In her April 4 Metro column, “A plan to fix D.C.’s housing crisis can’t wait till Nov.,” Petula Dvorak rightly lamented the district’s high housing costs, but her policy prescriptions won’t fix the problem. “We need to be ruthless in demanding that developers acknowledge the housing crisis and dedicate more of their units to lower-income residents,” she wrote.
The few people lucky enough to live in set-aside units would certainly benefit from lower rent, but a handful of units in new buildings will do little to address overall affordability. District rents are high because the stock of housing isn’t expanding quickly enough to accommodate everyone who wants to live here. To fend off further price increases we need to examine the ways our current policies artificially limit the supply of housing. Land-use regulations such as restrictive zoning, parking minimums and minimum lot sizes make dense development illegal in many parts of the district. The lengthy entitlement process allows NIMBYs to limit the size of new buildings and keep newcomers out of their neighborhoods.
We won’t need to be “ruthless in demanding that developers acknowledge the housing crisis” if we change our restrictive policies. Liberalizing land-use rules would allow developers to make money by increasing the supply of housing , and it would make for a more affordable district.