ANC6D Scorches Developer on Lack of Affordable Housing in South Capitol Street Project

ANC6D Scorches Developer on Lack of Affordable Housing in South Capitol Street Project

By Larry Janezich

Posted September 14, 2021

Monday night, ANC6D began its review of the design for W.C.. Smith Development’s 13 story apartment complex at the intersection of South Capitol Street and I-695.  The DC Zoning Commission has regulations for projects on the major arteries leading to the Capitol Building and part of that review is by the affected ANCs.

Representatives of W.C.. Smith knew they would be criticized for the lack of affordable housing in the project.  But regulations for the development of parcels designated D-5 high density zoning provide that affordable housing Inclusionary Zoning requirements do not apply.  Otherwise, 10% of the project’s floor space would have to be reserved for affordable units.

Holland and Knight attorney Shane Dettman’s approach was to lecture the ANC on Inclusionary Zoning, affordable units, and how their responsibilities in the pending design review did not included a responsibility to consider Inclusionary Zoning issues.

The comments did not sit well with the ANC and after the presentation, one commissioner after another voiced their resentment.

Chair Daniels:  “You choose not to recognize the housing problem because you are operating with a golden key.  You are displacing residents, you bring no benefit to residents, offer no ownership opportunities, and no retail.  You could add affordable units to address the housing crisis in the city, but you’re not doing that.  You are part of the problem….”

Commissioner Kramer:  “I found it offensive to be lectured on Inclusionary Zoning laws….The Southwest Plan says we will be the exemplar of inclusion and equity…. You’ve done nothing except tell us how ignorant and insufficiently informed we are and how we need to understand what Inclusionary Zoning is.

Commissioner Hamilton:  “I was appalled at being lectured on Inclusionary Zoning … you should be ashamed of yourself….and the disrespectful in way you are pushing this project….We need the developer to be a good neighbor and recognize the needs of the community…I urge the developer to find more respectful way….We will push to do what is in the best interest of the community.” 

Commissioner Litsky said, “You bought a car wash to construct a building with several hundred units and not one is affordable.  You purchased the property based on a zoning which allowed you to not offer affordable units.…There is a housing problem in the city….This is a matter of equity – not a matter of what you can do but of what you should do.  There should be affordable housing on this site…not to meet housing needs creates a greater problem.  You offer no retail – no benefits to the community – none, none, none.  You schooled us on the legality of affordable housing.  We schooled you on the morality of affordable housing.  You can talk about the legality; I’m talking about the morality, because that’s what you need to stand up against.” 

Commissioners Collins, Bossi, and Weiss offered comments making the Commission’s criticism of the project or the developer’s approach unanimous.

In response, Holland and Knight Attorney Leila Battles told the Commission that W.C. Smith has built 4000 affordable units across the city – a number of projects have been all affordable.  She said that the developer purchased the site  based on the legal and regulatory framework for the property.  The developer, she said, “made a business decision to comply with applicable regulations….Providing affordable housing is not consistent with the developer’s business model or calculation”.  She urged the ANC to work within their area of responsibility – design review – and to address what it is legally permitted to do; “affordable or not affordable is not among the criteria for consideration by the ANC”. 

The commission was in no mood to vote on the design review Monday night.  Battles noted a number of design issues raised by commissioners during the meeting and said that they would be back in October with responses to ANC design issue concerns.  She did not mention their affordable housing concerns.  

Chair Daniels closed, saying he would be happy to meet with the developer’s representatives any time to discuss affordable housing. 

The ANC is faced with having to support or not support the project based solely on design issues, and if they do not support, will have to detail the design issues with which they disagree.  The Zoning Committee is not likely to respond to any concerns regarding affordable housing, since current regulations provide that Inclusionary Zoning requirements do not apply to this project.  ANC6B, which is an affected ANC and where some commissioners also raised concerns about the lack of affordable housing, will likely consider the design review for the project at its October meeting. 

2 Comments

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2 responses to “ANC6D Scorches Developer on Lack of Affordable Housing in South Capitol Street Project

  1. John

    The ANC’s anger is misplaced. They should be working with the Council to restructure affordable housing requirements instead of asking a private business to voluntarily decrease its return on investment.

    I nearly laughed out loud at Daniels’ “You are displacing residents,” comment seeing as how there are currently no housing units on the land that was purchased. (Ed. Note. This point was raised by Battles during the meeting. Daniels replied: “I’m not an idiot. By virtue of denying residents affordable housing, you’re displacing them. By building units which will rent for $3.000 – $4,000 – $5,000 – you’re displacing and pushing out residents.”)

    • Commissioner Daniels’ reply is still misleading. Building net new housing cannot, by definition, displace anyone.

      If they want to call it a missed opportunity, that’s fine. But calling it displacement is stretching the term so far as to make it meaningless.

      Additionally, DC’s housing crisis isn’t just a lack of affordable housing, but also a lack of housing at all levels – including market rate housing.

      Likewise, there is lots of good research about how new market rate housing also helps create additional affordable housing further down the ‘moving chain.’ You can find a good summary here: https://fullstackeconomics.com/how-luxury-apartment-buildings-help-low-income-renters/

      I’m also confused by the comments asking for retail on the site. This site has got to be the worst location for retail in the entire area.

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