Construction Versus Conservation: A Local Case Study

In Washington D.C., ZIP code 20003 is split into two distinct areas: fiercely preserved Capitol Hill and the construction-heavy Capitol Riverfront. But where are rents skyrocketing, and what factors go into that equation?
August 2, 2018, 7am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Ryan Blanding

"Not long ago," Payton Chung writes, "shiny new high-rise apartments around Navy Yard rented for more than the old rowhouses on the Hill. Now that many shiny high-rises have been built, they've become the cheaper option despite their 'luxury amenities.'"

As thousands of new residents take up occupancy in the "instant neighborhood" adjacent to the Anacostia, construction continues apace. In a phenomenon we've seen recently in cities like Seattle and Portland, abundant supply may really be keeping rents down for the time being.

The story is different in Capitol Hill, where the neighborhood's physical character is zealously guarded. "By contrast, people who want to move to the Hill, or even just move to a different apartment on the Hill, must compete for just a few empty apartments. As a result, prices are bid up."

But the widespread construction of tony "showplaces" in the historic shells of Capitol Hill houses attests to a different sort of change. "Even as the 'neighborhood character' of historic rowhouses has stood still, the neighborhood's population and social character have been transformed as ever-higher housing prices exclude all but the wealthy."

While the case of ZIP code 20003 may give hope to supply-side housing advocates, Chung also discusses why adding plentiful new units may stabilize prices, but won't necessarily lower them. Without the addition of housing supply throughout the city, this neighborhood-level effect may be very temporary.

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Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 in Greater Greater Washington
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