D.C. Residents Construct Plan for Affordable Housing

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO ssherman@afro.com
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More than 100 District residents, representing each of the city’s eight Wards, gathered recently to draft an amendments document to the city’s Comprehensive Plan – a development and infrastructural guide to city planning. Residents, led by Empower D.C.,  an advocacy organization,  sat down to address specific needs and concerns including rezoning and displacement, overdevelopment of luxury and commercial properties, and the loss of affordable housing.

D.C. residents recently worked together to draft an amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan on future development. (Courtesy Photo)

Empower D.C.’s mission is to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income residents to improve their quality of life. Through this mission the organization held a workshop on May 6 that brought residents from all eight wards together to discuss their issues with affordable housing and to work on amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Empower D.C. plans on submitting their version of the amended document to the city council in either June or July. The council is required to take their plan under consideration.

“Our hope is to build political power by bringing people together from across the wards who are experiencing similar issues of unwanted development, displacement – especially within Black communities.  For instance, the threats to public housing are faced by residents in all wards,” Parisa Norouzi, Empower D.C. executive director told the AFRO.

Addressing revisions to the Comprehensive Plan, according to Empower D.C., has a particular urgency because the Office of Planning recently opened a process for amending the original Comprehensive Plan, which was to serve as the guiding document of how the city develops.

Amending the plan was an initiative that was first started by the city and developers after both were sued several times for building code and zoning regulations. The new plan is expected to clarify terms such as affordable housing.

“The Comprehensive Plan is meant to be enforced by the city council, it is the document that the Zoning Commission must use when approving development, and they are not to approve any development that does not align with what the plan states,” Norouzi said. “In recent times citizen’s groups have successfully used the comprehensive plan in lawsuits to stop development in Barry Farms where the Zoning Commission had failed to adequately assess the impact of development on the environment, location and displacement. That was a victory for the people, but made it a target for developers.”

The concern over family-friendly development was also reflected by residents during the seven “Plan D.C.” citywide community meetings in the fall of 2016 and throughout various engagement forums last year.

Community members expressed a general desire to make the District more inclusive of families by improving schools and educational facilities, expanding the number and quality of parks and open spaces, creating more programs and services aimed at youth, and improving neighborhood safety. Participants also wanted to ensure that there was a diversity of housing types for all income levels to serve both families and singles. Community members also expressed their desire to be able to age in place and ensure that planning accommodates the needs of those with declining mobility and provides access to senior services.

Long-time Anacostia resident Mary Buckley told the AFRO that despite coming out to the meetings regularly, her concerns and those of other property-owners in Southeast D.C. have gone largely unaddressed.

Buckley said that despite the over-development and resulted displacement of residents taking place in parts of the city like Waterfront, pockets of Anacostia remain blighted for no apparent reason.

“We need a supermarket in Northern Anacostia, we need another grocer towards Congress Heights, yet there are a lot of vacant buildings not being used,” Buckley said.  “There are a lot of buildings going up everywhere, except, perhaps, where they are needed most.  On Good Hope [Road], we also have several services agencies that give out drugs (methadone), which we believe blights the environment.  Why not put some of them in another Ward?”

“Now that the amendment process is opened up we need to be more active in ensuring that it is not watered down, but in fact strengthened,” Norouzi said.  “We’ve resorted to going through the courts and there have been some victories.”

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