Does Limiting Rowhouse Expansions Preserve, or Prevent, Affordable Housing?

The Washington D.C. Zoning Commission is considering a proposal to limit the ability to convert or expand rowhouses. The proposed ordinance has provoked controversy about the effect of the law for the city's supply of housing.

2 minute read

January 22, 2015, 2:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

"Sixty-six people have written to the Zoning Commission about a proposal that would substantially limit property owners' ability to expand rowhouses or convert them into condos," reports Aaron Wiener. "The overwhelming majority of the letter-writers, 52 of them, support the proposal. But among the 14 dissenters is an influential voice: the former boss of the office that hatched this plan."

Wiener refers to Harriet Tregoning, now with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after leading the Washington D.C. Office of Planning under mayors Adrian Fenty and Vince Gray.

During her time as head planner, Tregoning pushed for policy that runs counter to the current proposal. Namely, the current proposal, crafted in response to a proliferation of "pop-ups," "would restrict the addition of extra stories, or pop-ups, on rowhouses in medium-density R-4 zones, and the conversion of these rowhouses to multiple units." The current proposal was released in June, a few months after Tregoning left for the federal government.

According to Wiener, "[the] Office of Planning's Jennifer Steingasser testified last week that the proposal would help preserve affordable housing for families, rather than let it be converted to condos for singles or couples. But Tregoning, in her letter to the Zoning Commission, disagrees."

In Tregoning's own words, as quoted by the article: "I am somewhat puzzled by the proposition that we can increase affordability by decreasing the supply of potential housing units….Restricting the number of units just limits the housing supply in some of the most central and transit- and amenity-supplied neighborhoods of the city."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 in Washington City Paper

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