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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 04/23/2010

Good housing news? Depends on your perspective

By Washington Post editors


Good news for the region's economy can be not so good for those looking for housing. The Wall Street Journal's quarterly housing report on 28 major metro areas finds that the Washington area has the lowest unemployment rate and has experienced a 12.6 percent decline year over year in available housing inventory.

Those are trends that are especially apparent in walkable, transit-accessible areas such as the District, Arlington, Alexandria, Bethesda and Silver Spring, where housing prices have not suffered the dramatic declines seen in the exurban locations on the region's fringe.

But low housing availability and high rental prices can close off a community to many people, even those with good jobs and incomes.

There are also important policy tools that can maintain housing options. One is "inclusionary zoning," a policy the District adopted recently requiring that new residential buildings include some housing at various affordability price points. Another is "accessory dwellings," letting people rent out a basement or garage in an existing house.

So many people want to live in walkable and transit-oriented neighborhoods that we need to keep adding housing in existing desirable neighborhoods like U Street or do things like turning the huge parking lots around Metro stations in Prince George's or Tysons Corner into new walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods.

The average number of people in a household was about twice as large in 1960 as today, meaning that the same number of houses sheltered more people. If a young couple buys a house in Arlington to house a future family but doesn't need all the space now, they should be able to rent out some of that space. Likewise, empty nesters who don't want to leave their longtime home but don't need the entire house should be able to supplement their often-fixed income and use some of their space to bring new people into the community.

Unfortunately, many of these strategies run into political resistance, which is too bad because our communities are healthier when they include a greater variety of ages, professions, backgrounds and incomes, and our neighborhood stores are more successful when more people live nearby to patronize them. Let's encourage people to live, work, shop and play in our communities -- and help make sure everyone can afford to do so.

David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Washington Post editors  | April 23, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, housing  | Tags:  D.C. region housing, David Alpert, Local Blog Network  
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