flatland

In DC we have a very stupid rule that restricts building height, even though we are a popular city with lots of transit and high employment that lots of people want to live in. This leads to increased cost of living as demand for space in desireable neighborhoods in DC exceeds supply.

This also leads, however, to other distortions that I don’t think Height Act supporters really want to see. For example, in doing some casual rental hunting I went the other day to see an apartment listed in LeDroit Park, which is of course a lovely neighborhood and a nice place to live. And one of the reasons it’s so nice is that it is filled with lovely houses. And the apartment I went to see was, in fact, in one of those lovely houses that had been carved up into pieces. And this apartment in particular was kind of wacky, since really it was the foyer of the house combined with its basement, which is not really how one would otherwise design a living space. And it made me wonder how many other houses in LeDroit Park and other, similar neighborhoods were similarly sliced and diced into rentals.

Now, Height Act supporters want to protect neighborhoods like LeDroit Park. But really it doesn’t. If people who want apartments in DC can’t live in tall, managed buildings near Metro stations, then someone who owns a house will get the idea that they could be making a lot of money by renting it out to 4, 5, even 7 or 8 different people who might want to live there. And thus gentrification spreads faster and more traditionally residential neighborhoods become de-facto apartment blocks. If you allowed some of the land near Metro stations to be developed into dense, mixed-use urban walkable smart-growthy neighborhoods, then that would meet the demand and LeDroit Park and other neighborhoods like it would remain neighborhoods full of homeowners. But instead you have a sort of gentrification sprawl where since it can’t go up it spreads out and more and more homeowners become landlords and more and more cute neighborhoods become playgrounds for young professionals.

Fortunately it does seem like there’s hope that our next At-Large Councilmember might be forward-thinking on this issue.

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