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Federal City Council and JBG SMITH Unveil Innovative Affordable Housing Initiative

A deep dive into Washington, D.C., housing policy at a Federal City Council (FC2) Trustee Breakfast in April revealed that the solutions to D.C.’s affordable housing crunch are going to come through broad and thoughtful collaboration among the private, public and nonprofit sectors. 

And the FC2, in partnership with JBG SMITH, is exhibiting that type of collaboration. For the first time, Trustees heard much of the details about the Washington Housing Initiative at the breakfast, which was held at the PNC Bank headquarters.

“Our partnership with the Federal City Council and the broader business community will help us preserve and develop 2,000 to 3,000 units of housing in high-impact locations initially,” said A.J. Jackson, Executive Vice President of Social Impact Investing at JBG SMITH.

The Initiative proposes a new model that would bring nonprofit leadership and private-sector capital together. Under the plan, FC2 and JBG SMITH would establish the Washington Housing Conservancy, a nonprofit that would own and operate real estate, and the Impact Investment Pool, which would be run by JBG SMITH as a low-cost, patient-capital vehicle to acquire and develop affordable housing.

The five principles guiding this engagement will be focusing on high-impact locations, creating and strengthening mixed-income communities, providing service opportunities, investing at scale (the initial pool will be between $100 and $150 million), and mitigating sources of conflict by capping returns and having an independent nonprofit entity managing the real estate.

Earlier in the discussion, Polly Donaldson, Director of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, explained that long-term affordable housing strategies are increasingly relying on a series of alliances between the private sector and the government, such as the city’s $100 million Housing Production Trust Fund and its $10 million Affordable Housing Preservation Trust Fund.

“Public resources are there, but they’re structured to encourage additional private investment, as well,” said Donaldson, noting that the city works frequently with nonprofit organizations to support affordable housing projects. “For all that we are doing, and the national recognition we’ve gotten, … I don’t know if all our residents think that enough things are being done for affordability.”

Donaldson said D.C.’s District Opportunity to Purchase Act (DOPA) and the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) programs are also designed to offer residents more access to affordable housing by giving the District or tenants the opportunity to purchase buildings if they are being put up for sale.

The breakfast closed with a session amplifying the conclusions of the D.C. Policy Center (DCPC) report, Taking Stock of the District’s Housing Stock: Capacity, Affordability and Pressures on Family Housing. The report offers a comprehensive picture of the District’s entire housing stock, allowing for a longer-term view of housing markets to identify policy options that can foster inclusive growth.

“The findings of our study highlight the need for a shift in thinking in how residents envision the future of the District of Columbia and their neighborhoods,” says Yesim Sayin Taylor, the DCPC Executive Director.