From Affordable Housing To Abundant Housing

A blog about business and economics.
March 1 2012 11:08 AM

From Affordable Housing To Abundant Housing

Lydia DePillis writes about DC's budget issues, as other priorities get squeezed to maintain school, police, and Medicaid funding. One victim, targeted affordable housing subsidies:

Last year was particularly bad, because Vince Gray had made election promises to different constituencies, and had to disappoint a few—most notably the affordable housing folks, who are still sore about the $18 million that was taken out of the Housing Production Trust Fund, and a few other deep cuts (though the worst of them, to homeless services, was substantially restored by the Council).

If you have to cut something, this kind of Housing Production Trust Fund strikes me as a very reasonable target. After all, the DC government could easily generate additional housing production at negative fiscal cost by simply relaxing regulations on how much you're allowed to build and where. Venture just half a block east of the Columbia Heights metro station and you're in an R-4 zone that allows:

[M]aximum lot occupancy of 60% for row dwellings, churches and flats, a minimum lot width of 30 feet and a minimum lot area of 3,000 square feet for semi-detached structures, a minimum lot width of 40 feet and a minimum lot area of 4,000 square feet and 40% lot occupancy for all other structures (20% lot occupancy for public recreation and community centers); and a maximum height of three (3) stories/forty (40) feet (60 feet for churches and schools and 45 feet for public recreation and community centers). Conversions of existing buildings to apartments are permitted for lots with a minimum lot area of 900 square feet per dwelling unit. Rear yard requirement is twenty (20) feet.

Let buildings in that area get taller, let them occupy more than 60 percent of the lot, let them be built without rear yards, let conversions be made into smaller apartments. These are the kind of steps that are needed to increase housing production in the city and they would reduce the budget pressures facing the city council. What I like about the Housing Production Trust Fund is right there in the name where "production" keeps the focus on the need for housing to be not just affordable but abundant.

Needless to say, you should preorder the book for more.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



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