City Paper Widget

Monday, September 29, 2014

Proposal Mandates More Affordable Housing in Rowhouse Conversions

DC's Office of Planning (OP) is considering a proposal to require more affordable housing in residential house conversions. The proposal says that, under certain circumstances and in certain districts, any rowhouse conversion cannot result in more than two units to be rented at "market rate". Any further units would have to rent at a lower rate.

Steingasser (standing right) addresses the meeting
Jennifer Steingasser, OP's Deputy Director for Development Review and Historic Preservation, said September 27 that the proposal is one of several variants being considered. Steingasser spoke at an information session about a wide-ranging OP proposal to limit the conversion of single-family rowhouses into multiple-unit dwellings.

Talking about R-4's on a beautiful Saturday morning

The meeting was sponsored jointly by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions 1A/Columbia Heights and 1B/U Street. At an August 4 joint ANC neighborhood meeting about the same topic (see SALM blog post of August 5), attendees said not everyone could come to meetings held on weekday evenings. They urged meetings on Saturdays. Steingasser and the ANCs agreed to hold a Saturday meeting, but attendance was fewer than 25 people, in part perhaps because the meeting started at 9am and the weather was drop-dead gorgeous.

The proposal would change the rules for house expansion and conversion in districts zoned R-4 only. Most of the residential properties between 14th Street and 7th Street/Georgia Avenue, from below Logan Circle to well beyond Columbia Heights, are zoned R-4. 

Many aspects of the proposed revisions of R-4 zoning rules were unchanged since Steingasser's presentation at the August 4 meeting. These included: the reducing the height that a house can be expanded "by right" (i.e., without asking DC government permission) from 40 to 35 feet, allowing expansions up to 40 feet by "special exception" (obtained from DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment), and changing zoning definitions so that mezzanines will now count as a story of a home when calculating how many stories a building has.

Inclusional Zoning wrinkle

A new wrinkle is the proposed inclusion of Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) requirements. Inclusionary Zoning is an attempt to make affordable units a part of all new multi-unit residential constructions, often meaning large apartment buildings. The requirements have two parts.

One part of this new proposal would mandate that, in the case of "by right" conversions of rowhouses in R-4 zones, all residential units after the first three (meaning, the fourth one and all after) would be "subject to IZ at 60% AMI". See explanation of AMI below.

The second part of the new proposal would mandate stricter limited on conversions that required a zoning variance. These, I believe, would include both proposal for buildings that exceeded 40 feet in height as well as proposals for buildings that covered more than 60% of the total area of the lot. In the case of these buildings, "all units beyond two" (meaning, the third unit and all after) would be "subject to IZ at 60% AMI".

"AMI" stands for Area Median Income. The latest AMI figures I could find were from 2012 -- see here.

Assuming that the 2012 figure (AMI = $107,500) is the latest and my calculations are correct, units at 60% AMI would be judged "affordable" for a family of four making $64,500 per year. If I am understanding information on a DC Department of Housing and Community Development web page correctly, the property owner could rent apartments at 60% AMI for about
  • efficiency: $1,130
  • one bedroom: $1,290
  • two bedroom: $1,450
If you understand affordable housing better than I do, I invite you to examine my figures and, if incorrect, please set me right in the comments below.

OP staff is scheduled to issue a final report with recommendations by the end of 2014. On January 15, 2015, at 6:30pm, the DC Zoning Commission will have a public hearing at its offices at Judiciary Square (441 4th Street NW). Then the Zoning Commission will take a first vote on the matter. After that, there will be another comment period, followed by a second and final vote, also by the Zoning Commission. This second vote could take place as early as March 2015.

The proposal will be subject to review by the National Capital Planning Commission and the US Congress. The DC City Council will not vote on this matter.

At least three ANC Commissioners attended the September 27 meeting, including ANC Chairs Kent Boese (ANC1A Commissioner for district 08) and James Turner (ANC1B Commissioner for district 09). At least three candidates in contested elections for ANC1B seats also attended.

The meeting took place at the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School (1100 Harvard Street).

Public documents about this proposal -- including official memos about the proposal, videos of hearings about the proposal, and transcripts of the hearings -- are available by going to DC's Interactive Zoning Information System and entering case number 14-11 in the search bar. The number must be entered with the dash in the middle to yield the documents for this case. 

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