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Testimony before the Committee on Business and Economic Development at the Oversight Hearing

Margaret Dwyer February 15th 2023

Ward 3 Housing Justice appreciates DMPED efforts to address the challenges of building affordable housing in expensive areas like RCW with programs such as HANTA. We are suggesting three priorities that could help move this work forward.

RCW is facing a dizzying pace with which sites are being snapped up for private, often by-right development with a pittance of IZ units. This reality demands a shift in posture to proactivity and cross-agency coordination in development.

Right now, for example, the two most promising sites for affordable housing in Friendship Heights – the Lord and Taylor site and the current Western Bus Garage (along with any other site that could be rolled in, such as Home Plate) – demand a proactive, coordinated effort led by DMPED and involving DHCD, OP, ZC, non-profits, advocates and the community (including the ‘should be’ community) to ensure that both sites

  • are beautiful and environmentally respectful,

  • meet the aspirations of the community,

  • address the concerns of the neighbors,

  • meet the needs of WMATA,

  • Contribute to the Mayor’s goal for 1990 units of new affordable housing in the area by 2025, and

  • Contribute significantly to the life and vibrancy of Friendship Heights

Disappointing experiences elsewhere in RCW have shown us that this will not happen with the current site-by-site, piecemeal approach. We need TWO SITES/ONE PLAN in which the parties commit to link the two sites in one broad, detailed plan that commits to all of the above points, provides any needed funding to make it all happen, and doesn’t allow for one site to be approved without the other. With the will and the plan, leaving nothing to chance, we can end up with a world-class, zero emission bus garage (with all-electric buses) and mixed use developments that add generous amounts of housing, including affordable housing (including deeply affordable housing), as well as retail and other amenities that will contribute to the life of the community.

We also need increasingly systematic efforts to ensure that Black-and Brown-owned businesses are included in the redevelopments along the corridors in RCW. We recently lobbied for such a structure in the redevelopment of the Maggiano’s site in Friendship Heights (Zoning Case 96-13A) and were gratified to see included in the applicant’s proffer (Exhibit 146) explicit commitment and support for such businesses in the redevelopment.* We urge that DMPED set an expectation for OP that this provision be strengthened and become an expected component of all PUDs going forward, and that OP will not sign onto PUD applications that fail to meet this mark. We would be happy to work with you on language that could be used for that next iteration.

Finally, we emphasize the necessity for DMPED to lead the way in adopting government-wide procedures and decisions to put racial equity in the forefront as envisioned by the provisions of the revised Comp Plan. In our comments on the draft of ORE’s REAP, we noted that the plan is unlikely to effect significant change since it is largely focused on process, and the outcomes are mainly counting the places and number of times the process gets done. This approach lacks the required urgency. For real change to come to RCW, we need DMPED to adopt a concrete, specific, racial equity plan that will target and dismantle the deliberately created segregation that still exists in RCW and that will set the standard for the plans in all of the agencies under their umbrella.

*Exact language from proffer:

15. Local-, Minority-, Women-Owned, and Inclusive Retailers. During the initial retail lease-up and until all of the retail space is leased, the Applicant shall make commercially reasonably efforts to market to local-, minority- and / or women-owned businesses as retail tenants in the Project and shall reach out to the Greater Washington DC Black Chamber of Commerce, the DC Small Business Development Center, the Washington DC Women’s Business Center, and the DC Developmental Disabilities Council. The Applicant shall offer at least $40 per square foot of gross leasable area in tenant improvement allowance for any local-, minority-, women-owned and/or inclusive businesses with whom the Applicant enters into a market-rate retail lease. Such tenant improvement allowance may be in the form of a direct payment, buildout cost, or some combination of the two.

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