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After more than a year spent hammering out its approach, Hyattsville elected officials are weighing a four-pronged approach to its long-term affordable housing policy strategy. Under consideration are recommendations to establish a dedicated source of local funding for affordable housing projects, using public lands to support affordable housing development, creating regulations that could limit rent increases for tenants, and creating new or expanding existing tenant protections and rights.
The proposed strategies are remarkable in Prince George’s County. Unlike Montgomery County, Prince George’s has no countywide requirement that new developments include affordably-priced units and no cities here have enacted rent-control or tenant protections regulations like the ones Hyattsville might pursue.
The recommendations came from a 331-page policy report created by consultants Enterprise Community Partners, hired by the city in 2019 to help city officials craft an affordable housing policy. Early in the process, City Council collectively identified several goals for its housing policy strategy, including increasing the number of units affordable for low income households, reducing property tax burdens, closing the racial homeownership gap, and to change regulations where possible to promote affordable housing production.
Rent control and other tools
Perhaps most controversially, especially if you are a landlord or a developer, the document recommends the city create rent control regulations and expand or create new tenant protections. The document calls for the city to establish a cap on annual rent increases for at least some of the city’s apartments.
‘This tool will aid in the creation of increased housing stability for Hyattsville residents,” said Kate Powers, a planner with the city, during a recent City Council briefing on the document.
But several thorny questions hover over such a proposal, including which or how many of the city’s apartments would be subject to rent controls, how to administer disputes over the regulations, and finding the money to hire staff to enforce the regulations.
One category of policy recommendations calls for Hyattsville to establish a dedicated source of funding to promote affordable housing preservation and production, but it would require city officials to identify a dedicated source of funding for it.
The report highlights Fairfax County’s Penny for Affordable Housing program, which dedicates one cent from the county’s real estate tax rate to fund affordable housing programs. Established in 2006, it has generated $234 million in revenue, which has been used to help non- and for-profit groups buy apartment complexes to keep the units affordable. Since the program’s creation, it has been used to help fund the preservation of 1,195 affordable housing units in eight apartment complexes.
The document also recommends the city use public lands to support its affordable housing goals. But first, the city needs to better understand its holdings. The report highlights Alexandria’s Public Land for Public Good program. Under the program, the city created an inventory of city-owned lands that might be suitable for affordable housing development.
The problem, recapped
It’s been getting more expensive to rent in Hyattsville. While thousands of new housing units are in the development pipeline, housing in Hyattsville is getting more expensive, and it’s becoming harder for low-income households to find housing in the city. Layered on top of that baseline, Hyattsville also has a persistent and growing racial disparity in home ownership. In 2010, whites accounted for 70 percent of homeowners in the city despite accounting for only 35 percent of the population at that time. In 2018, whites accounted for 77 percent of homeowners in the city despite accounting for only 24 percent of the city’s population.
Hyattsville’s population has grown by an estimated 2,600 residents between 2000 and 2018, with most of that growth occurring between 2000 and 2010. Most notably, the city’s hispanic population has grown rapidly over the past several years. In 2010, hispanics accounted for only 18 percent of city residents. By 2018, hispanics accounted for 40 percent of city residents. In that time, Hyattsville’s population of African Americans has decreased from 35 percent to 24 percent and the population of white residents has decreased from 40 percent to 29 percent.
On the economic side, Hyattsville household income has been growing according to Census data used in the report. Between 2013 and 2018, the proportion of Hyattsville households earning more than $75,000 per year has increased from 40 percent of city households to 51 percent of city households. Inversely, the proportion of Hyattsville households earning less than $60,000 per year shrank from 51 percent 38 percent between 2013 and 2018.
Despite the growing income levels, roughly 34 percent of city households have “unaffordable” housing costs, defined as exceeding 30 percent of your income. Renters are significantly more cost-burdened, with 43 percent of city rental households paying unaffordable rents. Homeowners are less-likely to be cost-burdened, with only 31 percent paying unaffordable housing costs.
Hyattsville City Council was briefed on the document during an April meeting. It is expected to return for Council discussion at its May 17, 2021, meeting.