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)

Despite the Fair Housing Act being passed more than 50 years ago, less than 50% of Black and brown people own the homes they live in. Having spent decades working in the housing industry, I understand the importance of having a place to call home. In a time of co-occurring crises that has exposed how broken system, we need innovative solutions that will address the systemic issues playing out in our communities, including a comprehensive approach to addressing affordable housing in the DC region.  

Racial equity is a key component in combating the housing crisis in our region and the country. Unfortunately, generational financial constraints, discriminatory legislation and gentrification are just a few obstacles that have continuously prevented people from achieving the “American Dream.”   

This is a crisis of national propositions and for those working to increase housing opportunities, the White House’s recent announcement addressing the housing affordability crisis around the country is welcome news. Federal assistance is instrumental to build upon the modest gains we have made locally.   

Last year, to aid in the region’s efforts to create 374,000 new, affordable homes by 2030, the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers (HAND) released a first-of-its-kind housing indicator tool (HIT) measuring the state of affordable housing across 10 communities in our region. This report card for the region shows progress is being made and our region is working collaboratively to do so.  

Washington D.C. added a record $400M to the Housing Production Trust Fund, which will close the gap and provide an extraordinary increase in opportunities for people in the region to have a place to call their own. Montgomery County, MD, and Arlington, VA have submitted or proposed significant funds in this year’s budget toward affordable housing. Fairfax County, VA, and the City of Alexandria have committed to increasing local production goals and meeting affordable housing goals, respectively.   

The biggest need for expanded affordable housing remains with our neighbors earning the least. Communities added 24,214 new affordable rental units across all 10 jurisdictions, yet under 200 of those units were designated for low-income residents.  

The affordable housing crisis is an inventory crisis. There aren’t enough units and prices continue to rise everywhere.  

To meet the region’s targets, partners from all sectors, including private and philanthropic, must be part of future investments and community planning like Amazon is doing in the Tysons area and across the region. For example, their commitment to investing $55 million into building affordable housing will help the region reach its goals.  

Hospitals and health systems are also making strides to ensure zip codes will no longer be a determining factor in healthy living. Last Year, the Purple Line Corridor Coalition received a $5 million investment from Kaiser Permanente, which joined five other health systems across the country to commit to “Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities.”  

To put it simply, no one can do this alone. It will require everyone working together to address this crisis.  

As we inch back to a sense of normalcy after two years of a deadly pandemic and federal and state COVID relief funds drying up, local communities and leadership must be innovative and intentional in creating a comprehensive housing toolkit.  

Embrace preservation of existing units by maintaining an inventory to identify properties with expiring subsidies and sustaining a rental assistance demonstration program that rehabilitates units that would otherwise go unrepaired. 

Adopt policies to spur production and ensure affordable units for low-income households. From inclusionary zoning laws to maintaining a Housing Trust Fund with dedicated local revenue sources and emergency rental programs, several policies are engines to spur additional affordable housing development.  

Affordable housing is a complex issue that will require a coordinated approach to make a difference in the lives of millions. The fight to achieve affordable housing is not an individual race but a relay from one community and leader to the next, encouraging us to use one another to create a thriving region for everyone, no matter your metro station or zip code. The unique role played by all stakeholders, whether it be legislators, advocates, funders, future residents, or homeowners, are all variables that depend on one another to succeed. If one of us is left behind, we all are.

Heather Raspberry is the executive director of the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers, a cross-sector collective of changemakers whose strategic collaboration brings equitable communities to fruition in the Capital Region.

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