District of Columbia Housing Authority Executive Director Adrianne Todman participated in a panel discussion on equitable development at the Urban Land Institute Washington Real Estate Trends Conference.
The panel’s goal was to discuss the enormous economic benefits and pressures that are occurring in American cities as more upper income people are moving to them.
“The housing authority acted as a catalyst for redevelopment in Washington, D.C.,” Todman said. “Our collective work is a testament to seeing things move forward, but also preserving sustainable affordable housing.”
Barracks Row, Yards Park, and Henson Ridge are three areas she listed where DCHA redeveloped older and distressed public housing that was there into housing available for Washingtonians at all income levels.
“Today we are playing two roles. We are preserving affordable housing, but we are also looking ahead to build more housing to meet future needs,” she said.
The new affordable housing in the District no longer looks like what people remember public housing looking like. The newly built affordable units are mixed throughout the community, often in corridors that were traditionally inaccessible to low-income Washingtonians, she said.
“If we don’t preserve Greenleaf now it will not be here in 15 to 20 years,” said Todman, who noted that the federal government is not giving housing authorities much funding to do these types of projects any more. “We need to build back what is there but more importantly, build more affordable housing for other levels.”
Once the Greenleaf community is rebuilt, the housing can be used as a platform to deliver the kinds of amenities that help position DCHA customers to partake in the District’s resurgence.
Panelist Derek Hyra, an associate professor and director of the Metropolitan Policy Center at American University, agreed.
“Gentrification isn’t bad or good. What is key is to promote equitable development,” he said.
He noted in Governing Magazine, a report read the nation was 9 percent gentrified in the 1990s, compared to 20 percent in the 2000s. He said D.C. went from a “Chocolate City” to a “Cappuccino City.”
“We have to cross the race and class divides to benefit the low-income people,” said Hyra, adding that minimizing residential displacement and encouraging meaningful interactions is important to maintaining equitable redevelopment.
Those interactions are happening more and more as people move into historically African American neighborhoods, said Vicki Davis, panelist and president of Urban Atlantic Development. She said Ward 7 and 8 was undeveloped in the 1970s and land was cheap so more rental units were built there. As a result of housing and development policies of the 1980s, the concentration of poverty grew in those areas.
She noted that at redevelopments like DCHA’s Henson Ridge, positive changes come to the neighborhood like the first Giant grocery store. She said she is encouraged that D.C. has a commitment to using resources to do more to preserve affordable housing.
D.C. is expected to grow from the less than 675,000 people today to some 1 million residents by 2045 making a tremendous opportunity for growth. She said zoning and land use must be planned accordingly.