Share Your Thoughts: Addressing our Region’s Affordable Housing Crisis

December 20, 2016
Karen FitzGerald

(This post contains an unusually high number of links in order to pack a lot of information into a reasonably short post, and to provide resources for those who wish to explore deeper.)

If you’ve clicked on the link to this post, chances are you already know that there’s not nearly enough housing in the region that is affordable to all the of the low- and even moderate-income people who need it. Research backs this claim, so I won’t use any of my remaining space here to describe the dilemma.

Instead, I want you to tell me how the Meyer Foundation should address this crisis.

Over the past several months, I’ve met one-on-one with nonprofit leaders, local government officials, and housing developers asking them the same question I am asking you: given all the tools at the Foundation’s disposal—our grantmaking, our power to convene, our willingness to advocate, our commitment to fostering collective action—where can Meyer have the most impact?

Some themes have emerged from these conversations:

There is no single solution. The region needs many solutions—some involving large commitments of local government dollars to create housing trust funds, and others involving changes to zoning and land use regulations that could streamline the development process and encourage more housing to be built.

Preserving the affordable housing we already have is critical. The loss of affordable rental housing is most acute in the District, where the city now has half as many low-cost rental units as it had in 2002. But counties in Maryland and Virginia are also scrambling to hold on to the garden-style apartment complexes that have been affordable to bus drivers, retail workers, home health aides, and other low-wage workers for decades.

Advocacy and community organizing is essential. Advocacy campaigns—such as the Housing for All campaign in the District—make elected officials and policy makers more aware of the important role stable, affordable housing plays for individuals, families, neighborhoods, and the region’s economy, and more willing to commit local dollars to address the need.

Racial equity is intertwined with the challenges the region faces in affordable housing. A long history of housing segregation means that it’s difficult to divorce the discussion of and solutions to the affordable housing crisis without also addressing racial equity.

Businesses and employers have a role to play in addressing this crisis. The shortage of affordable housing affects employers’ ability to recruit and retain workers, corrodes quality of life by contributing to gridlock on the region’s roads, all of which weakens the competitiveness of the local economy. Some business leaders, through the Greater Washington Housing Leaders Group, have already spoken up. But more champions in the business community could make it clear to elected officials that there is broad support for preserving and expanding the supply of affordable housing in the DC metro area.

There are differing opinions, too: on the pros and cons of the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, on whether or not rent control helps to keep housing affordable for low-wage workers, on the role of homeownership in helping African Americans and Latinos to create wealth, and on the potential for hybrid models of ownership (such as community land trusts and limited equity cooperatives) to help families build assets and communities preserve affordable housing for future generations.

Given the enormity of this crisis (and the fact that our $7 million of grantmaking each year couldn’t even begin to address this challenge even if we were able to devote it all to affordable housing), where should Meyer focus its attention and resources? The recent decision of the Meyer Foundation’s board to make a $1 million impact investment to support developing and preserving affordable housing in the DC area signals the foundation’s willingness to consider new ways of working. What other steps could we take?

Visit our Facebook page and share your ideas in the comments section for this post. We’re eager to hear your thoughts!