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Sunday, June 23, 2024
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1,700 affordable housing units to be added along Wisconsin Avenue

New units to meet Ward 3 racial equity goals

The Wisconsin Avenue Development Framework plans to add up to 9,500 new housing units along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor west of Rock Creek Park. 1,700 of those units will be dedicated as affordable housing for households earning less than 30 percent of the Median Family Income — $142,300 for a four-person household — up to households earning less than 80 percent of the median.

The framework was initiated in 2022 as a part of the Rock Creek West Corridors planning initiative, which started with a series of community walks and public meetings around the need for new housing, particularly affordable housing. The focus area of this development will be around the Friendship Heights and Tenleytown-AU Metro stations, according to the plan.

D.C. housing has largely been segregated because racially restrictive deed covenants were used to prevent people, mainly Black people, from settling in specific neighborhoods. Ward 3 was a location largely for white-only housing from 1933 to 1968, according to the D.C. Policy Center.

Erkin Ozberk, the senior neighborhood planner at the D.C. Office of Planning and the project manager for Wisconsin Avenue Development Framework said the framework was developed after updates to the city’s comprehensive plan, where Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the housing equity goals for D.C. 

The area west of Rock Creek Park has historically been the area in D.C. with the least amount of affordable housing, so the “ambitious goal was to account for that disparity” and create a plan to address it, according to Ozberk.

“Adding sort of more in that area is, we think, a good thing because it will help retain the vitality, but also provide more options for people who study or work at AU to be able to … live nearby the campus,” Ozberk said. 

Inclusionary zoning, including financial incentives and regulatory tools that require developers who need zoning exceptions to include more affordable housing in their projects, will assist with building a large portion of housing, Ozberk said. New zoning of the four categories of Friendship Heights Metro Zone, Friendship Heights Transition Zone, Tenleytown Metro Zone and Mixed-Use Corridor Zone has not changed. Ozberk said it is expected to be updated later this year and then implemented incrementally in development in the next few years.

“If we want more better buildings here, we also want a higher proportion of dedicated affordable housing as one way of trying to fill that gap to … meet those ambitious affordable housing goals,” Ozberk said.

The D.C. Office of Planning tried to communicate with a variety of individuals and groups on the development of this project including agencies, housing advocacy groups, community residents, developers and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. 

Ozberk said there were also focus groups with heightened intention to reach certain individuals, such as one focused on Black homeowners in Ward 3, or another with business owners in the area.

The other focus of the framework beyond housing centered around supporting business diversity by creating opportunities for smaller retail spaces and walkable pedestrian-friendly spaces, according to Ozberk.

Ann Mladinov, an ANC 3A commissioner representing McLean Gardens and part of the Cathedral Heights neighborhood, said she was worried that the affordable housing goals could not be met as most of the constructed buildings would need to include the maximum number of affordable housing units to reach the goal of 1,700.

Mladinov said the focus must be on the practicalities of affordable units with median income requirements that are low enough to meet the needs of the community. 

“We have to have requirements that will get us more units at the lower levels of area median income,” Mladinov said. “Or we’re not really helping the people in the greatest need and we’re not being fully inclusionary in the Ward.”

Mladinov said the announcement of 93 new affordable housing units at the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt Home was a breakthrough for affordable housing in Friendship Heights.

“That’s the kind of thing people with persistence, patience and vision can do and have to do to make change,” Mladinov said. “A good success with a really well-informed project can open other people’s eyes and show them our kind of work.”

Mladinov said she supported the design framework’s improvements to the sidewalk level commercial spaces and pedestrian and bike access, but emphasized the need for the concepts to be infused in the zoning, construction codes and public space permits.

“People would really welcome appealing spaces like that, safer, more walkable, so we just urged [the Office of Planning to] build those into any regulations that you write and encourage your fellow agencies to do the same,” Mladinov said.

Rohin Ghosh, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and one of the advisory neighborhood commissioners for AU, said the framework is a “valuable step” towards supporting more affordable housing, but thinks it “falls short from an equity standpoint.”

Ghosh said he wishes there was a focus in the plan on fostering mixed-density neighborhoods with a greater number of affordable housing units. The framework focuses on land use changes and Ghosh said the solutions to the racialized housing crisis in D.C. will come through other avenues.

“The real solutions come from things that really invest in deeply affordable housing and expand tenant power,” Ghosh said.

For Ghosh, the framework addresses the pressure AU students face in finding affordable housing near campus.

When discussing the Office of Planning’s process for reaching out to the public, Ghosh said he hopes that the residents’ comments are understood in the context of the neighborhood excluding non white residents.

“In a neighborhood that’s already kind of de facto segregated like here, you’re not just doing this for the people who already live here,” Ghosh said. “This is in order to open the neighborhood up to people who currently can’t live here, can’t afford to live here.”

Matthew Cohen, a commissioner for ANC 3E representing AU Park, Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, said the Ward 3 community, along with its ANCs, support a move towards greater racial equity in the makeup of the residents and wants to make Wisconsin Avenue a more enjoyable place for all to reside.

“To the extent that we can do things like that to just make it a little more welcoming and livable to pedestrians, to cyclists, to families … that sort of thing would be helpful,” Cohen said.

This article was edited by Abigail Hatting, Zoe Bell, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis and Ariana Kavoossi.

localnews@theeagleonline.com


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