- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Objections are intensifying among real estate developers over the D.C. Office of Planning’s proposal for a mandatory citywide affordable housing rule as officials draw up maps to decide which areas would be affected.

The rule would require developers to make up to 10 percent of their units affordable to households with incomes of no more than 80 percent of the region’s $90,300 median for a family of four. The rule would apply to projects with 10 or more living units.

Previously, the D.C. Council considered using voluntary financial incentives for developers to set aside affordable units.

However, the Zoning Commission said voluntary incentives were unlikely to help enforce meaningful affordable housing regulations.

Some developers say a citywide mandatory rule would depress growth in their industry, ultimately depriving them of the income they need to build new buildings or properly renovate and maintain existing buildings.

Opposition to a citywide rule has been easing as city officials and housing advocates convince more developers that sky-high housing prices can hurt the community by forcing out moderate-income people who perform necessary services.

“You got to have police, firefighters, teachers and young people just getting started,” said John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit land development research organization. “It’s good to have a community of rich folks, but not if it drives out other people.”

Hearings on the maps for applying the regulations are planned for the fall.

Opposition is nearly certain to be strong from the D.C. Building Industry Association, a trade group for builders and developers, which says the percentage of affordable housing units that would be required is too high.

“If the numbers don’t work financially for a project, then the development won’t occur,” said Gail Edwards, the association’s executive vice president. “Not only do you lose the affordable units, you also lose the market-rate units.”

Similar affordable housing issues are being addressed throughout the region.

In Alexandria, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to decide this week whether developers can tear down the 56-unit Gunston Hall apartments despite objections from housing advocates who want to keep them as an affordable-housing complex.

The nonprofit Alexandria Housing Development Corporation offered $12.8 million for the apartments, but the property owners rejected the offer. Instead, they want to turn the property over to a developer to demolish the apartments and replace them with luxury condominiums and town houses.

In Montgomery County, the County Council approved a measure last week that would extend its affordable housing program to “work force housing” for moderate income people, instead of only lower-income households.

Previously, developers were required to reserve 12.5 percent of large housing projects for people who earn 65 to 70 percent of the region’s median income.

The new program requires developers to set aside another 10 percent of housing units for rent or sale to people earning 80 to 120 percent of the area’s median income.

Property Lines runs on Thursdays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail tramstack@washingtontimes.com.

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