Statement: More Affordable Housing and Resident Input When City Gives Developers Public Properties – Why I Introduced the Common Ground Act of 2022

Responding to the District’s affordable housing crisis and displacement of longtime Washingtonians, this week I was proud to introduce the Common Ground Amendment Act of 2022. This bill significantly reforms what the city does with public land it no longer uses.

My goal with this bill is to use public lands to create more affordable housing, build more multi-bedroom units for families, and increase community input so that development is driven by the needs of communities more than the desire of developers. I hear from residents all the time who have a justified perception that the District is giving away land. This is the answer to that concern.

I created this legislation because, having chaired the committee that oversees the approvals process for giving away public land in DC, I have seen a consistent pattern: 99-year ground leases; ground-floor commercial space; rent of $1 per year; and, in exchange, a commitment to offer the income-restricted units legally required under current law. Sometimes the community gets amenities such as a publicly accessible pocket park or promenade, or additional units that are set aside for roughly median-income residents. But this is not enough. Multi-generational families who can’t find housing other than studios or one bedrooms know it’s not enough. And people with low incomes trying to keep a roof over their heads know that what we’re doing to meet the affordable housing crisis is not enough.

There are systemic racial inequities in the way our law allocates affordable housing right now. The Council Office on Racial Equity has pointed out that even when developers pledge to create housing based on area median income, the massive disparities in income between Black and white residents mean that a household making the median income for Black DC families would struggle to afford even most of the “affordable” units aligned with current requirements.

My Common Ground Amendment Act addresses head-on the issues residents are telling me about: a lack of affordable housing, a need for multi-bedroom units for families, and not enough neighborhood input on new development projects. I’m grateful for the support of my colleagues Councilmembers Bonds, Silverman, Nadeau, Pinto, and Lewis George who signed on as co-introducers for this bill, and I hope it receives a quick referral to a committee and hearing.

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