Suburban poverty growth shows the changing definition of affordability

Defining affordability has proved difficult. Housing, transportation, food, and child care are some of the important factors, but the financial realities to individual families vary. 

With incomes well above the national median income, the Washington D.C. region consistently ranks among one of the wealthiest in the country. In order to live in the District, the Economic Policy Institute says a family of four needs to make nearly $124,000. Current household incomes fall about $40,000 less than that. 

Looking at affordability in the inner city is only part of the picture, NCSG Director of Community Development Willow Lung-Amam tells WAMU reporter Sasha-Ann Simons

“By the year 2010, the majority of populations of racial minorities, immigrants, and those living below the poverty level lived in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas, not inside of the city,” Lung-Amam says.

“We tend to think of poverty in very old terms, meaning somebody who’s unemployed or on welfare, but the reality is we have people working three or four jobs and can’t afford to live in this region,” Lung-Amam says.

Read and listen to the WAMU story here.  

Photo via m01229 on Flickr. 


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POLICY SPOTLIGHT: Comprehensive Housing Strategy, Prince George’s County

This spring, the Prince George’s County Council formally approved a landmark document, “Housing Opportunity for All (provide link to document here),” that will serve as the guiding strategy for implementation of the county’s comprehensive housing strategy (CHS).

The timing of this strategy is critical, as the entire county, as well as many areas of the Purple Line in Prince George’s are experiencing increasing rent and home prices, which could potentially place many current residents at risk of displacement.

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The strategy seeks to reduce regulatory barriers constraining new development while proposing significant investment in revitalizing abandoned properties and spurring the construction of affordable homes.[1]

In early April 2019, the Council established Housing Opportunities for All Workgroup, which it charged with assisting the county in setting priorities and provide advice on future legislation and changes to County policies, regulations, and distribution of resources.[2] The Workgroup will have 19 members, meet quarterly, and consist of members from relevant county agencies, as well as municipal, private, and non-profit representatives from a wide range of county, state, or regional organizations.

The Housing Opportunity for All strategy looks to achieve three primary goals:

  • Support existing residents, including long‐time residents, seniors, residents with disabilities, and residents at‐risk of displacement.
  • Attract new residents, including millennials, employers, and developers.
  • Build on strategic investments & submarket conditions, including transit‐oriented development (TOD) areas like the Purple Line Corridor, areas around strategic assets and major public investments, and areas that designated under the County’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative (TNI) and federal Opportunity Zones.[3]

The report that supports the CHS found that existing residents face:

  • Lack of diverse housing options which impacts the ability to attract new residents and affects affect current residents’ ability to stay in the county.
  • Growing market strength, which presents opportunities for growth, but also causes concern about the risk of gentrification and displacement.
  • Challenges with housing costs, particularly housing that aligns with their earnings, resulting in cost‐burdens.
  • Issues resulting from the County’s aging housing stock and the quality of some of that housing stock.[4]

Findings related to attracting new residents is that the County needs to:

  • Provide more housing options in neighborhoods with amenities (like shopping and transit) and resources as it currently has options at only a few price points and building types.
  • Locate barriers to new development and the pace of that development, especially in TOD areas and areas inside the beltway.
  • Find ways to overcome perception issues about the desirability of living in the county despite the fact that underlying conditions (e.g., school performance, public safety, etc.) have improved.[5]

County decisionmakers view Housing Opportunities for All as a roadmap to establish Prince George’s County as a Community of Choice through three cross-cutting strategies and three targeted strategies.

Cross cutting strategies:

  • Enhance policies and incentives to promote housing development and preservation throughout the county by creating a more supportive environment for housing development and offering tools to help stabilize vulnerable residents.
  • Increase collaboration, coordination and transparency to expand partnerships, improve coordination, and increase transparency on priorities and process to respond to changing market conditions and resident needs.
  • Expand funding and diversify financing mechanisms to increase development and other housing opportunities.[6]

Targeted strategies:

  • Encourage new, context-sensitive development that expands housing types to serve the county’s diverse population and distinct geographic character
  • Improve the quality of the county’s existing housing supply, including older homes and income-restricted properties, and help keep housing costs low to stabilize residents at-risk of displacement.
  • Use new housing development and coordinated public investments to build stronger economic opportunity and revitalize neighborhoods.

As is true with a number of recent housing-related studies and plans in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County’s Housing Opportunities for All will serve as a critical guide in shaping the development of the PLCC’s Housing Action Plan, which will be drafted and finalized over the course of late spring and summer both overall for the corridor but especially for the communities on the Prince George’s side.

[1] Alex Koma, “Prince George’s weighs big changes to spur more residential development,” Washington Business Journal, March 25, 2019 (

[2] Prince George’s County Council website, “Housing Opportunity for All Workgroup,”

[3] Prince George’s County Council and Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., “Housing Opportunity for All: COMPREHENSIVE HOUSING STRATEGY,”—Housing-Opportunity-for-All-FINAL-complete-with-appendices, 2019, p. 4.

[4] Ibid, pp. 4-5.

[5] Ibid, p. 5.

[6] Ibid.

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NCSG travels to Ireland to forge a research relationship with international partners

NCSG Director Gerrit Knaap and Associate Director Nick Finio traveled to Maynooth, Ireland in April 2019 to forge a new research relationship with the International Center for Local and Regional Development. During their trip, Knaap and Finio accompanied ICLRD Director Caroline Creamer to the cities of Derry and Letterkenny to discuss cross-border urban planning issues with local academics and policymakers.  NCSG will be joining ICLRD on a pilot basis for two years to explore and join in research projects, with potential to become a permanent partner in 2021. ICLRD’s focus on building the capacity of regional and local authorities, development agencies, border networks and community and voluntary organizations to manage spatial planning on the island of Ireland as a whole. This mission neatly align’s with NCSG’s work in Maryland, across the US, and nationally, to use best practices in urban planning to build a more sustainable future.
Photo Caption: NCSG Director Gerrit Knaap is pictured with Jenny Pyper, ICLRD Chair and Chief Executive of the Utility Regulator of Northern Ireland. Knaap and Pyper are signing a ceremonial agreement representing NCSG’s commitment to join ICLRD.
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