DC’s Affordable Housing Disappearing Act

Washington, DC, is one of the most expensive cities to live in the country. In fact, it is the second most expensive city to live in, behind Hawaii. A new study, however, shows that the amount of affordable housing units is plummeting, making it increasingly difficult for residents to afford to live in the nation’s capital.

In 2013, the amount of apartments renting for less than $800 dropped from 60,000 to 33,000, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute report called “Going, Going, Gone: DC’s Vanishing Affordable Housing.”

What does this mean for the capital’s economy? Vanishing affordable housing opportunities may lead to an increase in homelessness. The administration under former DC mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) estimated that about 5,000 families were on the brink of homelessness.

Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), a DC council member who is also a member of the Committee on Housing and Community Development, says the affordable housing issue cannot be decoupled from the homelessness issue.

Unstable and unhealthy housing puts stress on families that makes it have for children to focus at school and for parents to keep a job, and leaves many at risk of homelessness,” said Wes Rivers, policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

The lack of affordable housing affects the ability of residents to thrive and the city to remain economically strong,” Rivers said.

Income levels have remained about the same but one in four people renting in the District are spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent. This causes a severe financial burden on some households who are, therefore, spending less on basic necessities like food, transportation, healthcare and retirement savings.

There is virtually no inexpensive housing left in DC’s private market,” Rivers said in a press release. “Without housing assistance, many families have no choice but to devote most of their income for rent.”

Unsurprisingly, low-income households are the most effected by the dramatic increase in rental prices and the lack of low-income units. The rental information site, Zumper, reported in February that the median one-bedroom rent is $2,000, making the capital the fourth most expensive city for rent ().

But the number of apartments costing more than $1,400 has also increased from 28,000 in 2012 to 73,000 in 2013, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s analysis of the census data.

DC Council passed legislation pledging $100 million a year to the Housing Production Trust Fund last year. This is the District’s largest locally funded housing program.

However, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which advocates for low and moderate-income residents, says the city needs to come up with a plan and strategize for affordable housing preservation.

As we’re examining this new draft plan that the mayor put out to end homelessness, we really have to tie in the conversation about affordable housing because people who are looking for housing now could become homeless if not given the resources they need,” Nadeau said.