How George Floyd’s death is fueling a push for affordable housing in mostly White parts of D.C.


The nationwide give attention to racial fairness — intensified by the coronavirus pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody — has trickled right down to the realm of the native zoning board. Advocates in D.C. are invoking the necessity to right previous wrongs as they demand sponsored housing in prosperous neighborhoods the place low-cost flats have at all times been scarce.

The destiny of their marketing campaign rests with the D.C. Council, which in the approaching weeks will vote on Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s proposed modifications to zoning coverage. The revisions would enable taller house buildings on key corridors, doubtlessly catalyzing the development of tens of hundreds of housing models, a portion of them sponsored.

Bowser’s push for extra housing echoes efforts in Portland, Ore., Minneapolis and Sacramento, the place leaders looking for to decrease prices have moved to chill out zoning legal guidelines to permit extra constructing in neighborhoods zoned for single-family properties. Across the Potomac River in Virginia, Fairfax County officers are considering similar changes.

As in the previous, discuss of altering D.C. vistas is triggering opposition from preservationists and fierce debate on neighborhood listservs. Business leaders and builders say further necessities for below-market models would discourage post-pandemic tasks.

And a refrain of voices — left-leaning activists amongst them — say Bowser’s plan would add primarily to the town’s inventory of luxurious housing, whereas doing little for the poor.

“We should be welcoming everyone,” Sauleh Siddiqui, a professor and a newly elected advisory neighborhood commissioner, mentioned earlier than voting for a decision that handed supporting the modifications. “I fear if we don’t make space for everyone, there’s really no way we can say we’re going to be an inclusive and diverse community.”

Another proponent of the zoning modifications, Rabbi Aaron Alexander of Adas Israel Congregation in Cleveland Park, not too long ago urged congregants to position their need for social justice above issues about visitors congestion and overcrowding.

“This might sting a little bit — it stung me,” he mentioned in a sermon, recounting what he has realized from advocates and builders throughout discussions about constructing affordable housing. “Those most likely to put signs on their lawns for the most progressive causes are also very likely to be the ones in community meetings saying, ‘no more development.’ ”

“We need more density, we need more affordable units so everyone has the chance to live in any neighborhood,” Alexander mentioned.

Mark Rosenman, 77, a retired professor who has lived in Cleveland Park for 22 years, has no indicators in his entrance yard. But he is a veteran of the civil rights motion and has advocated on behalf of the poor.

He predicted that the rezoning Bowser needs would primarily generate a gush of new high-priced flats, with a small quantity of sponsored models for moderate-income households.

It’s “offensive” to painting skeptics of the plan as “hypocritical,” he mentioned. “It’s a way of tarring the opponent.”

‘The better good’

As she drives across the metropolis, Rebecca Barson, a health-care advocate, finds herself noticing encampments of individuals sleeping in tents in Dupont Circle and beneath freeway overpasses.

“It just feels unconscionable that this is happening in a city like ours,” she mentioned.

Barson, 43, joined a grass-roots marketing campaign looking for metropolis help for changing a not too long ago bankrupt hotel close to her Woodley Park condominium — the Marriott Wardman Park — into a combine of retail and affordable housing. She has embraced the trigger whilst she contemplates the potential threat to her property worth.

“I’m not saying I’m not grappling with it — there could be a financial cost, personally, my apartment may not be worth as much,” she mentioned. “I also think I have benefited as a White person from systems I didn’t create, and this is an important moment to do what’s right for the greater good.”

To catalyze extra, the mayor needs to require builders to incorporate sponsored models as half of greater buildings alongside rezoned parts of Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues and different corridors. The largest chunk, about 2,000, could be in affluent, predominantly White neighborhoods — Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase — which have the smallest share of sponsored models in the town.

The D.C. Council is anticipated to vote on these modifications and different proposed revisions to the excellent plan — the voluminous information to the town’s future progress — by the top of the month. Under the revised coverage, builders must commit as much as 20 p.c of sq. footage to below-market models — in some instances, greater than double the prevailing requirement.

Bowser’s group additionally is exploring whether or not to develop inclusionary zoning — the coverage that requires builders to incorporate sponsored models in alternate for added density — to presently exempt areas equivalent to downtown and parts of historic districts in Georgetown, Anacostia and Capitol Hill.

John Falcicchio, deputy mayor for financial growth, mentioned that increasing general housing provide, together with sponsored models, is the trail to controlling prices: “We either grow units or we price out residents.”

But builders and enterprise leaders say D.C. officers ought to research the pandemic’s full impact on metropolis life earlier than setting long-lasting coverage. They predict that new regulatory necessities would stall the town’s financial restoration, notably downtown, which has been largely abandoned throughout the pandemic.

“It would cost the developers to create that additional housing — it comes out of their profits at a time when they are struggling,” mentioned Neil O. Albert, president of the Downtown Business Improvement District. “We think it’s unfair to put that additional burden on landlords and developers.”

Some neighborhood leaders, notably in poorer sections of the town, object to the prospect of further sponsored housing in their communities. “We don’t need any more,” mentioned Greta Fuller, co-president of the Historic Anacostia Preservation Society. “If we got market rate, there’d be a parade down Martin Luther King Avenue.”

Across city in Cleveland Park, opponents of the mayor’s plan say new high-rises would overwhelm their purchasing space, a designated historic district on Connecticut Avenue that features the shuttered Uptown Theater, a relic of the Art Deco period.

“You’re going to have a serious impact on the character and nature of our community,” Bonnie LePard, a member of the Cleveland Park Historical Society, mentioned on the latest neighborhood assembly, which drew almost 200 viewers. She added that the brand new buildings threatened to show the hall into a “canyon.”

Of the 9,500 affordable housing models constructed from 2015 to 2019, 20 p.c have been for households recognized as “extremely low-income,” in line with metropolis knowledge, which is as much as $37,000 for a household of 4. Nearly 60 p.c have been affordable at greater revenue ranges, about $80,000 for a four-person family. Of the 989 affordable housing models constructed beneath inclusionary zoning, almost three-quarters have been affordable to these incomes as much as 80 p.c of the median household revenue for the Washington area, which is about $100,000 for a four-person family.

“In the name of racial equity, they’re pushing a program that will continue to displace Black people from D.C.,” mentioned Parisa Norouzi, govt director of Empower DC, an advocacy group. “All these people want is to sprinkle the word equitable into things that aren’t equitable. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”

History of racism

As different D.C. neighborhoods have remodeled over generations, the 4 Connecticut Avenue blocks which can be Chevy Chase’s industrial core are a time capsule to a bygone period: one- and two-story buildings, with a toy retailer over right here, a liquor retailer over there, and a movie show in-between.

A plaque at Chevy Chase Circle — a gateway to D.C. — honors the neighborhood’s founder, Francis Newlands, a senator from Nevada who wrote of Blacks as an inferior race and sought to strip them of their voting rights

“A lot of people consider our community a quaint little village,” mentioned Randy Speck, a neighborhood chief. “It can be other things, too.”

Speck is half of a volunteer Chevy Chase job drive exploring the neighborhood’s early racism, when leaders used eminent area to drive out Black households and restrictive covenants ensured they might not return.

The Task Force on Racism, because the group is identified, needs to seek out methods to diversify a quiet, leafy neighborhood that a century later stays overwhelmingly White and affluent.

Residents “could continue living our lives as if history does not matter because we can regard ourselves as good people who aren’t actively denying another person the opportunity to live here,” a job drive committee wrote in a report. But, it added, “complacency is a corrosive factor contributing to today’s injustices.”

Lisa Gore, a job drive member, mentioned she has realized historical past throughout its conferences that she didn’t know after having resided in Chevy Chase for 20 years.

“It was surreal because you’re living in an environment that wasn’t designed for you — and you’re talking about it with White people,” mentioned Gore, 53, a Black retired federal legislation enforcement officer not too long ago elected to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. “At the same time, it’s history we need to come to terms with.”

That means extra, she mentioned, than eradicating Newland’s plaque from the visitors circle, as some residents have been looking for. It requires permitting “for Black and Brown Washington to get a chance for the affordability pie here in Chevy Chase.”

The job drive endorsed rezoning the neighborhood’s industrial core to permit for extra housing, together with sponsored models. It additionally really helpful that the town rebuild the Chevy Chase Library and Community Center to accommodate affordable flats — an concept that Mary Rowse, a longtime neighborhood activist, dismissed as pointless.

“Such a project could take years and millions of dollars without a guarantee that more than a token number of units are available to those in need,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Instead of new building, Rowse mentioned, the town might purchase and convert to housing retail websites equivalent to Mazza Gallerie and a vacant Lord & Taylor, each in Friendship Heights. Or the federal government might supply monetary incentives to induce house homeowners to promote models that would then be made “available as low-income housing.”

“Today, in Chevy Chase D.C.,” Rowse mentioned, “we have all the buildings we need to create affordable housing units for many people.”

Peter Gosselin, a journalist additionally not too long ago elected to the ANC, mentioned native companies would profit from overhauling a industrial strip that — notably because the pandemic — “looks like one of those Midwestern towns where the guts got sucked out because they put a Walmart on the outskirts.”

“I, like many of my neighbors, find the history tragic and discouraging,” he mentioned. “This place is better than its history, and history calls us to do better.”

But he and others query whether or not increasing the neighborhood’s quantity of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes — one thing the duty drive suggests finding out — would create sufficient lower-cost housing to make a substantial distinction. “We’re talking about a drip, drip, drip of units.”

The disagreements percolating in Chevy Chase, Gosselin mentioned, usually are not about “the need to act.”

“The divide,” he mentioned, “is on what the solution is.”



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