The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
June 15, 2016

Can we get ahead of neighborhood change in DC?

June 15, 2016

While it may seem that nothing in Washington ever changes, the District itself has been undergoing dramatic change. From the 1960s to the late 1990s, DC was losing population; today, at least 1,000 new residents arrive each month. Once considered some of the city’s most dangerous areas, home prices in the Ivy City and Trinidad neighborhoods have risen 92 percent in five years. Meanwhile, DC has lost 50 percent of its low-cost rental homes between 2000 and 2010. But as the city grows, officials must grapple with how to make growth inclusive and extend its benefits not just to the new arrivals but to the longtime residents as well.

In a recent essay, my colleagues Solomon Greene and Kathy Pettit pose the question “what if cities used data to drive inclusive neighborhood change?” Greene and Pettit call for analytic tools that can help cities and residents get ahead of neighborhood changes and secure equity and inclusion early on. To accomplish this, they suggest that efforts must be equitable, participatory, and actionable.

DC is already taking this approach to preserving affordable housing. Without proactive housing preservation efforts, existing subsidized housing and market-affordable homes may be lost because of market pressures or the need to renovate aging properties. The DC Preservation Network, today convened by the Coalition of Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development and NeighborhoodInfo DC (housed here at the Urban Institute), has been meeting monthly to review data on federally and locally assisted properties that have been at risk of losing their subsidies since 2007.

At these monthly meetings, several DC agencies, federal agency staff, tenant organizers, and affordable housing developers use data from the DC Preservation Catalog to discuss the properties most at risk each month and strategize about the appropriate course of action. The DC Preservation Network has also suggested that DC adopt a preservation strategy that sets goals and priorities for preservation. These priorities include preservation of housing that’s meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, near other DC-funded economic development, or needed to maintain economic diversity.

In 2015, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser acted on one of the network’s recommendations and convened a Housing Preservation Strike Force to develop a preservation strategy. A theme of the strike force’s work has been improving the quality and the utilization of the city’s data to preserve affordable housing.

But we know we can do even better to support the development and implementation of a preservation strategy that makes local administrative data more actionable and takes advantage of the city’s technology talent. To that end, DC has received support to join the Civic Tech and Data Collaborative, a project of Living Cities, Code for America, and the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership. The Coalition of Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, Code for DC, NeighborhoodInfo DC, and the DC Department of Housing and Community Development will work together to create a DC Affordable Housing Preservation Strategy Tool that DC officials can use to make decisions about properties that should be prioritized for preservation.

The new tool will leverage the existing DC Preservation Catalog and add data on properties and neighborhood conditions that incorporate the recommended priorities of the DC Preservation Network and those adopted by the DC government. The tool will allow users, inside and outside of government, to compare and rank properties according to the priority areas. This tool can help the city take a proactive, data-driven approach to preservation and spend limited funds more efficiently. By opening up access to the public, the tool will also increase transparency in the affordable housing preservation decisionmaking process.

As Greene and Pettit suggest, many policy responses to neighborhood change come too late and at too great a price. Using data to get ahead of these changes can help communities secure a more inclusive future. Here in DC, we can do this by leveraging the DC Preservation Network and the city’s commitment to getting ahead of future neighborhood change and preserve more affordable housing.

This post is part of a series funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that explores how city leaders can promote local economies that are inclusive of all their residents. The framing brief, “Open Cities: From Economic Exclusion to Urban Inclusion,” defines economic exclusion and discusses city-level trends across high-income countries. The four “What if?” essays suggest bold and innovative solutions, and they are intended to spark debate on how cities might harness new technologies, rising momentum, and new approaches to governance in order to overcome economic exclusion.

A mural on Trinidad Avenue near the intersection of Florida Avenue shows a new growth of art and culture in the Trinidad neighborhood of Washington, DC, on August 9, 2013. Photo by Maddie Meyer/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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