A District of Columbia program aimed at increasing the availability of affordable housing for city residents is showing signs of success, a government spokesman said.

The Inclusionary Zoning program, based on legislation enacted in March 2007, requires that a certain percentage of units in a new development or a substantial rehabilitation project that expands an existing building set aside affordable units. In exchange, the project developer gains bonus density, or more units.

“From a developer’s standpoint, that’s a plus because you’re able to build more market-price units,” said Marcus Williams, spokesman for the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the program.

The program is also a plus for the government and District residents, he added.

“From a standpoint, the IZ program supports the mission of this agency to create and preserve affordable housing for residents of the city,” Williams said. “It is the goal of this agency and the priority of the mayor to build and revitalize mixed communities—places with people of mixed incomes, mixed races, backgrounds and ages.

“This program aids with that charge,” he added, “because it allows residents with moderate-to-low income ranges to live in neighborhoods where they could not afford to before.”

Kelly Riling, 29, a teacher at Excel Academy Public Charter School in Anacostia, is one of 25 D.C. residents who have benefitted from the Inclusionary Zoning program so far.

“I was paying a lot of rent for a studio apartment that was about 300 square feet in size,” Riling told the AFRO. “I had to live paycheck to paycheck.”

“Now, my quality of living has definitely improved,” she said. “My one-bedroom condo is brand new, it has a dishwasher—which I never had before—and a balcony. Even my mortgage is less, including my HOA fees, than what I was paying in rent.”

District residents interested in the program have to undergo a two-hour orientation before they register. Then comes what some may consider the hard part.

“What is important for people to realize is that they must still qualify. It is not a lottery or giveaway program,” said Marian Siegal, executive director of Housing Counseling Services, one of the community groups that assists individuals in signing up and provides training for the IZ program. “It is the same criteria you would have for purchasing or renting any unit and that’s where people are sometimes surprised.”

According to Williams, the income thresholds for renting an Inclusionary Zoning unit are that housing costs—rent, utilities, HOA fees, etc.—cannot exceed 38 percent of the person’s income; for purchasing a home or condominium, housing costs must not exceed 41 percent.

“We don’t want to put people in a situation where they feel they can afford a home when they can’t because they haven’t factored in all the costs,” he said. “This program factors this is for them.”

Given that the price of housing in D.C. is so “incredibly high,” Siegal said she was surprised that there were not more applicants. But she said she understood that “people get discouraged when they hear they still have to qualify.”

Still, the program presents a “great opportunity,” she said, because “ are below market price so more people can qualify.” She encouraged residents to meet with a housing counselor to come up with a plan to help them meet the criteria for the program.

“It was a lot of hard work, but it was worth it in the end,” Riling said of the process.

After certifying income eligibility, applicants are placed in a lottery whenever a desired unit type becomes available.

At present, there are 923 eligible registrants awaiting a home, and 31 projects in the pipeline that will bring more than 130 units into the program, Williams said, and there are even more projects in the works. The formula for how many Inclusionary Zoning units are required per development is determined by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on a case-by-case basis, but, so far, the range has been from about 8 to 12 percent of each project.

“We are very confident we will have supply to meet demand,” Williams said, adding, “We have been successful so far and we want to be able to grow it and continue to serve the housing needs of residents in this city.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO