Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams has been a "breath of fresh air" in bringing new housing to the city, despite some political missteps along his way, says Robert J. Reid, executive director of the National Housing Conference (NHC). Housing is not only on Williams' agenda, but "he's talking about it intelligently and is attracting housing developers who are legitimate and know how to do things correctly – developers that wouldn't deal with the city in the past because of the incompetence and crookedness of prior administrations," says Reid.
Working with the previous administration was like working with a "puppet regime," says Tom Bozzuto, president and CEO of The Bozzuto Group. "You never knew how predictable the process would be or what the administration would want."
With initiatives such as tax abatement programs that have fostered continued investment in apartments, there is a sense of optimism from the housing community in the city, says Tom Baum, executive vice president of The Bozzuto Group. "The entire community has faith that conditions will continue to improve and that services will be provided and continue to get better. Optimism was a critical element that was missing from previous administrations," he says.
Gone are the days "when the city went bankrupt trying to promise everything to everybody and ended up providing nothing to no one," says Williams. Instead, Williams is taking a realistic approach to bringing housing to the city. His goal for downtown includes ensuring that there is housing at different levels of affordability to protect low-income residents and senior citizens from displacement.
Proof in the Numbers Since fiscal year 1999, the Williams administration helped finance more than 9,000 units of affordable housing – including 1,547 in 1999, 1,951 in 2000 and 3,784 in 2001.
In April 2001, he created a Housing Preservation, Rehabilitation and Production Omnibus Amendment Act (now known as the Housing Act of 2002).
The goal is to protect existing affordable housing, reduce displacement, convert vacant and dilapidated buildings into new housing and promote new housing for people of all incomes.
In the first two quarters of 2002, the district government helped finance 2,010 affordable housing units worth $184.7 million in total development costs. Forty-nine percent of the units will be available to moderate-income families who earn between 51 percent and 60 percent of the area median annual income ($51,360 for a family of four). And, more than 35 percent, or 710 units, will be available to low-income families who earn less than 50 percent of the area median annual income ($42,000 for a family of four). In addition, more than 90 percent of those units will be rental housing. The projects were financed through funds from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, the Housing Finance Agency and public investments.
"He has created an environment where builders feel welcome," says Bozzuto. "The current administration has helped make the process [of building housing in the district] more predictable and professional than it was in the past."