- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2017

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie is challenging Mayor Muriel Bowser on one of her administration’s signature issues: affordable housing.

The Ward 5 Democrat introduced legislation that he says would ensure developers using city funds provide affordable homes for families. He also questioned whether city leaders have focused more on the number of affordable units and less on who needs those living spaces.

“As I reflect upon what has been a significant push by both the council and executive to create affordable housing, I must ask whether we have missed the mark,” Mr. McDuffie said in a statement. “To date, our focus has been on affordable dwelling units. We have judged our success based on the number of units we have created, with little emphasis on the size of the units being built.”

Enter the Family Unit Amendment Act of 2017, which Mr. McDuffie says would refocus the affordable housing effort to make sure families aren’t being neglected.

Under the measure, the deputy mayor’s office for planning and economic development would be required to produce a biennial report on the District’s need for three-, four- and five-bedroom apartment units.

The bill also would require that at least 10 percent of rental units created via the Housing Production Trust Fund be set aside for families rather than single people. That means at least three bedrooms in each unit.

The $100 million fund hands out low- or zero-interest loans to developers who promise to build affordable houses and rental units. The fund uses money collected by the city’s deed recordation and transfer taxes.

But statistics provided by the Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the fund, challenge Mr. McDuffie’s claims. They show that the number of family units has increased over the past two years.

In fiscal 2015, about 6 percent of 795 units created via the fund were three bedrooms or larger. Few developers awarded money that year had plans for family units. The exception was the Spring Road Northwest project being developed by the nonprofit So Others Might Eat, where nearly half of the 37 units are set to have three or more bedrooms.

In fiscal 2016, the percentage of family units using the Housing Production Trust Fund nearly tripled. About 15 percent of the 1,102 affordable units had three or more bedrooms. Nearly 75 percent of the 94 units at Maplewood Courts in Southeast are family units, and about 35 percent of the 252 affordable units at St. Elizabeths East Housing in Southeast will have three or more bedrooms.

Bowser spokesman Kevin Harris attributes that jump to provisions introduced two years ago that awarded an additional six preference points to projects that included larger bedrooms. That means when developers try to secure trust fund money, a certain preference is given to applicants who promise to build family-size units.

“In the second year, the number of large family units was three times larger, which suggests that developers may be responding to this incentive,” he said.

Mr. Harris said the mayor has not seen Mr. McDuffie’s bill but remains committed to creating more safe and affordable housing for residents.

“Her administration has made unprecedented investments to ensure more residents have access to affordable housing and that work will continue,” he said.

Mr. McDuffie said Monday that even with the gains in affordable housing, there’s still room for the improvements outlined in his bill.

“It really only serves to underscore the need for this legislation and the need for reliable data on larger, family-size units in the District,” he told The Washington Times. “The bottom line is that there is still room for improvement. The city’s affordable housing policy regarding larger, family units should be data driven and goal oriented.”

He said the 10 percent figure is not set in stone and he wants to work with residents and experts to determine what percentage is appropriate for the District.

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