A Dream Project
Last week, the Washington Post ran an interesting article on the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park that would span the Anacostia River on the piers of the old bridge. The park would bring a public plaza, amphitheater, environmental education center and other amenities to an area of the city that has sorely lacked them for decades. But more importantly, it could provide a break in the “psychological” barrier between East of the River communities and the rest of the city.
Risks to Affordable Housing
Though the park seems like a win-win reuse of old infrastructure, housing activists are alarmed that the project will drive up rents and property values in the neighborhoods on the east side of the bridge. For example, even modest development has helped to increase housing prices in the Anacostia neighborhood near the Big Chair at an astronomical rate. Homes are are now selling for more than three times what they were valued at the depths of the Great Recession.
Private industry, non-profit groups and community activists have taken on a variety of strategies to mitigate this risk.
Home Buyers Club
In association with the 11th Street Bridge Project, MANNA offers a monthly Home Buyer’s Club for Ward 8 residents. Residents receive resources about buying a home, peer support and financial education. The next meeting takes place this coming Saturday at THEARC from 9:30am to 12:30pm on Mississippi Avenue SE.
Community Land Trust
Another tactic that is in active development is called Community Land Trust. As defined from the group’s Facebook page: A Community Land Trust (CLT) is a powerful and flexible tool to create affordable housing while allowing residents to build equity as homeowners. Essentially, it allows participants to own a house without having to own the land beneath it. In this way, it insulates the home from the negative and positive effects of rising land values.
Interestingly, we learned during the recent rampage of hurricanes through the Caribbean that the island of Barbuda utilizes a form of community trust. The 200 year old Barbuda Land Act mandates communal ownership of all land. This tradition is deeply woven into Barbudan culture, but has also limited the island’s economic development.
Housing Preservation Trust Fund
Just this morning, Mayor Bowser announced a $75 million investment to create and preserve up to 500 affordable housing units in the city. These projects include new construction units, such as Stanton Square in SE (Ward 8) and preservation projects like an apartment building on Spring Road NW (Ward 4).
These and many other strategies are being employed to protect affordable housing in vulnerable areas of the District. The task remains a difficult one, however. New ideas are needed to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to enjoy the city’s growing prosperity.