Monday, June 18, 2012

What is affordable housing?

Regarding the Hine Junior High site, a commenter on a previous post remarked, "The project has 30% affordable housing, how is that 'very little' for a new development?" Yes, it is great that the DC government requires that developers include some housing that is not as expensive as market-rate housing. Yet, let's look at the proposed affordable housing and see what is meant by affordable housing.

The Hine developers propose 158 housing units. Earlier this month, Greater Greater Washington reported that Hine "will include 46 low-income housing units, with 5 units at 30% area median income (AMI), 29 at 60% AMI, and 12 at 80% AMI." AMI means Area Median Income. The DC government uses the DC Metropolitan Area Median Income, which is $107,500.

Hine Housing Units

Percent AMI Income Level Number of Proposed Units in Hine

30% AMI$32,250 5 units

60% AMI$64,500 29 units

80% AMI$86,000 12 units



Total: 46 affordable units +



112 market-rate units ("unaffordable"?)



= 158 units

As Housing Complex discussed, "housing tagged as 'affordable' is actually out of reach for most families." In contrast to the wealthy suburbs, the DC median income is $58,526, which means that 50% of DC residents make less than $58,526 (and 50% make more than that). Therefore, it is possible that the "affordable housing" residents in Hine, the 29 units at 60% AMI and the 12 units at 80% AMI, will all be above the median DC income.

It seems like the non-working poor (disabled or elderly, for example) are being put into competition for affordable housing not only with the working poor but also with the professional, middle-class. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on DC-area wages, employees working full-time in the following jobs have to compete for just five units:
  • Barber/Salon Shampooers $19,390
  • Fast-Food Cook $19,660
  • Dishwasher $20,600
  • Cashiers $21,780
  • Food Preparation Workers $22,510
There are many more units for those with much higher incomes. As Housing Complex reported over a year ago, the DC government had discussed, but did not implement, a different distribution of incomes:
40 percent to households making between zero and 30 percent of AMI, 40 percent to households making between 31 and 50 percent of AMI, and 20 percent to households making between 51 and 80 percent of AMI. Currently, most projects are in the 60 percent range.
Or we could use the DC median income of $58,526 instead (not the DC Metropolitan AMI of $107,500 that includes the wealthy suburbs)? Why are we pitting the middle class against the poor? 

P.S. According to a Hill Rag article in May by Jenny Reed: "Over the last decade, half of the low-cost rental housing options have disappeared in the midst of DC's renaissance."

P.P.S. See also What is affordable housing? (II).

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