PD&R Edge Banner

April 16, 2024

Meeting the Need for Affordable Housing in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia

Skyline of Washington, D.C.From 2019 to 2023, the greater D.C. area produced 13,522 new committed affordable units and 109,000 housing units overall.

Housing affordability is a growing challenge nationwide, and the Capital Region of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., is no exception. On March 21, 2024, the Urban Institute held an event to discuss the state of affordable housing in the Capital Region. The event coincided with the launch of the fourth iteration of the Housing Indicator Tool (HIT 4.0), a digital dashboard project by the Urban Institute and the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND) that tracks affordable housing production and preservation across the greater D.C. area as well as the areas surrounding Richmond, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland. The event reviewed the latest edition of HIT and featured two panel discussions highlighting the need for accountability, flexibility, and cross-sector collaboration to meet the region’s demand for affordable housing.

The Housing Indicator Tool

Taylor Phillips, director of public policy at HAND, and Leah Hendey, principal research associate at the Urban Institute, discussed the background of HIT and reviewed the 2023 results. HIT 4.0 is the latest iteration of the tool, which began in 2019 as a response to an Urban Institute report that called for jurisdictions in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area to add 374,000 housing units by 2030. Phillips noted that the platform is meant to provide accountability and action by outlining features of a housing policy toolkit and how each jurisdiction deploys these features. Each regional dashboard tracks housing production data and 21 different policies to capture what localities are doing to produce, preserve, and protect affordable housing units.

Reviewing the data shown in HIT 4.0, Hendey noted that production levels across all jurisdictions did not fully meet the region's affordable housing needs. The D.C. and Baltimore metropolitan areas gained 3,600 committed affordable units in 2023, falling well short of local needs. Of the 19 jurisdictions participating in HIT, 13 produced fewer units in 2023 than they did in 2022, and in 2023, fewer than 2,850 units were reported as preserved, far fewer than in 2022. Six jurisdictions produced at least 80 percent of their annual unit goal. Only 15 percent of new units produced in 2023 were affordable. From 2019 to 2023, the greater D.C. area produced 13,522 new, committed affordable units and 109,000 housing units overall.

Development Challenges and Solutions

The first panel addressed cross-sector approaches designed to increase housing production and affordability. Moderated by Brett Theodos, senior fellow and director of the Community Economic Development Hub at the Urban Institute, the panel included Jovan Burton, executive director at the Richmond-based Partnership for Housing Affordability; George Kleb, executive director at Bon Secours Baltimore Community Works; Brett Macleod, an executive director in the community development banking group at JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Kate Owens, director of investments at Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners; and Carmen Romero, president and chief executive officer at the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

Panelists described several challenges involved in developing affordable housing, including rising costs, funding complexity, and regulatory fragmentation. Kleb and Owens noted that low-income housing tax credit deals have become more expensive and complicated, incurring more costs and requiring more funding sources. Macleod acknowledged the industry's current struggles with rising interest rates and construction costs as well as the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Burton noted that demographic changes have further strained an already limited system.

To address these challenges, participants called for policies and innovation to accelerate development timelines and expand funding sources. Romero and Owens emphasized that units restricted to those earning less than 30 percent of the area median income are especially in need of attention, with Owens calling for a 100 percent subsidy and long-term operating support. Several panelists also mentioned the need to develop new tools to support affordable housing preservation, with Owens noting that preservation has a "dramatically different business model" from development and requires a different approach.

Other panelists called for policies that enable flexible financing and encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors. For example, Macleod said that expediting the building permit review process would allow affordable housing developers to build more units, more rapidly. Burton mentioned the potential role of innovative financing methods and ownership structures, such as the community land trust model and bonding for affordable housing at the local level.

Local Policies to Promote Affordable Housing

The second panel featured the perspectives of elected officials and housing directors on the effect of local policies on regional housing goals. Robert McCartney, host of the Think Regionally podcast, moderated the panel, which consisted of Thomas Fleetwood, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development of Fairfax County, Virginia; Alyia Gaskins, councilmember for the city of Alexandria, Virginia; Colleen Green, director of the District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development; John Hall, housing director of the Department of Housing and Community Development for Loudoun County, Virginia; Takis Karantonis, vice chair of the board for Arlington County, Virginia; and Aspasia Xypolia, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development for Prince George's County, Maryland.

Panelists discussed local challenges to increasing the production of affordable housing. Several panelists cited the challenging loss of federal stimulus relief money and deep local resistance to affordable housing. Panelists agreed on the importance of collaboration among jurisdictions, and McCartney and others highlighted the need to devise more ways to engage and encourage private-sector investment. Xypolia noted that although the private sector alone cannot meet the demand for extremely low-income housing, it can serve as a valuable partner.

With these constraints in mind, panelists discussed how localities can address the need for additional affordable housing. For example, Green highlighted the District of Columbia's inclusionary zoning regulations, which have produced 2,400 units since inception and do not require federal or district funding. Hall echoed the first panel's praise for the community land trust model, noting that localities can reduce development costs by activating publicly owned land. Fleetwood cited a recent development in Fairfax County that delivered 516 units and a new community center on publicly owned land near transit.

Xypolia emphasized the need for jurisdictions to be more flexible during the development process, using tools such as pilot preauthorization to ensure that housing deals "move at the speed of the transaction." Karantonis mentioned that Arlington County's adoption of a form-based code helped condense approval timelines. He also stressed the importance of land use and zoning reform to increase the potential supply of affordable housing by diversifying building options.

Panelists discussed the importance of meeting residents' needs and engaging them on affordable housing issues. For example, Gaskins highlighted the value of building trust by working with community organizers, renters, landlords, and other stakeholders to address immediate quality and safety issues. Karantonis argued that "public engagement is public investment" and key to building political will for affordable housing. He also noted the importance of addressing demand-side barriers to affordable housing access, such as increasing wages to ensure that residents can meet the rising costs of housing and investing in workforce development initiatives.

Using Every Resource to Identify and Address the Problems

Addressing these issues will require collaboration, flexibility, and innovation from all stakeholders involved. Throughout the event, speakers emphasized the need to leverage every available resource to identify and remove barriers to affordable housing. Panelists mentioned that HIT data provide a valuable foundation and starting point for these discussions.

Home Page Archives