Dec 17, 2021 - News

Bowser seeks affordable housing west of Rock Creek

Affordable housing units built since 2019, by planning area
Data: Deputy Mayor for Planning & Economic Development. Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Mayor Muriel Bowser is taking another swing at affordable housing west of Rock Creek Park, where zero units have opened since she unveiled her target two years ago to build 12,000 affordable homes citywide by 2025.

Why it matters: The Bowser administration is targeting the city's wealthiest area for new affordable housing, but progress has been slow.

  • Other planning areas have all seen hundreds of new affordable units added since 2019.
  • But "Rock Creek West" — mostly made up of wealthy Ward 3 — has produced zero units, according to the city’s data. It holds the smallest share of existing affordable units, home to less than 1% of the total affordable units in the city.
  • The area currently has 440 dedicated affordable units in the construction pipeline.

At the District-owned community center in affluent Chevy Chase, Bowser declared that the new effort will help "transform this beautiful campus" and bring housing. 

  • A new pilot program gives subsidies for multifamily property owners with vacant homes in Rock Creek West to turn the units into affordable housing for at least 15 years.
  • Other measures include a program with faith groups to build housing. There are also zoning tweaks planned for major thoroughfares such as transit-friendly Wisconsin Avenue to allow for more dense development.
  • The mayor has a goal of 1,990 affordable units for Rock Creek West by 2025.

What they're saying: "This is what sets us apart from the rest of the nation. We didn’t just set a goal and hoped that it would happen," Bowser said about the neighborhood targets for affordable housing.

Yes, but: Affordable housing advocates in Ward 3 say the city missed a big opportunity to bring affordable units when it didn’t buy out the Wardman Park building in Woodley Park, formerly a Marriott hotel.

  • A developer bought the building in November. Advocates are still pushing to include as many affordable units as possible in the building’s next use.
  • "A true commitment to housing equity from the Mayor would mean far more than setting goals and then providing no vision or funding to reach them," Margaret Dwyer, an activist with Ward 3 Affordable Housing Advocates, said in a statement.

The mayor released a new planning document, the Rock Creek West Roadmap, that identifies Wardman Park as an opportunity site for mixed-income and lowest-income housing.

  • Other areas include the Chevy Chase Library & Community Center, the Metro bus garage in Friendship Heights, the Howard University Law Campus in Van Ness, and the Tenley-Friendship Library.
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