Day 301: Hyattsville Housing

Let’s speculate on what sustainable, affordable, community oriented development might look like.

I will be meeting with a representative from my city council the week after Thanksgiving to talk about a procurement formula I’ve devised to ensure that future development in Hyattsville keeps housing affordable. I wanted to share it here in case anyone might find it helpful or useful.
I want the city to pass a binding resolution that mandates any development project for residential use (excluding single family home renovations) provide at least 50 percent of its housing stock for affordable housing. Half (of the 50 percent stock) must be set aside for individuals and families living below the federal poverty line. The other half should be allotted for individuals and families that make 2/3 or below the living wage in the DMV area, adjusted yearly for inflation. This living wage will be defined as an income level that allows individuals to set aside 25 percent or less of their monthly take home income for housing expenses. As of last year, that number is just over $83,000. Two-thirds of that number would mean that individuals and families making income at levels of $55,000 or below would qualify.
Without regulation, we are (and have been in our cities for years) looking at a predatory practice that doesn’t benefit the community one bit. According to a developer looking to repurpose an abandoned building (pictured above), it purchased the property for $6-$7 million dollars. They are not planning on building any affordable housing units. Let’s assume the high end of that figure ($7 million). They plan on developing 70 homes for resale (combination of townhouses and single family homes). They will price their homes in the low 500s to high 600s depending on the features. Let’s assume an extraordinarily low end of that profit figure when building and labor costs are factored in, every home will be a net profit of $400,000.
The developer will make an astonishing $28 million dollars in gross revenue, with $21 million dollars in net profit before taxes. The community gets no affordable housing units when they could easily afford to create them, no business tax benefits since the developer isn’t based in Hyattsville and only a handful of temporary jobs created. The city loses a place where a new school could be built, a park could be expanded or (gasp) ACTUAL AFFORDABLE HOUSING COULD BE BUILT!
Instead of seeking a true community partner, the city has chosen to throw up its hands and throw out the working class families living in the community. There are a lot of renters in that area and rental rates will rise without action. If the developer were to take less profit, this could be done. If they’re that greedy, then they don’t deserve to develop in our community, or yours, and we should find someone who will stick to that formula before granting permits.
It’s these little crevices of local government: the zoning boards, the town committees and permitting groups that have an outlandish impact on your community. By engaging with them, you have the ability to empower yourself and the interests of you and your neighbors.

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