affordable housing for residents at risk of displacement in urban centers across the country, and revealed that the Washington D.C. region faces serious housing affordability challenges. 

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The Washington Housing Initiative was launched by developer JBG SMITH and the Federal City Council in 2018, as they looked to address this challenge through the preservation of housing that is affordable to the “missing middle,” described as the segment who earn too much to qualify for traditional rental assistance but still struggle to pay for quality housing. 

“Our efforts are focused on preserving affordability for households with moderate incomes in neighborhoods characterized by good jobs, transportation access and quality schools, without relying on public subsidies,” AJ Jackson, JBG SMITH’s executive vice president of social impact investments, told Commercial Observer. 

The Urban Institute’s report highlights the importance of preserving existing naturally occurring affordable housing in addition to building new housing, the advantage of focusing on investment in high-opportunity neighborhoods, and the ways that providing more missing middle housing also creates benefits for those lower down the income scale. 

“While there has been a good amount of new housing developed in recent years, the D.C. region has struggled to keep up with demand,” Jackson said. “As a result, pressure has been placed on the existing housing stock causing rents to increase. At the same time, much of the region’s naturally affordable housing has been lost, either to redevelopment or conversion to luxury housing.” 

This creates a housing shortage that makes it difficult for workers to find good-quality moderately-priced housing in neighborhoods with resources such as transit, grocery stores, and child care.    

According to Jackson, the average two-bedroom apartment in D.C. rents for more than $2,700 a month, meaning a family needs to earn more than $100,000 per year to afford the rent and have money left for necessities like child care. 

“As a result, people essential to our communities: teachers, firefighters, police officers, healthcare workers, and others are caught in an affordability gap,” he said. “They earn too much to qualify for housing assistance but not enough to afford rent and still have money left over for other expenses. This is the missing middle.”

The Washington Housing Initiative acquires well-located housing and preserves its affordability to allow these families to remain in the neighborhoods they call home. It intends to finance the acquisition of 3,000 existing rental units in neighborhoods that are currently characterized by relatively inexpensive rental housing, but are expected to face substantial market pressure over the next five to 10 years. 

“Our efforts are focused on the ‘missing middle,’ workers earning roughly $50,000 to $100,000, and most of the housing will be set aside for that group,” Jackson said. “However, each property will serve a range of incomes so there will be units for people with higher and lower incomes too.”