January 6, 2021
Contact Nick DelleDonne
Like Roads and Sewers –
A New Model to Reach DC Housing Goals
The affordable housing crisis in DC is a political crisis. The Mayor’s collaboration with developers to #BuildMore is not getting us where we need to go. All we get is more luxury housing that residents cannot afford. The result is higher rents, higher home prices, rampant gentrification, displacement of long-term Black and low-income families and the destruction of established working-class neighborhood communities.
The notion that people should have a right to housing should not be a radical proposition in the richest country in the world. It is an offense to the city that our elected officials have misused our vast resources and presided over a system that has given us an acute housing crisis where private developers control housing policy at our expense. Every year, the city gives away hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and public land to developers mainly to build luxury apartments that working-class Washingtonians cannot afford, while existing affordable units are demolished and neighborhood communities destroyed. In fact, between 2002 and 2012 the number of low-cost rental units in DC dropped by more than 50% while the number of more expensive units rose by 155%. Perpetual scarcity has become the model. Today, we find ourselves with skyrocketing rents, massive amounts of inequality, hyper-segregation, displacement — and a corrupt political system that promotes the defective model. Jack Evans was only the tip of the iceberg. An examination of the campaign financing of elected officials shows they are overwhelmingly financed by developers.
What we need is a new model – a model that will create affordable housing on a massive scale with maximum economy and eliminates the need for developers and the profit motive.
The model is social housing proven successful around the world where the city builds housing as infrastructure, like roads and sewers and utilities. Once built, the housing units are open to everyone (non-means tested). All tenants pay 30% of their income in rent, higher income tenants offset rent from lower income tenants. All rents are reinvested back into the building to cover operating costs. What would have been the developer’s profit is used to pay down the construction costs.
In this way, social housing creates deeply affordable, mixed-income housing that for itself. By giving renters a public option, social housing reduces costs and provides a real solution to the affordable housing crisis. It also works to boost the economy. Because renters pay 30% of their income in rent, they have more to spend in the local economy.