July 14, 2008

Houseboats: Only Subsidized Downstream

Do not pass the River, Do not collect Housing

Like the Potomac, affordable housing for low-income residents flows southeasterly until it meets the Anacostia. Whereas the water from the Potomac and Anacostia combine and flow south, affordable housing deposits in the southeast corner of the city. Wards 7 and 8 contain the largest concentrations of affordable housing units, seeing over 50% of both the District’s housing choice vouchers and affordable housing project-based units. The northwest side of the city contains the least amount of affordable housing units, with wards 3 and 4 seeing only 6% of the District’s housing choice vouchers and only 3% of the District’s affordable housing project-based units.

The geographic concentration to certain areas has undeniable economic ties. It’s no surprise that Ward 3 had the highest median sales price for a single family home and the highest median and average household incomes of all wards in DC, while Wards 7 and 8 ranked the lowest in each of those three categories. This inverse distribution of income and affordable housing makes sense in theory. In places where people are doing well economically, there’s little need for affordable housing; where people are doing worse off, there’s a more considerable need.

However, a problem arises when income and geography feed off of each other; the self-fulfilling nature of this seemingly reasonable relationship is one of the main facilitators of inherited poverty. Because so many other forms of development inevitably follow income, communities will become “nicer” as their inhabitants become richer, and people will tend to live in as nice of an area as they can afford. Therefore, although they gain affordable housing, the city’s low-income residents lose out on basic amenities that are crucial in their fight to improve their situation. Education is just one example of such an amenity; the distribution in education level seems to follow income. Ward 3 easily has the highest concentration of high school and college graduates, while Wards 7 and 8 have the lowest.

The City seems to have decided what to do about it. It is attempting to increase interaction and equalize access to such amenities by integrating an income distribution into a community. The Section 8 voucher program attempts to do this, although relatively poorly. The New Communities Initiative is also based on this theory, although, as previously discussed, the income distribution proposed is currently being compromised in Northwest One. Although diversity in and of itself is valuable, the real value of economic diversity lies in its ability to provide equal access to these amenities and in a broader sense, equality of opportunity. Whether this can be implemented in the city is yet to be seen.

map courtesy of DC Dept of Health

1 comment:

Matt Siemer said...


Once again, I have no idea where you find your pictures, but this one is a master-stroke. Very nice.