D.C. Council Pushing Legislation to Create Affordable Housing
Proposed Green New Deal for Housing Amendment Act of 2022 Could Impact the Future of Sustainable Affordable Housing in the District
- The District of Columbia Council continues to push forward the Green New Deal for Housing Amendment Act of 2022 to create more affordable housing in the District.
- The legislation, which was introduced on April 29, 2022, aims to create more permanent affordable housing with strong tenant governance and a focus on sustainable design through the construction of Social Housing Developments.
- The public record will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2022.
The District of Columbia Council continues to push forward legislation to create more affordable housing in the District. The Green New Deal for Housing Amendment Act of 2022 (Green New Deal for Housing), was introduced on April 29, 2022, by Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George, Brianne K. Nadeau, Brooke Pinto, Anita Bonds, Robert C. White Jr., Trayon White Sr. and Charles Allen.
The legislation aims to create more permanent affordable housing with strong tenant governance and a focus on sustainable design through the construction of Social Housing Developments. The Green New Deal for Housing defines a Social Housing Development as "a property owned by the District that uses the revenue it generates from rent towards construction and maintenance of permanently affordable mixed-income social housing." The targeted properties are those currently owned by the District as well as the ability of the District to purchase, through a newly created Office of Social Development, privately owned properties pursuant to the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act of 1980, D.C. Code § 42-3401.01 et seq. to produce Social Housing Developments.
Councilmember Bonds, the chairperson of the Committee on Housing & Executive Administration, held an all-day public hearing on Nov. 22, 2022, that garnered more than 150 public witnesses – including, but not limited to, tenant advocates, D.C. residents, Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) Chairs and various policy analysts – to sign up and testify.
Many public witnesses applauded the Council for taking a bold step to create more permanent affordable housing in the District but pointed out that current affordable housing tools such as the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), Limited Equity Cooperatives and Community Land Trusts were left out of the legislation, and those tools significantly contribute to the creation of tenant owned and governed affordable housing. Witnesses also questioned the efficiency of the creation of a new District agency to foster this type of development. It was also suggested by several witnesses that the District use eminent domain to take certain privately owned properties that could produce substantial units of affordable housing. The Council was also urged by witnesses to reevaluate District-owned properties that are currently slated to be sold through land dispositions that could be used to construct Social Housing Developments. The use of District Opportunity to Purchase Act (DOPA) and ground leasing of land so that the District retains ownership, while private developers construct and maintain the properties was also suggested. The record will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2022. The legislation is currently under Council Review, and a vote is not likely to be held before the Current Council Period 24 (2021-2022) ends on Dec. 31, 2022. The bill is expected to be reintroduced during Council Period 25 (2022-2023).
Affordable Housing Components
The Green New Deal for Housing requires that Social Housing Developments would be permanently affordable, which is defined as "a property in which a majority of units will remain affordable to extremely low, very low-, low-, and moderate income households relative to area median income, in perpetuity." The bill defines the terms as follows:
- Extremely Low income: a household income equal to or less than 30 percent of the area median income
- Very Low income: a household income equal to between 30 percent and 50 percent of the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area median
- Low income: a household income equal to between 50 percent and 80 percent of the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area median
- Moderate income: a total income equal to between 80 percent and 120 percent of the Standard Metropolitan Area median
The legislation in its current form requires that the residential rent structure of Social Housing Developments must be divided as 1) one-third affordable for households at the extremely low income level, 2) one-third of the units affordable for households earning at the very low income level and 3) one-third of units available necessary to achieve rent cross-subsidization. Rents would be based on households spending approximately 30 percent of their annual income on housing and housing vouchers, whether District or federal would not count towards a households income for the calculation. Several public witnesses stated that creating a development with one-third "extremely low income units" would not be economically feasible without the use of subsidies such as Local Rent Supplemental Program (LRSP).
A significant portion of the anticipated monetary generation for recurring operational costs, as well as reimbursement of outstanding debts from development costs, would come from rent cross-subsidization in which rents paid by households residing in units priced for extremely and very low income households are balanced by rents paid, in the same property, by households residing in units priced for moderate-income earners. An additional way the Green New Deal for Housing purports to defray operational and development costs is through leasing of ground-floor commercial space to provide community benefits such as childhood development centers, grocery stores and small locally owned businesses.
An emphasis on tenant governance is also included in the legislation. Each Social Housing Development may maintain tenant leadership boards at each property. The tenant leadership boards would have the right to review and approve any service agreements in place related to their property, including private management companies. Witnesses also raised concerns about the ability of tenants to control the fate of service contracts and building management.
Environmental Construction Standards
The Green New Deal for Housing outlines significant requirements for the environmental standards of newly constructed and refurbished Social Housing Developments, specifically:
- net-zero emissions, including no energy from combustion or any sources that emit greenhouse gases
- on-site solar energy production to the maximum extent practicable, including using the District's solar installation program and employing labor through the District's solar installation workforce training programs
- landscape architecture to maximize natural cooling
- multimodal transportation access, including pedestrian linkages and facilities for bicycles and personal mobility devices
There is also a requirement that Social Housing Developments include all electric heating and cooling using only highly efficient systems and energy-efficient appliances and lights. In the legislation, a Social Housing Development would be prohibited from having natural gas for heating, hot water or cooking and off-street parking in excess of zoning regulations. District First Source, Small and Local Business Enterprise Development laws and green building requirements are some of the District laws that the Social Housing Development would have to comply with during construction and renovation.
New Office of Social Developments
The Green New Deal for Housing authorizes the creation of a new Office of Social Housing Development (the Office) as a subordinate agency within the executive branch of the District government. Its purpose would be to foster the ownership, development, conversion, retention and maintenance of District-owned permanently affordable, mixed-income housing accommodations for District residents.
The legislation tasks the Office to use federal and local grants and loans, including the Housing Production Trust Fund and Green Finance Authority, to develop the housing. The Office would also be given the authority to issue bonds and give security pursuant to District laws; however, the legislation specifies that the Office's debts shall not be backed by the full faith and credit of the District of Columbia. A special Social Housing Development Fund (the Fund) would be created to collect and use rent from Social Housing Developments to construct and maintain the developments while maintaining "revenue neutrality," a system in which all monetary expenditures that result from the development and maintenance of social housing owned by the District are returned to the District through rents or other public and private subsidies received by the District. The money in the Fund would be required to be used for development costs and operational costs of the Social Housing Developments, with no more than 3 percent of the Fund defraying administrative costs of the Office.
Updates with respect to the progress of the bill will be provided as they become available. Please contact the author with any questions.
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