Like transportation and environmental quality, housing is a regional issue. However, unlike with those other areas, a regional approach to housing policy has been largely a non-starter, despite its importance to the region’s overall well-being. We know a lot about the region’s housing needs. Researchfrom the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis has analyzed the amount and types of housing that will be needed to support sustainable regional economic growth. New data from the Census Bureau shows that last year population growth in the region slowed; that slowdown has been attributed to weaker economic growth as well as to the region’s high cost of living.
A lack of a regional approach to affordable housing exacerbates income and racial inequality throughout the region. According to a recent report by the Urban Institute, there is a severe shortage of housing regionwide that is affordable to extremely low income individuals and families. Lower-income households that access affordable housing with a voucher tend to be concentrated in higher-poverty, lower-opportunity neighborhoods. Richard Florida and his collaborators have shown that the Washington DC region has a relatively high level of economic segregation compared to other US metro areas. And this map of poverty by race shows that poor African Americans—and to a lesser extent Hispanics—are concentrated in certain parts of the region.
In the Washington DC area, we are fortunate to live in a prosperous region with a myriad of opportunities that can support individual and family economic well-being and success. Thus, we are better positioned than some other regions to create real regional tools to expand housing options. There are challenges, of course. We have less governmental fragmentation than some other parts of the country, like the northeast; however, we face the challenge of three separate states (or state-like bodies) with different rules and priorities. But we can overcome that and other obstacles to regionalism. A regional approach to meeting the region’s housing needs allows for the intentional connection of affordable housing to employment opportunities, access to transportation and transit options, and quality schools in a way that is more comprehensive than what individual jurisdictions can achieve on their own. When jurisdictions act collectively, the region as a whole benefits.