Capitol Hill Restoration Society

2016 Dick Wolf Memorial Lecture – the Loss of Affordable Housing

Posted on March 30th, 2016 by Elizabeth Nelson

How to retain affordable housing and its contribution to maintaining character of place

On March 18, 2016 an overflow crowd attended the Hill Center to hear Brook Hill, this year’s winner of the Dick Wolf Memorial Lecture. Event PhotosDW2016winnerBrookHill

Mr. Hill explained how economic pressures to convert existing affordable housing to market rate housing is greatly diminishing the stock of affordable housing and that this redevelopment has attracted wealthy newcomers. Gentrifying neighborhoods are rapidly becoming off-limits to minorities because of price. The Fair Housing Act imposes an affirmative duty on the City to preserve economic integration, but the City is not exercising its authority. Mr. Hill identified the factors causing this trend and suggested how to reverse the trend in order to retain affordable housing and its contribution to maintaining character of place.

Mr. Hill described three opportunities, that if effectively exercised, could provide a solution:

  1. The Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act. This requires the developer to inform the tenants of his intent to convert the building to market rate housing and allows the tenants to organize and negotiate with the developer, that could involve bringing in an alternate developer.
  2. The District Opportunity to Purchase Act. This allows the Department of Housing and Community Development to essentially assume the same rights as the tenants, to provide the developer with notice, negotiate with the developer, and possibly bring in an alternate developer.
  3. The Planned Unit Development (PUD) process allows a developer to seek density and height bonuses in return for providing public benefits. But in considering those public benefits, Inclusionary Zoning, that requires only 8-10 percent affordable housing rather than one-for-one affordable housing is evaluated and the Department of Housing and Community Development is usually not involved in that evaluation.

Mr. Hill’s lecture was followed by a panel discussion with panelists who represented the views of a DC Developer, an Affordable Housing Activist, and the DC Government:

The Affordable Housing Activist View: Will Merrifield, the Staff Attorney with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless expanded on Mr. Hill’s points and explained that frequently the statutory rights contained in the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act are not exercised because the tenants are not able to organize and begin the process of negotiating with the developer. A companion remedy is available to the City under the District Opportunity to purchase Act, but that authority has never been exercised.

The Developer View: Buwa Binitie, the Managing Principal of Dantes Partners, explained the economic pressures facing a developer. Even if a tenants’ organization exercises it rights under the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act, the time required to negotiate with a tenants’ organization is not adequate, particularly in a PUD proceeding..

The DC Government View: Allison Ladd, the Chief of Staff of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) explained that the Mayor has committed 100 million dollars to affordable housing, but her department has not issued regulations to implement the District Opportunity to Purchase Act. DHCD is studying whether the regulations should provide that the city will own purchased properties, or assign purchased properties to a developer.

Following the lecture and panel discussion, Mr. Hill was presented with $1,000 check.The program was preceded by a membership meeting and concluded with a champagne reception that allowed the public to visit with Mr. Hill and the panelists.

This is the second Dick Wolf Memorial Lecture Program showcasing excellence in research and writing on urban planning and historic preservation in the District of Columbia by a student or intern. It is free and open to the public, funded by contributions from people like you. We need contributions to keep the program going, and also to purchase software that will convert the audio recordings of the first two lecture programs into text. Our goal is to create a library of Dick Wolf Lectures, beginning with last year’s and this year’s lectures and panel discussions.

We need your help. Please make your check payable to “CHRS “ and in the memo field write “Dick Wolf Lecture” so that your contribution will be tax deductible and will be kept separate from other CHRS funds so it can be used for future Dick Wolf lectures and the creation of the library of Dick Wolf lectures.