When Affordable Housing Isn’t So Affordable

Josh / Flickr

When planning affordable housing, the major consideration is whether residents will be able to make rent. Housing is considered affordable when you’re spending 30 percent of your income on it. But paying rent is only one part of affordable living; you still have to spend money to eat and get around.

GOOD reports that, in the long run, factors such as transportation, grocery options and other costs can make some affordable housing developments more expensive than others. For instance, the difference in living costs between some of Chicago’s affordable housing developments was high as $3,000 a year per family, depending on location.

That’s relevant to D.C., where 55 percent of the population doesn’t make enough money to afford rent (the average household would have to earn $28.10 an hour to be able to afford housing). Transportation costs differ neighborhood to neighborhood — Tenleytown residents are paying $1,003 a year on transportation, while those in Columbia Heights are paying about $200 less. It may only be a couple of hundred of dollars, but the difference in transportation costs could big for families on limited budgets.

How to Get Low-Income People Bike-Sharing

DDOT DC / Flickr

Bike-sharing may be one of the cheapest methods of public transportation in D.C., but you can’t use a bike without a credit card. That poses a big challenge in the District, where more than 12 percent of households are unbanked, meaning they don’t have access to financial instruments like bank accounts.

D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare launched a program this month to get more people credit cards so they can use the bikes, The Atlantic Cities reports:

Capital Bikeshare partnered with United Bank, the District Government Employees Federal Credit Union, and Bank on DC, a collaborative between the city, local financial institutions and non-profits working to provide greater access to financial products in the District. Residents can open a Bank on DC account with none of the minimum balances or monthly fees that frequently serve as an obstacle.

Through Bank on DC, Capital Bikeshare will offer a discounted $50 annual membership to residents who don’t currently use a bank but sign up for a debit or credit account through either the District employees credit union or United Bank.

Increasing access to credit cards is only one way to get more low-income people riding. Capital Bikeshare works best when bike stations are clustered together. Stations east of the Anacostia River, in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, are fewer in number and spread further apart than in wealthier and denser sections of Northwest. But access east of the river is improving; in May, there were nine stations, and now there are 13.

DC Circulator Starts Traveling East of the River

Wayan Vota / Flickr

DC Circulator, the inexpensive, reliable and quick way of getting around the city, made its first trip east of the Anacostia River today. The new line travels from the Potomac Avenue Metro to Skyland via Barracks Row.

Getting across the Anacostia River to where most of the city’s jobs are located can be a time-consuming or expensive undertaking. That can be a particular challenge in Ward 8, where 20 percent of people earn less than $10,000 a year. Circulator trips cost a dollar and buses arrive every 10 minutes between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The D.C. Department of Transportation was able to expand across the river after canceling the Convention Center-SW Waterfront route due to low ridership.


The new Potomac Ave. Metro - Skyland Circulator route is in orange.

Can a Bridge Fix D.C.’s Unemployment Divide?

DDOT / Flickr

The current 11th Street Bridge will be replaced with three spans.

The divide between communities east and west of the Anacostia River is as tangible as the river itself. So can the way to bridge that divide be as tangible as, well, a bridge?

Enter the 11th Street Bridge Project, a massive $300 million reconstruction effort that will provide a faster connection between Ward 8, where unemployment rates have reached nearly Depression-era levels, and portions of the city with lots of jobs.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the project, saying it’s an example of how public construction puts Americans to work. (So far, 380 have been employed through the project.) Mayor Vincent Gray said the bridge will help chip away at the city’s high unemployment. The bridge jobs themselves aren’t all going to Ward 8 residents, an issue that’s sparked protests, much like ones at St. Elizabeth’s, another Ward 8 redevelopment project. But even if redevelopment construction jobs go to people in affected neighborhoods, they aren’t a permanent solution to high unemployment.

One way to address high and uneven unemployment is improving transit options. As it stands now, getting across the Anacostia River to where most of the city’s jobs are located can be a long or costly undertaking, and there are some fixes in the works. DC Circulator, a cheap and quick way to get around, will start running buses across the Anacostia in October. Bike advocates are encouraging residents to explore cycling as a low-cost and more reliable way to commute. And despite past low usage, Capital Bikeshare has installed more stations in Wards 7 and 8 to improve access. And then there’s the 11th Street Bridge.

But a bridge alone won’t be enough to cross D.C.’s unemployment divide. Experts say better job training programs and education are also needed. It’s just that improving those things is more complicated and time consuming than building a bridge.

Jobs Bill and D.C: How Locals Could Benefit from Obama’s Plan

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images

President Barack Obama in Detroit over Labor Day delivered a speech about creating jobs. He unveiled his jobs plan three days later.

While President Barack Obama is busy selling his jobs bill, D.C. could certainly use some help. The District faces an unemployment rate higher than the national average, and it’s at Depression era levels in the predominately poor and black wards of the city.

Here’s what may be in store for D.C., according to the White House, which has released state-specific provisions of the $447 billion bill:

  • Extending unemployment insurance for 5,500 District residents.
  • The establishment of the Pathways to Work fund to train and place low-income residents. It could benefit up to 400 adults and 1,400 youth in D.C.
  • Retaining or hiring 500 teachers and first responders using $45.1 million.
  • A possible $20 million to rehabilitate foreclosed and vacant District homes (which are concentrated in Wards 5, 7 and 8).

All of this is in addition to plans to cut business payroll taxes, intended to encourage hiring, and the infusion of $387 million to fund D.C. transit projects.

But before you get too worked up, keep in mind that the bill as it stands might not get passed. The White House wants the entire bill to get congressional approval, while Republican leaders have signaled they would support parts of the plan.

D.C. Circulator Going East of the River in October

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Riding D.C. Circulator can be much more pleasant than riding Metrobus; lower fares, more frequent buses and simple, quick routes. Starting Oct. 3, the buses will drive east of the Anacostia River for the first time.

The D.C. Department of Transportation began D.C. Circulator in 2005 as an easy way to get around areas that had a lot of activity. Most of the buses travel in Northwest. But the Circulator may end up serving other purposes as well in Ward 8, where 20 percent of people earn less than $10,000 a year and the unemployment rate is higher than 20 percent.

“You can live in the same city and there can be so many walls, real and perceived, for children, families and households who want to enjoy their D.C. experience,” ANC 8D06 Commissioner Kianna Fowlkes said during Tuesday’s DDOT public hearing. “Circulator is a really good way to extend over to this side and make us feel like we have access to the same sites, cultural or economic, to jobs, to the same food.”

Fares cost $1, which is 50 cents cheaper than Metrobus. The buses are more reliable, arriving every 10 minutes, and only make three or four stops a mile. The buses are proposed to start at Skyland and arrive at the Harris Teeter and the Potomac Avenue Metro.

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Trading Living Space for Cheaper Commutes

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Housing in the D.C. suburbs costs a lot less than in the city, particularly with rising housing costs, but higher transportation costs could outweigh the savings.

That’s according to a new report [PDF] by the D.C. Office of Planning, which shows residents in dense neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights spend an average of $840 a month on transportation, whereas those living in suburbs in Montgomery County could spend $1,177 a month. DCist reports:

The numbers bear out what many people know from experience — higher residential density and more transit options make it cheaper for people to get around. Sure, you might be paying more for less space in that new house or condo, but alternatives further asunder may well spike your costs for getting to and from work.

Living in a smaller apartment or house in order to be closer to buses and Metro stations may not be feasible for everyone. Having less space isn’t as big an issue if you’re single or are living with one partner. But if you have three kids and a spouse, your quality of life could be significantly reduced by living in together in a small place. Perhaps the decision to move from D.C. and into the suburbs isn’t the best bottom-dollar choice for single folks. But some families may make the move because they can’t justify living in such cramped quarters so that one or two adults have cheaper and quicker commutes.

Metro Sells Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Passes


Courtesy of Metro

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the first to honor an African American man on the National Mall,  will be dedicated Aug. 28. So why not remember the historic occasion with a commemorative Metro fare card?

The one-day pass, which includes an image of the statue, costs $9 and can be purchased online or at a Metro sales facility.

This isn’t the first time Metro has issued a commemorative pass to mark an historic occasion; the system sold permanent, $10 SmarTrip cards in the lead up to the inauguration of President Barack Obama.



Black Women Bike Happy Hour

Another good candidate for our regular DCentric Pick feature is tonight’s Black Women Bike Happy Hour. The description posted by Martin Moulton, vice president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association board, reads:

Because in some circles the false perception persists that only young white hipsters appreciate the District’s multi-modal transportation options and the joys of cycling, a few women pedalers of color in the city are getting together tonight for a little reality check, gear & girl talk, to discuss crucial safety issues and style concerns…

Flickr: Bruce Turner

The Black Women Bike group proclaims that bikes aren't just for "young white hipsters."

The perils of bike-riding can present a unique challenge for some of D.C.’s women of color who serve as primary caretakers of children or senior citizens, as Moulton pointed out in a previous comment on our blog. That reminded co-blogger Anna John:

… that being able to try new things is a form of privilege. Biking in the city is already daunting for some people; single parents who work at jobs that don’t include health insurance or sick days may– with good reason– think twice about taking risks they cannot afford.

Capital Bikeshare Expansion: Who Should Get New Stations?

Flickr: Rudi Riet

Greater Greater Washington has mapped out Capital Bikeshare usage ahead of Wednesday night’s public meeting on the system’s expansion.

The District Department of Transportation is poised to expand Capital Bikeshare by 25 new stations this summer, choosing from a list of 55 candidates. Of those 55, five are east of the Anacostia River, in the District’s poorest wards.

The least-used of the existing stations are almost all located east of the Anacostia:

Of course we’d expect the stations in the middle to be used the most. Likewise is true of Metro. That doesn’t mean that the peripheral bikeshare stations or Metro stations aren’t useful.

And it makes sense that peripheral stations would be used less given that bikeshare works best when stations are clustered together — the fewer the stations nearby, the less the usage. Adding more east of the river could be one way to increase usage of the existing stations, although doing so doesn’t address the other obstacles that prevent lower-income residents from using the bikes.

Given the documented low usage of the existing stations some fear calls to abandon the program altogether in parts of Wards 7 and 8. Groups such as the Washington Area Bicyclist Association are actively working to encourage bicycling among Ward 7 and 8 residents, and DDOT has no plans of giving up in those neighborhoods. But whether they’ll be able to expand there when there is so much demand elsewhere is another matter.

Wednesday’s meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., at 441 4th St., NW, Room 1107.