Look ma, no comprehensive housing policy: so affordable housing suffers
Three big problems with affordable housing policy.
It's that the market economy is designed to maximize price. Developers are incentivized to make money. Providing housing at less than what the market will bear is not what markets are set up to accomplish.
Oh sure, there is a housing plan, but nobody knows it exists and clearly it isn't being followed. If it were, then the Mayor and City Council wouldn't be regularly raiding the Housing Production Trust Fund, the monies from which are used to support the development of affordable housing.
The biggest illustration of this problem was the campaign in the last decade for "inclusionary zoning." What that does is require that in all new housing developments that a certain number of units be provided that are "affordable." It got passed, although it still hasn't had much effect.
Even if it generates a couple of hundred affordable units annually, what about the hundreds of thousands of already existing housing units (single family houses detached and attached, small and large scale apartment buildings, etc.), how do you plan on maintaining affordability there?
Um, duh, see the second point, that the city lacks a comprehensive housing plan.
And we lack an organization or committed group of advocates focused on that general goal, and ensuring that city housing policies and plans are set up to ensure, to the best extent possible working within the parameters of a market economy, that better outcomes result than we are getting now.
Sure there is that policy and report dating from the Williams Administration. (And it had some problems, in my opinion anyway.)
And the city improved the DC Housing Authority during the Williams Administration too. (The Fenty Administration started f*ing it up forthwith, by getting rid of the nationally respected director who began the fix it process.) And the Housing Production Trust Fund, with funds generated by real estate recordation taxes, has helped to fund a bunch of good projects.
But if you want a resilient, productive city, you need to deconcentrate poverty and you need to provide a variety of types of housing, to accommodate a wide range of household types, and you need to do that throughout the city, as best as possible, through portfolio investment in permanently affordable housing, and a wide variety of other practices.
In the 2005 Shelterforce article "Gentrification and Resistance in New York City," Newman and Wyly responded to the findings reported in NYC that "gentrification" in neighborhoods there didn't result in displacement of the poor. They found that the reality was more complicated.
Most importantly, almost half of all rental units were covered by regulations limiting price escalation. Also, to stay in desirable neighborhoods, many more people started doubling up.
Of course, other programs support the development and maintenance of affordable housing at a variety of scales, which continually adds to the inventory of available housing, even as more new market rate housing is produced, and neighborhoods formerly forlorn become attractive to people with choices.
In strong markets, only by removing housing from "the market" can you permanently maintain affordability. That has some unintended and negative consequences too.