A few commenters are arguing that there is affordable housing in the District, it’s just not in the right neighborhoods. File this under true but unhelpful.
Much of the cheap housing in the city is in very bad shape. Properties in neighborhoods that have suffered from disinvestment for decades typically have major structural problems, plumbling and electrical issues, mold, infestations of various sorts, and are unsafe and otherwise undesirable to all but those who have no other housing options. This is part of the negative feedback associated with neighborhood decline. Properties in poorer conditions are cheaper and attract lower-income tenants, who are less able to maintain the property, which declines further, and so on.
The other thing to note is that homes are often cheap because urban amenities or disamenities are capitalized into the price of the land. Have a look at neighborhoods east of the Anacostia, for instance. Metro station density there is far less than that on the other side of the river, which means that connectivity to employment concentrations is lower. Crime rates are much higher. The two wards east of the river have perhaps 15% of the city’s population and 50% of the city’s 2009 homicides. The area is notoriously underserved by retailers of basic necessities — the lack of grocery options east of the river has been associated with malnutrition. Entertainment options are almost entirely lacking. There are almost no sitdown restaurants, there are no movie theaters, and so on. Schools in the wards east of the Anacostia are the worst performing in the city. And so on.
There is a reason, in other words, that prices in some neighborhoods depart so significantly from the metropolitan norm. And of course, as these shortcomings in public services and amenities are rectified, prices converge toward those in better neighborhoods, which makes them less affordable. The goal is to provide quality affordable housing in neighborhoods with good public services and amenities. Any idiot can make homes cheap by running the city into the ground, but that’s not really what we’re aiming to do.