Making a dent in the Washington, D.C., area’s affordable housing crisis is an issue that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, area leaders and advocates have been working hard to achieve in recent years. So when it came time to round up contestants for its annual awards program, the Washington district council of the Urban Land Institute looked for developments with affordable housing in particular.
“We placed some emphasis on it this year because we wanted to see if there was a model we could hold up for others to follow,” said Bob Peck, foreman of the Trends Awards jury for ULI Washington. The international nonprofit is committed to responsible land use and development, and its annual awards recognize everything from adaptive reuse to excellence in housing development.
Out of 14 finalists this year, four are developments with affordable housing components, according to Peck. That's up from just one project with an affordable housing component last year.
This year's four projects with affordable housing include the John and Jill Ker Conway Residences in D.C., which offers supportive transitional housing for veterans; the Springs Apartments in Arlington, providing family and supportive housing; and two apartment developments in Silver Spring: The Bonifant is targeted at senior citizens, while The Octave is market rate affordable housing. Winners will be announced at ULI Washington’s Real Estate Trends Conference Awards Program on April 25.
While Bowser has vowed to invest an unprecedented $100 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund every year, the challenge of affordable housing in the district is somewhat monumental.
Between 1990 and 2015, the district recorded a jaw-dropping 279 percent appreciation in real estate prices. Personal finance company SmartAsset says that a renter would need to make at least $119,271 a year to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the nation’s capital—a figure that's higher than the area median income for a family of four, or the AMI, of $108,600, as calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Meanwhile, a recent study from the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that D.C. had the highest rate of homelessness out of 32 cities it surveyed in 2016, with 124 homeless individuals per 10,000 people. D.C. also experienced one of the largest increases in homelessness between 2009 and 2016, at more than 30 percent.
Thanks to its effort to house the homeless in particular, the 124-unit John and Jill Ker Conway Residence has been getting quite a bit of attention since it was completed last year.
Located beside NPR’s headquarters along Capitol Street in NoMa the handsome residence houses 60 formerly homeless veterans, all of whom pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and receive on-site support services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The remaining 64 spots are a mixture of affordable and low-income units.
“The concept was based on the district and federal government’s mission to reduce the number of veterans who were homeless, because veterans have been disproportionately represented in the homeless community across the country — so there were some avenues on the financing side to make a project like this work,” said Chapman Todd, lead consultant with Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization that worked alongside developer McCormack Baron Salazar on the project.
Financing for the $33 million project came from more than ten public and private sources, including the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the D.C. Department of General Services, the Home Depot Foundation, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and Bellwether Enterprise. Financing also included low-income housing tax credits and federal HOME funds.
While the Residence aims to help make life more affordable for those in the district, itself, other developments are focused on the surrounding areas.
A report from the National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy found that the annual income needed to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom home in the D.C. metro area was $64,920 — higher than that of the New York and Boston metro areas. Of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, D.C. was one of the few where neither a high school teacher nor a social worker making the median national salary for their respective professions could afford the fair market rent for this type of home.
In Arlington County, the number of apartments affordable to people with incomes of up to 60 percent of the AMI, dropped from 19,740 to 3,437 between 2000 and 2013. While the number of affordable apartments has increased since 2013, it’s a far cry from where it stood almost two decades ago.
The Springs Apartments, another Trends Awards finalist, is among the developments in Arlington County that’s helped add to the area’s affordable housing inventory. To develop The Springs, the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing transformed 27 units of an existing building into 104 affordable units, offered at rents that are 40 percent, 50 percent, and 60 percent of the AMI. It’s also located less than a half-mile away from a Metro transit hub.
Completed six months ago, the building is now fully occupied.
“There’s a huge demand for affordable housing,” said Laura London, real estate project manager at APAH. “We have far more people who apply than we have the opportunity to serve.”
London said that between 98 and 99 percent of APAH’s roughly 1,370-unit portfolio is currently occupied.
ULI Washington’s Real Estate Trends Conference Awards Program will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center onApril 25.