- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

Members of the D.C. real estate community got a comprehensive look Wednesday at the District’s plans to attract 100,000 new residents over the next decade and revitalize dozens of neighborhoods throughout the city.

D.C. Planning Director Andy Altman touted the District’s plan for revitalization, urging developers to take advantage of “one of the great moments in the history of the life of the city.”

The luncheon was sponsored by the Brookings Institution and CIG International, financier of residential development in the District.

Mr. Altman said 30,000 housing units are either under construction, planned or proposed for development in the District and that 600 acres of land is available for the creation of new neighborhoods. He pointed to underutilized land along the Anacostia waterfront and Southeast as potential development sites, and said he favored more densely populated neighborhoods.

“I think density is a good thing for the city,” Mr. Altman said. “If you’re going to grow, this is how you should do it.”

Mr. Altman, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other city officials have made clear their objective is to attract middle-class residents and increase tax revenue, which they believe would boost retail and commercial spots and help improve schools. But questions about the plan remain.

Developers have said publicly they support any plan that involves construction of new homes, insisting that the only obstacle will be the D.C. government’s ability to carry it out.

“They’ve put together a list of great ideas, but they have to make sure they have the staff to execute,” said Stewart Bartley, managing director for the residential division of the JBG Cos., a D.C.-based developer. “I just hope they have the resources to follow up on their initiatives.”

Other developers said privately that 40,000 single-family homes will be hard to fill, even with interest rates at all-time lows. Many skeptics have pointed to the decline in the District’s population, from about 600,000 in 1990 to 570,000 now, as an indication that people are interested in moving out of the city, not into it.

But Mr. Altman and other city officials insist that the District can attract the residents, because city services have improved dramatically from a decade ago and the rate of violent crime is lower. The region’s suburban population has exploded at the same time, creating a larger pool of potential new residents, officials said.

Mr. Altman acknowledged that in order to attract more residents to the city, housing must become more affordable. A house purchased in the District at $200,000 in 1998, Mr. Altman said, is now worth more than $350,000, out of reach for residents of the District, whose median household income is just over $40,000.

To address the issue, Mr. Altman said the District has created 4,000 housing units using the Hope VI program, which takes over dilapidated properties and converts them to homes. Also, nearly all new mixed-use developments in the District including the one proposed at the old convention center site and Southeast Federal Center, will include residential portions priced below market level.

D.C. officials will host a meeting on June 4 at the new D.C. Convention Center to discuss affordable housing, specifically addressing whether the District should require any new commercial development to include an affordable residential component.

In other news

• Arlington County presented Silverwood Associates Inc. with its annual Preservation Design Award for the $11 million renovation of the Quebec Apartments on Columbia Pike.

Tim Lemke can be reached at tlemke@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-4836.

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