The problem with affordable housing on weaker neighborhoods

If you haven’t read Congress Heights on the Rise’s (CHotR) blog, please do. The author, Ms. Peele is telling some serious truths about the problem of affordable housing in her neighborhood. It is not the same problem of affordable housing experienced in NW, the problem is there is a little too much affordable housing and not enough market housing.

One of the post’s “Why investing ONLY in income-capped housing in Ward 8 is setting us up for failure,” can be summed up as affordable housing needs to be spread around more equally across all 8 wards and not concentrated East of the River (EotR). She points out that the majority of the available apartments for rent in her area are income capped, which means a single person making $51,000 cannot rent an apartment there, and forget about a married couple. Without those sort of renters, that middle class contingent, the urban amenities that make DC fun are in short supply in her neighborhood, and she has to drive elsewhere for fitness and food.

Continuing in another post “MORE OF THE SAME: 7 more income-capped housing projects planned for Ward 8,” she is obviously frustrated with the DC government’s (DHCD) housing policy of more income capped housing. This sort of policy keeps out the kind of residents who could support the businesses (and jobs) she wants and provide the kind of role models kids in the neighborhood need. The income limits keeps out nurses, police officers, teachers, and most other professionals. Many of the income limit apartment buildings are at 50% MFI/AMI (Median Family Income/ Area Median Income) so a single person cannot make more than $41,050. The starting salary for a DCPS teacher is supposed to be $55, 209, and the starting salary for a MPD police officer is $55,362. It would have to be at 80% MFI/AMI for a single income teacher or police officer. Logically, if you had a married couple (the cop married to a teacher) they would blow past the $46,900 50% MFI/ $76,000 80% MFI limits for a household of two, and three.

Aren’t we just repeating the mistakes of the past with new packaging? Concentrating poverty is destructive, cruel and wrong. We, as a city, have done it before with public housing and created environments of unemployment, crime, death and dysfunction.

This is what I’d like in explaining Affordable Housing

So I was bopping around the YouTubies as I normally do and decided after the question of what foods are great for baby led weaning, I decided to ask, what is affordable housing. I know what is affordable housing, well its technical definition for DC. But what does it mean in real life for tenants?

Although not for DC (New York City, different animal) I came across this from a fitness Youtuber Imani Shakir.

I love how she talks about her experience with the system and how it works there.  Just going by her video this is what I learned: You need an on-line housing profile; don’t apply for everything, just apply to the buildings where you qualify; Your chances are better if you pick a building in your area; You need to respond quickly and have accurate contact info; You may need letters from your current and former bosses in addition to pay stubs as some of your application documentation when asked. You might have less than 2 weeks to get those documents together; and the biggest take away, it may take years to get an affordable unit. In her case it was 3 years.

We normally hear about affordable housing from politicians, activists, and administrators, but almost never from recent applicants and recipients of affordable housing.

Affordable Housing

NorthWest Coop at 3rd and R NW“Affordable Housing” gets thrown around a lot in DC, as in there isn’t too much of it. HUD (Housing & Urban Development) defines affordable housing as, “In general, housing for which the occupant(s) is/are paying no more than 30 percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities. Please note that some jurisdictions may define affordable housing based on other, locally determined criteria, and that this definition is intended solely as an approximate guideline or general rule of thumb.” Unfortunately for me, DHCD (Dept of Housing and Community Development) doesn’t have such a nice glossary, or at least one that I could find, and as HUD hinted, the locality may have other criteria.

What DHCD does somewhat define are Affordable Dwelling Units (ADU). According to the website, “Affordable Dwelling Unit (ADU) is an umbrella term applied to for-sale and for-rent homes that are locally restricted for occupancy by households whose income falls within a certain range. ADUs are generally offered at a below-market rate. The DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) monitors and enforces compliance with ADU requirements in the District of Columbia.” The income ranges depend on size of household, not makeup (ex. a 2 person household could be 2 adults, or 1 adult and child).

The 2017 income limits and ranges and all that can be seen in a PDF at this link. If affordable housing or a proposal for affordable housing is the subject of an upcoming community meeting in your neighborhood, print out the latest on affordable housing income limits and bring it to the meeting. Typically when I bother to ask the developer or whomever the representative is for some proposed project about income, they are unsure what the limits are. They do know that they are supposed to have X number of units out of Y number of units at 50% or 30%. Sometimes they mention how many bedrooms per unit and let’s say no one is building units for large families.

I feel I need to also define ‘public housing’ as I tend to see comments on DC related blogs and sites referring to a housing complex taking vouchers (sometimes called Section 8) as public housing. The Northwest Cooperatives for the 10 zillionth time are not public housing. Why do I have a picture of the NW Co-op? It is affordable housing as they do take section 8 vouchers and the housing was built with the help of HUD subsidies. The DC Housing Authority has 56 public housing properties it maintains and you can see that list here. If it isn’t on that list, it’s not public housing.

A condo is the most affordable thing to buy in the TC

There are a handful million dolla properties for sale in Truxton Circle, so we’re not affordable no more. And this place gentrified some time ago, so stick a fork in that. Yes, the Northwest Cooperative is still an affordable place and there are a few (a few) ‘affordable’ units in the pipeline for the vacant lots. I suspect it’s not easy to just get a rental at the Co-op, and there will probably be some competition for the new units.
310 P St NW As far as something “affordable” to buy, you’re stuck with either condo units or handyman specials. Chapman Stables has two units under $400K, one being a studio the other a 1 bedroom. There’s a 1 bedroom in a smaller condo on Q St for $375K.  Townhouses in that general price range are handyman specials already under contract. There is a house on my block that is on the market that requires some work to make livable and would be an okay purchase if there are no plans for an expansion.

Personally, I’m not a fan of condos, as they come with condo boards, which sometimes contain crazy people. However, a condo is like a starter home. It’s not the best place to build equity, but it’s something. A person can move up from a condo to a house.

But some say it is impossible to come up with the 20% down payment to buy a place. I’m going to tell you a little secret. You don’t need 20%. Twenty percent is very nice, it makes your mortgage payments cheaper, but it isn’t required. I know this because I did not have 20% or even 10% when I bought my house. I think I put down 3%. There are down payment assistance programs in DC to help. Well, what about people who can’t even save 3%? Houses and condos have problems, even new ones, and those problems cost money. If one cannot keep money in savings, as soon as one of these problems crop up, homeownership will sink the owner.

Are you really middle class?

4 bills and changeSo the Post has an article about middle class incomes rising and mentioned the national median income for 2016 was $59,039. Keep in mind that is for a household, this will become important later.

The median income for the DC Metro area is way higher. Twice as high, at $110,300 for 2017 according to HUD. You might be thinking, I don’t make that much, who the hell is making that money? Well remember this is for households, those incomes are typically for a four person household. This may be two working adults and two kids, or one extremely well paid working adult and 3 dependents.

If you’re a singleton, the AMI is $77,300, pat yourself on the back you are definitely middle class in DC.  If you’re single in DC making $52,550 or less you are low income (80% AMI). An annual income of $38,650 or less, you are very low income (50% AMI) and $23,200, you’re poor (extremely low income).  I will leave it to you to decide if at 80% AMI  (Area Median Income) you are middle class or not.

Using the Federal government’s salary table the good news is for the DC-Baltimore area there are no full time poor workers. Same thing for MPD police who are in the union, the base salary for a Class 1 officer (2015) is $53,750. That puts them in the 80% AMI region if they have 1 dependent. A starting teacher for DCPS with just a BA should get $51,359 annually. So when someone promoting workforce housing proposes having income limits at the very low income level (50% AMI) and says it’s for teachers and police officers, they are full of $hit. Even a family of four would make too much at the 50% level after the lowliest teacher’s 5th year or for a teacher with a MA 2nd year of service and a cop’s second year, assuming their spouse (if any) wasn’t working.

Being in the 80% AMI range can be a pretty sweet spot. Just before I bought my house I was below the 80% AMI and was able to qualify for a bunch of housing programs. There was a property tax abatement I qualified for that lasted about 5 years until I made just a smidge too much and the low interest rate mortgage from DCHFA. Neighbors at the 80% AMI are the kind of people you want. If they are young it is only a few years before they are at or above the AMI.

What you need is a time machine

4 Tardis PlateRegarding housing, I recently heard someone remark, or sigh, that one of those mansion-sized townhomes in Logan Circle was only $200,000 back in the 1980s or 90s, and today those type houses sell for around a million -2 million plus. Then there are the remarks others make about affordable housing, because now, unlike the 70s, 80s, and 90s hardly anyone is building affordable housing. My thoughts? If you want a cheap mansion or affordable apartment houses, you will need a time machine.

A one way time machine would be better.

The thing newer residents don’t seem to appreciate, is although we bought our houses in the neighborhoods you now can barely afford, they were affordable when some of us showed up. They were affordable because of the crackheads, the crack dealers, the prostitutes, the nightly gunfire, the break ins, the homeless guys peeing and pooping on your steps, and the odd dead body. Let’s not forget the schools that were so crappy DCPS made retired Army General Julius Becton, a man without a background in secondary education, school superintendent. He stepped down after 16 months. Not only was the housing affordable, the city was barely bearable.

Now if new residents would be fine with stepping into a time machine and restart their 20s and 30s in the Shaw or Columbia Heights of say 1995, maybe they will see that the price of our housing is more than dollars. Not only do I have some sweat equity, my youth, lack of peace, anxiety for my visitors & their property, and years of lost romantic opportunities* are also tied into the price of this house. Time and progress has healed those wounds.

Houses are affordable in parts of the District that are unfashionable. Gentrification is slowly making its way across the river. And here is the opportunity to jump in the time machine.

 

Side story= The Help, the man who is now my husband, was a very platonic friend when I bought my (now our) house. He had helped me move somethings into my new house and as he drove away he said to himself, “Is she that desperate for homeownership she’d live here?” He has told me this story several times and we do enjoy the irony?/humor of it. The Help could not have imagined living here, and enjoying it, anytime before, say 2008. Between breaking up with a boyfriend and dating my now spouse, I had been on 1 date in a ten year span. Daters would discriminate based on location.