In the District of Columbia, a shortage of affordable housing, a hyper-expensive rental market and aging and vanishing housing stock ​has​​ had tenants battling spiraling rents and housing costs and left them at ​​increased risk of ​getting ​​​displaced. (Courtesy of NNPA Newswire)
In the District of Columbia, a shortage of affordable housing, a hyper-expensive rental market and aging and vanishing housing stock ​has​​ had tenants battling spiraling rents and housing costs and left them at ​​increased risk of ​getting ​​​displaced. (Courtesy of NNPA Newswire)

As affordable housing in the District continues to elude many, D.C. Council members Anita Bonds and David Grosso are pushing for legislation to ease the ever-growing problem.

Grosso has introduced legislation that would require more transparency from the executive branch and developers when considering housing purchases intended to preserve and expand affordable housing in the District.

“The District of Columbia cannot afford to waste any more time when it comes to preserving and expanding our residents’ access to affordable housing,” Grosso told The Informer. “The imbalance in our housing stock, combined with rising rents and housing costs, is displacing mostly low-income families and families of color.”

In 2008, the council enacted the District Opportunity to Purchase Act (DOPA) to employ government resources to preserve and expand affordable housing units. Under the law, the District has the right to purchase buildings with five or more dwelling units with at least 25 percent affordable housing.

It also allowed the city government to assign its rights to purchase to third party entities.

“Unfortunately, nearly 12 years later, the District of Columbia still has not exercised its right to purchase a single property, and the District has missed too many opportunities to purchase,” Grosso said.

His office noted that regulations from the 2008 law were not finalized until November 2018, a decade later. And the mayor only recently announced 40 pre-qualified developers who can be assigned the District’s right to purchase in May.

Grosso said he intends to increase transparency and accountability into the exercise of the government’s purchasing power with the DOPA Disclosure Amendment Act of 2020, which he introduced along with Bonds, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization.

The bill requires the mayor to file a detailed annual report that discloses the qualifications of developers as well as the process, factors, and communications involved in the government’s or its assignees’ decision making when exercising its rights under DOPA.

“DOPA was intended to be another tool to address our affordable housing crisis, and so far, it’s not even been taken out of the toolbox,” Grosso said. “District residents and policymakers need to understand better why this tool is not being used, and once it’s finally taken out of the toolbox, how it is being used.”

Currently, many residents are under the impression that through DOPA, the District government will purchase and actively manage affordable rental housing properties throughout the District, Bonds said in an email.

“What actually happens is that once a group of tenants decides that they are unable or choose not to exercise their TOPA [Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act] right, they work closely with DHCD, which then assigns a developer the rights to work on the property and complete the renovations, repairs and other improvements for the tenants,” she said.

The rental units in the property will remain affordable for the low-to-moderate income residents who once lived there, ultimately contributing to the maintenance of our city’s stock of safe, sanitary, and affordable housing, Bonds said.

“While DOPA has been law since 2008, it is only recently being implemented DHCD,” she said. “We are excited that it can be used to prevent displacement.”

The goal of this legislation is to ensure that the Council and the public receive regular reports on how these dollars are working to maintain affordable housing units. Most of all, Bonds said she sees this new reporting requirement as “an effective anti-displacement tool.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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