Exploring Housing in Anacostia

Written by Scott Kratz

Washington D.C. is working hard to preserve a range of housing options for their residents, but what is the right mix between affordable and market rate homes? And what do we mean by “affordable?” Over 80 residents packed inside the Anacostia Arts Center last week to explore these topics with a panel of experts and local stakeholders. The conversation ranged from available tools to preserve affordable housing and how to incentivize new retail opportunities like restaurants, dry cleaners and stores.

David Bowers, Vice President at Enterprise Community Partners kicked off the program by providing a snapshot of East of the River housing issues and defining key housing terms. Housing should cost no more than 30% of your income he explained and if someone is paying 50% or more that is defined as a severe cost burden. He also defined Area Median Income (AMI) which for a family of four in the Washington D.C. region is $108,600. This number is so high because AMI is calculated from the larger metro region (not by neighborhood) and we have four of the top five wealthiest counties in the nation surrounding the District. To put this in perspective, David explained that if you worked full time at minimum wage, your income would only be 30% of AMI in D.C.  Finally, David described available legislative tools that aims to increase affordable housing. This includes Inclusionary Zoning which requires new construction over 10 units to include up to 10% affordable housing units at 80% of AMI. A new law would actually bring this threshold down to 60% of AMI. And the District has a unique legislation called the “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act” which gives renters the first right of refusal to purchase their building if sold. See below for a full housing glossary.

During the panel, Oramenta Newsome, Vice President for LISC DC described LISC’s work as an intermediary funder to non-profits such as affordable housing providers Manna and Mi Casa as well as East of the River projects such as a new childhood learning center under construction by Martha’s Table. Oramenta shared LISC’s work partnering with the 11th Street Bridge Park to create a community led Equitable Development Plan, our effort to invest in the neighborhoods around this future civic space. In May, LISC announced a $50 million investment called Elevating Equity to help implement these recommenadtions. This work includes working with tenant associations to buy and renovate two buildings on Good Hope Road SE, funding repairs for homes owned by elderly or disabled residents and cultural events such as the East of the River Book Festival and the recent Black Love Festival.

Sarah Scruggs, Director of Advocacy and Outreach at Manna Inc. shared that Manna has been active in the District since 1982. In an effort to shrink the wealth gap between African American and white families, Manna focuses on home ownership opportunities and has led Home Buyers Clubs for decades out of their Brookland offices. Manna is currently partnering with the 11th Street Bridge Park to run a Home Buyers Club for Ward 8 residents in Ward 8 which has already seen over 70 participants. Manna is also building 13 new affordable town homes on Hunter Place SE and continues to actively build new housing for residents East of the River.

Amanda Stephenson, Executive Director Anacostia Business Improvement District (BID), shared how Anacostia is working hard to attract new businesses to the area. She said that the average household income in Anacostia is approximately $34,000 so it is important for businesses to serve the local community but also attract visitors with additional disposable income. The BID operates a Clean Team to keep the commercial corridors neat and uses the Great Streets program to help improve signage and store facades. Amanda and her team are working hard to brand Anacostia as a place to live, work and shop.

The program concluded with a robust question and answer session with the audience. One participant noted that residents perceived that social services serving the entire city – homeless shelters, methadone clinics, etc. – were clustered in Ward 8 and that can deter businesses from relocating here. Former Ward 8 City Councilmember Gloria Allen ended the event by describing the need to educate children in financial literacy lessons and the value of home ownership. Most participants agreed more of these kinds of forums were needed to keep the conversation moving forward. Typically these discussions only happen when decisions for new development projects are imminent and deliberation is therefore limited. The conversation continues on November 19th when we will host our next event Power to the People: Community Land Trusts and Anacostia exploring the formation of a Bridge Park Community Land Trust – a key recommendation in our Equitable Development Plan. Hope to see you there!

A special thank you to Aysha Cohen who compiled extensive notes from the event, Anacostia Arts Center for hosting and all our wonderful panelists for participating!

Housing Glossary

Area Median Income (AMI) is measure used by housing officials as a basis to determine affordability in housing developments that receive city and/or federal funds. Specifically, AMI measures the median family income in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area, which the District of Columbia, as well as surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia. D.C.’s AMI for a family of four is $108,600 for 2016.

A family that qualifies for affordable housing in the District must earn at or below a certain percentage of AMI, depending on the program and unit. While income guidelines vary by program, typical AMI percentages range from 0-30% AMI (extremely low-income), 31-50% AMI (very low-income), and 51-80% AMI (low-income). Below is a chart that outlines current income and rent limits in D.C. for projects receiving funds through the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF).

District Opportunity to Purchase Act (DOPA) is a DC law that gives the D.C. government the right to purchase a building with the goal of maintaining the affordability of existing affordable rental units and increasing the total number of affordable units. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is currently writing the regulations regarding this law.

District’s Inclusionary Zoning Affordable Housing Program requires 8 – 10 percent of the residential floor area be set-aside for affordable units in: (1) new residential development projects of 10 or more units; and (2) rehabilitation projects that are expanding an existing building by 50 percent or more and adding 10 or more units. Source: DHCD

Homestead Tax Deduction is a benefit that reduces your real property’s assessed value by $71,400 prior to computing the yearly tax liability. Source: D.C. Office of Tax Revenue.

Housing Production Assistance Program (HPAP) provides interest-free loans and closing cost assistance to qualified applicants to purchase single family houses, condominiums, or cooperative units. The loan amount is based on a combination of factors, including income, household size and the amount of assets that each applicant must commit towards a property’s purchase. Source: DHCD.

Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) provides loans and grants to both nonprofit and for-profit developers of affordable housing in the District of Columbia, for new construction and preservation. Source: CNHED, D.C. Office of Tax Revenue.

Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is a D.C. law that gives residents the first right to purchase their building if the owner plans on selling, demolishing, or discontinuing its use as rental housing. The primary purposes of TOPA, as explicitly listed in law, include the preservation of affordable housing, the creation of affordable homeownership opportunities, and protection from displacement.