Evidence and Ideas for Change Building a stronger DC-area housing market
Sarah Rosen Wartell
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The possibility of Amazon anchoring its $5 billion headquarters in the Washington, DC, region brings into focus the urgency of our regional housing challenges; our skyrocketing home prices and rents would reach ever higher with the arrival of an estimated 50,000 new jobs. However, DC-area changemakers have the capacity and tools to tackle these challenges. Now is the time to build upon our collective expertise to craft cross-jurisdictional and multisectoral strategies that promote a well-functioning housing market—one that serves people at every income level and allows everyone to live in culturally rich communities of opportunity.

The region’s developers, employers, affordable housing providers, community advocates, and local governments can join forces to analyze everything from employment projects to traffic patterns and consider their implications for housing stock—especially given how many people live in one jurisdiction and commute to another. This reality will likely persist as the region’s population continues to grow because of expanding job opportunities: the DC region grew 9.1 percent between 2010 and 2016, compared with 5.8 percent growth among the nation’s 10 biggest metropolitan areas. However, the number of housing units hasn’t kept pace with this growth.

As home prices and rents rise, more people are paying a disproportionately larger share of their income for a place to call home. According to a new Urban feature that shows what Amazon’s arrival could mean for our region’s housing, the number of high-income households is growing faster than the number of middle-income households. Specifically, households with incomes above $150,000 rose 34 percent, with the number of renters in this income bracket jumping 59 percent. These pressures are pushing low- and middle-income earners to move farther from work to find a home they can afford.

The current shortfall of affordable housing in the greater DC region will only intensify if we make Amazon’s final cut—and further squeeze low- and middle-income families. Yet with or without Amazon’s presence, the region’s business, philanthropic, government, and nonprofit leaders have the power to transform this moment into an opportunity.

Over the next several months, Urban will work with the Greater Washington Partnership (a civic alliance of CEOs from the region’s leading employers and entrepreneurs) to lay a foundation of housing facts, forecasts, and evidence-based tools that inspires and informs regional action. Building on this foundation, stakeholders from government, business, philanthropy, and advocacy can—and should—chart a shared path forward that preserves existing affordable housing, produces more housing across the income spectrum, and protects both renters and homebuyers from discrimination and involuntary displacement.

I welcome your ideas for how regional influencers can join forces to advance solutions to the housing challenges of today and tomorrow, so the greater DC region realizes its vision for inclusive growth and shared prosperity.

Research Areas Housing Neighborhoods, cities, and metros
Tags Housing affordability Housing markets
Cities Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV