Reducing Homelessness for Veterans and All D.C. Residents Through Affordable Housing

Shortly after President Obama took office, his administration committed to ending homelessness among veterans in the United States by 2015. The number of homeless veterans nationwide has declined 33 percent since then, but was still at nearly 50,000 as of January 2014.

Here in the District, however, we are close to meeting the President’s goal. Over the past two years, the District is 80 percent of the way toward achieving “functionally zero” veteran homelessness.

One way to reduce homelessness is to ensure that there is sufficient affordable housing. High housing costs can cause families to move frequently or live in poor conditions, and this instability puts those families at a greater risk of homelessness. Households with the highest housing costs relative to income are low- to very-low-income renters—those earning less than 50% and 30% of the area median income (AMI), or below $54,000 and below $32,000 for a family of four. These include service workers, security guards, and preschool teachers. Nearly all of these households spend most of their income on housing.

DC Appleseed has approached this problem by advocating for new tools to produce affordable housing. Last year, we worked with the Council to adopt a law requiring a 20% to 30% set-aside of affordable housing whenever the District disposes of public land for multifamily residential development of 10 or more units. In rental developments, these units must be priced affordable for households earning 30% and 50% AMI.

This tool works by allowing the District to use the value of its land to offset the cost of building affordable housing. This promotes mixed-income development and ensures production of deeply affordable housing as neighborhoods become more expensive.

These requirements are being applied for the first time to the disposition of 965 Florida Avenue NW, a mixed-use development that will include more than 100 affordable units just blocks from the U Street Metro station. We are now working with the Council on clarifying this law to make clear that the affordability requirements apply proportionally whenever the District closes a street or alley.

The District’s affordable housing needs are great, so no single law will ever be the solution. But giving the District a variety of tools to produce affordable units will make a difference in combating housing insecurity and homelessness for veterans and all D.C. residents.

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