Three reports on area economy highlight need for collective action on housing affordability

Image from Flickr user Mr.TinDC

Image from Flickr user Mr.TinDC

Housing advocates in different regions, jurisdictions, sectors, and organizations work towards different individual ends – but the overarching fabric for why the work exists remains the same. In our D.C. Metro region, like so many others around the country, housing affordability, access, and equity is at an inflection point and we need all solutions on the table in order to resolve this crisis.

Within the past month, three major publications by three different organizations have highlighted just how important working towards affordable housing is to us in Alexandria and the D.C. area at large. In the report “Meeting the Washington Region’s Future Housing Needs”, economic policy researchers at the Urban Institute highlight how “[i]naction on housing affordability challenges could ultimately undermine the region’s future economic growth and prosperity.” In “The Future of Housing in Greater Washington”, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments group of elected leaders stress how the housing affordability problem “undercuts [the region’s] appeal to new companies and talent, strains the transportation system, and impacts the environment and quality of life for the region’s residents”. Finally, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce 2020 Legislative Agenda locally focuses the issue, connecting how affordable housing is a part of workforce investment, and that “[w]orkforce investment and development enhances economic stability and prosperity by focusing on people.”

While each report gets there differently, in the end they have three very similar take-aways for those working in the housing affordability field:

1.       Every jurisdiction and every sector have a role to play.

What the reports say:

  • Urban Institute: “Meeting these targets requires local governments across the region to strengthen or expand existing policies and adopt new policies to advance three key objectives.”

  • MWCOG: “It will take a range of tools and innovative policies to meet these targets over the next ten years, including strategic partnerships with the business, non-profit, and philanthropic sectors. No one sector alone can solve the region’s housing challenges.”

  • Alexandria Chamber of Commerce: “Issues relating to economic development and sustainability; transportation and 21st century public works, infrastructure and workforce investment through affordable housing and educational opportunities, to name a few, require critical analysis and visionary thinking.”

Its not enough for individual groups like AHDC or single jurisdictions to tackle this problem alone. (One look at a WMATA Metro map can visualize how interconnected we are, and that connection extends far beyond the end of the train lines.) All of us using our strengths and leaning on our neighbors will be required to make long-lasting and impactful solutions for housing.

In AHDC’s case, there’s no better example of this than The Station at Potomac Yard. There, we were able to add 64 units of housing while coordinating with the Alexandria Fire Department to meet critical municipal safety needs. The upcoming property The Bloom also reflects a deep partnership with another non-profit organization, Carpenter’s Shelter – the combined new development simply wouldn’t be possible to achieve alone.

2.       Getting all solutions in play is vital to the health of our local and regional economy.

What the reports say:

  • Urban Institute: “Inaction on the challenges of housing affordability could ultimately undermine the region’s future economic growth and prosperity.”

  • MWCOG: “There is an imbalance between the number of jobs and the amount of housing available to the workforce. This gap is expected to widen without intervention; the region is forecast to add approximately 413,000 new jobs to its employment base between 2020 and 2030, but only approximately 245,000 new housing units over the same period.”

  • Alexandria Chamber of Commerce: “Workforce investment and development enhances economic stability and prosperity by focusing on people. The premise is that the more workforce-ready City residents are, the more large and small businesses will be attracted to Alexandria.”

The cause of housing is many things – it’s about placemaking, health, the environment, social equity, and about creating deeper community. Woven into everything, however, is how adequate housing infrastructure is an economic necessity. We simply cannot be our best if our neighborhoods are shut off to low- and middle- income households. Like the Alexandria Council of Human Services Organizations said in their 2015 Needs Assessment report: “The lack of affordable housing is the ground zero of need in the city, influencing every other issue that service providers work to address.”

3.       Adding housing at price points that low- and middle- income households can afford is essential to supporting the economies we have built here.

What the reports say:

  • Urban Institute: “Recommendation: Shrink the current affordability gap. Today, the number of housing units in the low-cost range falls short of household needs by 264,000.”

  • MWCOG: “Target: At least 75% of new housing should be affordable to low-and middle-income households.” 

  • Alexandria Chamber of Commerce: “The Chamber recommends the City: Incentivize the creation of workforce housing stock. Workforce Housing, as defined by the Urban Land Institute, is: “housing that is affordable to households earning 60 to 120 percent of the area median income.””

Right now, Alexandria is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country, and the toll this takes on budgets stretches families to the margins. Those most affected, those working in lower pay professions that are still yet vital to the vibrancy of our cities, will be forced out or forced to make sub-standard compromises in order to stay. To keep our region and our economy diverse, we must intentionally add housing, and specifically housing at an affordable price point to low- and middle-income families – or we must figure out how to live with a shortage of teachers and para-teachers, bus drivers, nurses, civil servants, clergy, and office professionals (not to mention the broad categories of “young families” and “seniors” as well).

The work it takes to make this happen is substantial. It requires cross-jurisdiction and cross-sector collaborations over countless hours, and it requires imagination and a willingness to employ new solutions. If you’d like to be a part of the design of our region’s future, you can help support AHDC in our work (or, possibly join our team if you’re a real estate or accounting professional).