Council Member Orange Proposes Emergency Moratorium on Building Permits – Strong Opposition from Greater Greater Washington


Councilmember Vincent B. Orange, Sr. proposes Emergency Moratorium on Building Permits.

From an email:

“The DC Council is voting on emergency legislation this Tuesday, April 14th (see below) to place a moratorium on ALL permits and additions until the Zoning Commission finalizes the text amendment process. This Emergency legislation would GO INTO EFFECT IMMEDIATELY.”

Sense_of_the_Council_Pop-ups_Declaration_Resolution_-_4_8_15 (PDF)

Greater Greater Washington notes:

“Of course, the bill probably won’t pass. Even if nine councilmembers believed this constituted an “emergency,” Orange’s bill very likely illegal. DC’s Home Rule Act creates a Zoning Commission with three representatives appointed by the mayor and two from the federal government. That body, it says, “shall exercise all the powers and perform all the duties with respect to zoning in the District as provided by law.” (§492(a)(1)(e))

That means that the DC Council can’t make zoning policy. And telling DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which issues building permits, that it’s illegal to give a building permit for a project that’s legal under zoning but not under Orange Alternate Zoning would be overstepping the council’s authority.”

and concludes with pretty strong language:

“But Orange got to make a statement. If you’re a young person who doesn’t own or can’t afford a whole rowhouse, Orange doesn’t want you. If you’re a poor resident, Orange doesn’t care about you. If you want your neighborhood to never change at all, Orange wants your vote, and he’ll propose illegal legislation that will harm the District to get it.”

133 Comment

  • Yup, because nothing screams “affordable” like a $500,000 two bedroom condo.

    • Exactly.
      People who want to argue in favor of pop-ups need to argue on other grounds, because the “affordability” reasoning just doesn’t hold water.

      • Two $500k condos are unequivocally more affordable than a single $900k house. The houses will be flipped one way or another – the demand is there. So you have an option between two cheaper condos or one more expensive house. Why is this hard to understand?

        • The mere presence of the luxury condos pushes up the prices per square foot for everyone. That $900K rowhouse probably wouldn’

          • epric002

            +1 i’m not aware of any of these flipped rowhouse pop-ups that are being remade into affordable (i.e., non-luxury) condos. every one i see involves extremely high end finishes. if someone has some examples of rowhouse conversions into non-luxury condos, i’d love to see them.

          • They will become more affordable as they get older and this year’s luxury becomes 2025’s “weren’t stainless, granite, vessel sinks, and subway tiles builder grade back in that dark, uninformed time?”

          • jcm – Your analysis is wrong because it only looks at supply and not demand. Yes, Logan has many more housing units today than it did in the past and prices are much higher than they were before. The reason for this is DEMAND for housing in Logan is much higher than it was then, even with all the added housing units. We should be encouraging more development in Logan because of this increased demand. The “luxury condo” terminology is a sales pitch, not some fixed thing that increases value of real estate. As another commenter pointed out, these luxury units will not be deemed luxurious 10-20 years from now when newer, more luxurious units are presumably being built.

        • The mere presence of the luxury condos pushes up the prices per square foot for everyone. That $900K renovated rowhouse probably wouldn’t be $900K if it weren’t for the $500K condos having pushed all the prices up.

          • What? No. Have you heard of supply and demand? More supply with the same demand pushes prices down.

          • The demand for housing in inner-DC remains strong – I don’t see that changing anytime soon. While you’re not incorrect in your assertion that the condos push up the prices/sf, that’s not really relevant here. Constricting supply will not lower the prices. It’s absurd to think otherwise.

          • Anon, that’s how supply and demand work in simplified models which don’t reflect the real estate market at all. The reality is much more complicated.

          • jcm – Care to elaborate? You’re not making much of a point with that statement.

          • Well, consider 14th St/Logan Circle. It has many more units of housing today than it had 20 years ago, and yet prices have massively increased. As textdoc says, adding luxury condos to a neighborhood can push the prices up for everyone, due to induced demand.
            The idea that more units necessarily equals lower prices for real estate is incorrect.

          • I don’t think anyone can seriously claim that actual “affordability” is on the table in any of these discussions. You’re right that the prices will continue to rise, one way or another. The presence/absence of this moratorium won’t change that. Prices in DC are growing and will continue to do so unless, for some reason, people decide that they no longer seek an urban environment and all of its benefits. I’m talking about relative affordability – smaller units are “more affordable” than larger ones.

          • “Well, consider 14th St/Logan Circle. It has many more units of housing today than it had 20 years ago, and yet prices have massively increased”

            Actually, that’s irrelevant to the point I made above at 2:11. The reason 14th Street is more expensive despite increased supply is that demand is much, much higher. I said more supply with the SAME demand pushes prices down.

          • Sorry, naysayers, but in the long run (even medium run), prices respond to changes in supply. In the real world. Witness the fall in rents in DC this year. Most housing that went up was “luxury” housing that I cannot afford and am not interested in. But overall, rents went down. Why? Because well-off people moving to DC live in those new buildings, instead of living in my older building.

            Market forces are real, people. Don’t be afraid that acknowledging them will turn you into a Republican. Instead, work within the confines of reality to do something that solves the problem.

          • @dcloafer, please be my friend

          • Wrong, now there are more people competing for that $900k house because there are fewer options, which drives up prices further. This is what people do not get about downzoning, it just leads to higher prices.

          • HaileUnlikely

            There is some of both going on here. This is a whole lot more complicated than undergrad econ. The demand in residential real estate depends heavily on the amount of the supply and on the nature of the supply. Developers who deal in cash and buy houses to subdivide them into multiple units squeeze the supply of unrenovated but perfectly livable houses to the point that there are hardly any left for ordinary people and families who just want a house in the same sense as a guy who buys a 1993 Ford Taurus with 220K miles on it just wants a car. Sure, if they couldn’t be subdivided into multiple units, some developers would still buy the house, trick it out, and sell it as a really expensive house, but that is much less profitable, and many would likely just pass on it and let a normal person without $500K cash in their pocket buy it.

        • Find me this mythical $900,000 row house in 16th St Heights which is only being converted into two condos. In reality, developers are snatching up houses at around $500,000-$600,000 and converting them into four (or in the case of 1521 Varnum, seven) two bedroom condos which start at $500,000 a piece.

          • They’re doing so because it’s currently a more profitable venture. If they can’t break the houses into multiple cheaper units, they will simply develop a much more expensive “$900k” house. $900k is MUCH less affordable thank $500k.

          • I think this is a short-term anachronism. The place I just sold was converted form a 4-story rowhouse (no popup) in 2012. Columbia Heights is filled with condos like that. But yes, in the last few years, I haven’t heard of too many of these conversions.
            And I would note that this proposal, as I understand it, wouldn’t limit tat type of conversion. The notion that developers would just close up shop is pretty naïve – rowhouses would be converted into 2 unit condos. This proposal does nothing to actually deal with the problem it purports to address. But, from Vincent Orange, that’s not terribly surprising.

    • epric002

      +100. see 1241 shepherd st nw. sold for $505 in sept 2014. flipper turned it into 3 condos which are selling for $575 (sold), $650 (sold), and $550 (pending).

      • Limiting the opportunity for cash investors to make these flips could make single family row houses more affordable, granted buyers are willing to buy a house that needs work. A house that is near uninhabitable, but is purchased by an investor to split and sell for major profits is helping fuel the demand for single family homes. Why else are these homes selling for cash. I doubt many cash buyers end up living in the houses. Although on the flip side, most of these houses are in such disrepair that no conventional loan would cover such purchases.

        Quire frankly, everyone wants the HGTV renovated house with all the bells and whistles….that is what sells and I am not sure how people are affording those to begin with, other than being house poor. There is an absolute bubble right now…and these cash investors are helping drive that.

        • I don’t think there is a bubble so much as a transformation.
          Neighborhoods are going from dodging stray bullets and tripping over people smoking crack to tripping over pomeranians and joggers and tulip beds. My block went from “I won’t come to a dinner party at your house if you live there” to “I’ll let my kids play with yours on the sidewalk while I noodle on my MacBook.” That’s not a bubble, unless you convert half the houses back from dual 6-figure incomes back to drug dens (and drag the counter tops to Habitat for Humanity).

      • west_egg

        Excellent example. I can’t find any interior photos from the 2014 sale but given that there were tenants on the main and basement levels, it was obviously habitable. A “regular” couple/family could’ve purchased the house, made some upgrades and built equity. The owners of those condos won’t see that kind of ROI. And as an aside, that has got to be one of the ugliest pop-ups I’ve ever seen.

        • To be fair, the mere fact that there were tenants does not mean that the house was “obviously habitable”. People lived in rather dire conditions all over DC (and still do). You don’t know if the major systems (plumbing, electric) in that house needed a complete revamp. Most young families looking for a starter house cannot afford to undertake such an expensive endeavor. You need a lot of cash for the project itself, as well as money to pay rent elsewhere while it’s being renovated.

          • Even if just major cosmetic, many people who have the earnings to buy a renovated home don’t necessarily have the funds, the time (those jobs can be demanding of hours and stress) or the inclination to do a major renovation. I had a friend buy a small, structurally quite sound house, needing only what you’d call cosmetic renovations, and three years later, it is still eating much of her free time. And she only works 40 hours a week. People want to have time to work out, see friends and family, date if single – house renovating can be fun, but really time consuming (as well as $ consuming.) Perhaps easier if two do it together, but there are still the time trade-offs, and renovating can add more stress to a relationship

        • epric002

          yes to habitable, but based on the redfin photos of that sale date it definitely needed work. whether that work was just cosmetic or structural i imagine we’ll never know.

    • It’s still cheaper than an $800,000 house. Affordable is relative.

  • Good take-down by GGW. This would turn the DC housing market into the San Francisco housing market.

    • It is already getting close to that anyway. Thankfully I own a 3 br home already which is large by DC standards. I am not going to sell, and bought close to $400k. I am starting to feel every day I got in just in time.

    • It is likely too late for DC. The only way to actually bring down price/sqft would be to get rid of low density areas and subsidize development of hi-rise towers. The NIMBYS are too strong. Washington sprawl will only get worse. The working class has no future in the district outside of visiting for entertainment.

  • Frankly, this is a really, really stupid move by Orange. There’s absolutely no chance that this passes. Why would he actively try to alienate his base?

    • I don’t think Vincent Orange’s voting base is house flippers. I think this actually scores him lots of political points for those who keep him in office.

      • This move would only end up further raising the housing prices and driving out poor folks from the city. His voting base skews lower SES. Maybe he hopes his base won’t understand the ramifications of such legislation?

        • Vote margins for Sekou Biddle and Vincent Orange

      • a lot of his constituents would like to *sell* to flippers, though. This depresses their property values.

  • A lot of families that could afford old rowhouses get outbid by developers who pay cash, flip the house, and walk away. Arguments about “affordability” cut both ways.

    • His proposal won’t change this dynamic. Developers will simply sell over-luxed versions of the house they bought with cash, instead of making more cheaper units.

    • Not all flipped houses are pricing out families. Many houses HAVE to be flipped in order to be livable and adhere to DC codes and an approved mortgage.

      I flip houses and my goal for 2015-2016 is to provide homes that are a little smaller but great for first time homebuyers. The homes will have a moderate renovation and include some of the technology and other renovations that young couples and families want, and to keep the price around $500k. That price may seem high to some, but unfortunately that is the city and times that we are living in.

      • That sounds pretty cool. What percent of flippers would you estimate share your philosophy though?

        • Some flippers will only look for the “Home Run” houses and will renovate at the highest level to get the highest prices. They won’t even really consider 2br/1ba houses without parking because they won’t be able to sell for 600-700+ once completed. But some of the smaller guys share my mentality.

          With the huge influx of professionals moving into DC, these smaller homes are exactly what first time homebuyers are looking for.

          Flippers get a bad rap but they are just trying to run a successful business. The average price we pay for houses is $300-360k. 9/10 times that house has never really been updated. The electrical, plumbing, insulation… everything needs to be replaced. The average rehab on a standard DC rowhouse is $100-150k. So a house flipper HAS to sell at $600k+ to make any sort of profit when you also think about paying closing costs and 6% to agents. It’s not all the TV shows hype up.

          • Actually I think it’s what first time homebuyers are willing to settle for because it’s all they can afford, not “exactly what they’re looking for.” I would have loved to purchase a rowhome when I bought 2 years ago.

      • +1 I definitely agree with you, and I think you have a laudable goal. I wish there were more people doing that in DC!

    • @tom12hours – totally agree. If developers didn’t have the incentive to pop-up and make small row houses into 2+ condo units, families could afford to buy older unmaintained homes or homes that could just be renovated and renovate them for personal therein creating a larger affordable housing option and keeping the original structure and aesthetic

      • This thinking isn’t in line with reality, however. Developers will still buy-out those houses, but instead of making 2+ condo units, they will simply lux out the house to the point where it’s unaffordable to all but those who can afford the top-of-the-line everything. There’s sufficient demand for those high-dollar units. It will only result in middle-income folks being completely priced out of the city.

        • There is less profit involved with that conversion – of course it’s a market and developers will still do it, they will just have less profit benefit and it will make it more attainable for individual owners.

          • I think that you’re mistaken with the notion that the developers will take a much lower profit margin. They will simply raise the price to make up for this. There’s sufficient demand in DC that people will pay that higher price.

        • Guess what the price of entry is now for houses west of the river, $400k. Middle income buyers are priced out of the city, unless they want a very small condo.

        • This law will not limit 2-unit conversions. So, instead of 3-4 1 units at $500-600,000, there will be 2 units, tricked out, for $700,000 Not affordable.

  • I’m encouraged at least that the Council is taking the issue of pop-ups seriously. While Orange’s bill isn’t the right answer, I would support strong regulation of pop-ups, including height limits and design review.

    I’m really annoyed at the “build, build, build” mentality of GGW, and the casual dismissal of aesthetics as a grounding principle in urban design. The reason many of us enjoy living in Washington DC has a lot to do with the aesthetics of early 20th century architecture and urban planning. It seems very short sighted to wreck that aspect of DC by piling up a vinyl-clad box on top of a gracious row home.

    I’m not against increased density, but why can’t pop-ups be done in a sensitive way, without wrecking the streetscapes that draw people to DC neighborhoods in the first place? Frankly, a better way to increase density is simply to build apartments along the major commercial avenues. We have acres of 1-story storefronts along avenues zoned for 4-5 stories. Simply building to current zoning limits in existing commercial corridors would provide a lot more housing, without disrupting residential areas.

    • GGW writers, have, repeatedly, suggested form-based zoning codes to address exactly the concerns you raise here. But those suggestions have gone nowhere, because this isn’t about aesthetics for most pop-up opponents.

      • epric002

        i’m not categorically against pop-ups, but i am against “vinyl-clad box[es] on top of a gracious row home”. aesthetics is definitely a part of this.

        • Aesthetics and historic preservation are a huge, huge part of this.

        • I’ll take this claim seriously when pop-up opponents start proposing solutions that address the aesthetic issues.

          • epric002

            i don’t really care whether you take my opinion “seriously” or not. like i said, i’m not categorically opposed to pop-up. what do you mean by “solutions that address the aesthetic issue”? solutions for affordable housing? if so, OIG did in fact propose a solution- increasing density along major commercial avenues.

          • epric–I mean solutions that address ugly pop-ups without downzoning entire neighborhoods.

    • +1 on infill housing along major streets (hello, empty lots on Georgia Avenue!) being a much better way of increasing housing capacity than adding pop-ups is.

      • Agreed, but financing on larger projects like that is pretty difficult to put together, so only the larger developers can undertake projects like that. Medium and smaller scale developers have a much easier time with pop-ups and row-house conversions to condos. I don’t think large apartment buildings will ever really deter pop-up developers unless the market is truly flooded with condos, which is not happening anytime soon. Also, not everyone wants to buy in a large building like that. We need a balanced approach to affordable housing development.

      • There is a major opportunity here on Georgia Ave. It would be a far better corridor for it as well.

      • GGW supports exactly this…..higher density along transit corridors but unfortunately there are NIMBYs who are trying to block these. Take all of the buildings around 14th and U Streets right on top of the metro station….NIMBYs from blocks away are trying to stop these and often the madness ends with the developers agreeing to chop off a level or two and reduce the amount of units all because some Gladys Kravitz is concerned about her being able to park on her street or anywhere she wants with no problems. That’s the reality that happens to this day. Until we show up to support these large developments that are legal under zoning and encourage them to build to capacity, we will end up with less units which just filters to more demand and row home popups.

      • brookland_rez

        Rhode Island Ave NE is filled with empty lots, vacant buildings and low density development. There’s plenty of room for development.

    • It’s really hard to take the anti-pop up crowd seriously when their input on a horrible affordability crunch is “ugh, building that way is ugly!”

      Limiting housing stock takes real dollars out of the wallets of anyone hoping to live halfway close to their job in this town.

    • Who get’s to decide what is aesthetically sensitive? You? A DC aesthetics Tsar?

      • A D.C. Aesthetics Tsar in the form of something like the HPRB would be fine by me.
        I think a LOT more neighborhoods would have embraced the idea of becoming historic districts if the restrictions for historic districts weren’t so stringent. D.C. really needs “conservation districts,” which some people have described as a “lite” version of historic districts.

  • It’s like Ned Ludd trying to physically destroy textile machines.

  • Does anyone know where this picture popup is? It looks really good.

  • I find it absurd how people conflate “pop-ups” with “affordable housing”. It’s purely an emotional appeal. What’s really happening is widespread conversion of 3 to 4 bedroom market rate units into 1 and 2 bedroom market rate units. If you are a single person or a couple without kids, then this change may be to your advantage. If you are a family with kids, then it’s definitely not to your advantage, as it directly decreases the housing stock available to families. Since the vast majority of new development in DC is for studios, 1 and 2 bedroom units, families have to compete with developers for an ever-dwindling supply of single-family homes.
    Ultimately, a person’s position on “pop-ups” really comes down what type of demographic (single/DINK/family) one feels the most affinity towards.

    • of course, if you own a 2-br rowhouse and would like to keep living there after having kids, you might want to put on a popup, and this rule wouldn’t let you. So it’s not just flippers who would be harmed by it.

      • The vast majority of pop-ups are being built by developers, not by homeowners planning to stay put.

        • This bans all of them. Done by homeowners or flippers. Uninhabitable, or inhabitable. Standing out like a sore thumb, or popping up to the same height as adjacent structures. Ugly ones and lovely ones. There is no distinction or subtlety in this bill.

          • If that’s the only way to stop ugly pop-ups, so be it.

          • That’s cute Textdoc. Let’s kick ALL poor people out of the city while your house in Petworth artificially appreciates more than it should in value. Yea, screw people who didn’t already get in on the action. What do you care?

          • Banning pop-ups would not “kick poor people out of the city” — what a laughable premise. If anything, it would slow the rapid price increases that pop-ups have encouraged.
            And my house is in Park View, not Petworth.

    • DC’s large number of group homes suggests that the undersupply of smaller units is a much more pressing issue than its undersupply of large homes. More small units means more affordable small units which means fewer groups of 20-somethings competing with families for large homes.

      • +1. This is correct.

      • except that when the house next door got popped and chopped up, the number of people in the structure actually dropped!! The group house had about 6, more or less. But, the 3 units there now have 4 residents. So, in that case, chopping a row house led to loss of housing capacity.

        • Yes, but those 6 people were the maximum capacity of that house, whereas that 4 should be expected to grow: It’s quite likely that the single people will eventually become partnered, and then eventually have at least one child.

          • “It’s quite likely that the single people will eventually become partnered, and then eventually have at least one child.” It’s quite probable that becoming partnered and/or having a kid will make them think they need more space, and then they’ll move out.

        • Are all groups homes 6 people? Do all condos hold singles (obviously at least one in that house has two, since there are now 4 residents.

      • The large number of group homes doesn’t have to do directly with the undersupply of smaller units. It has to do with the undersupply of affordable studios/1 bedrooms in the District. Many people end up living in a group home because splitting the cost 3 or 4 ways for a bigger place is more advantageous than spending an absurd amount of money on a small 1 bedroom or studio apt.

        • and why do you think the cost of a studio is so high? Not enough supply.

          • I ask myself this question every time I see one.
            Affordable is relative as I’ve seen a number of shares that were as or more expensive than studios in similarly situated areas.
            $1500-2k to share an apt with someone; why?

      • HaileUnlikely

        The answer to which is a more pressing issue does not lie in the numbers, it is a value judgment.

    • But it goes the other way, too. A childless couple could buy a smaller 2 bedroom row house, expecting to pop up to add another bedroom or two when their family expands. But, blocking pop-ups prevents this couple from creating a house that is suited for a family.

      • “house that is suited for a family” – Those families will simply have to adapt. Look at New York – there are many families who raise their kids in small apartments.

        • but then they could do the same thing in a condo unit created in part of a rowhouse. And in fact, more families could do that.

          • Hey – I’m all in favor of [tasteful] pop-ups! Though I honestly don’t see a realistic way to regulate “ugly”, so I guess I’ll have to live with the ugly ones as well.

    • Except that some singles or DINKs actually like 3-4 berm, 2 bath homes – as long as they earn (or inherit) the bucks to afford them.

  • Pop-up Wisdom from Greater Greater Washington — brought to you by the people who gave us the streetcar…

  • As a DC native who can’t afford good quality subdivided rowhouse condos, I oppose Vincent Orange’s silly bill. We need to expand the supply of for-sale housing. I work in real estate and most developers are focused on rental housing. The needs of most DCers without $250,000 or more of combined income cannot be met with full rowhouses. Sad to say (unless you have family money, equity from prior purchases during cheaper times, or are an INCREDIBLY good saver)… I don’t think subdivided rowhouses is “desecrating” housing stock. It’s actually been done for decades in DC… look at Dupont, Adams Morgan and Foggy Bottom for the last two decades.

    The most recent NIMBYism streak I sense pervading our city is :
    – the “I got mine” mentality that leads to these sorts of bills. ie I don’t want “renters” or “condo owners” in my neighborhood
    – the anti-renter mentality – you see this at ANC meetings with new developments where residents decry rental housing and want renters, like myself who pay a lot of DC taxes mind you and don’t receive any subsidy for mortgage interest, not to be eligible for residential parking permits (essentially creating a second “class” of resident).
    – Anti-height mentality in neighborhoods that have buildings from the early 1900’s that are much larger than what’s proposed. Are those also retroactively out of scale and not historic?

    My ideal city is more inclusive, not less. Less restrictive, not more. Just my two cents. I hope to be able to buy a place in a decent area of the city I was born and would like to stay til my end of days. And allowing units to be subdivided into condos won’t be a panacea, but it’ll help a bit (simple supply and demand, which makes an impact on a large scale). The other mentalities that certain folks have is really disappointing and mildly offensive towards the renting class, which can be of any and all socioeconomic brackets.

    • You probably can afford a condo. It’s just in a location that you don’t want to consider. Fine with me, if you don’t want to do so, but there are units in in D.C., and in the eastern suburbs that are affordable.

      • Yes, but there are likely good reasons SG doesn’t want to consider those neighborhoods–bad transit access, bad schools, crime, lack of amenities, and so on. Location matters.

        • That’s true, but then the complaint morphs from “I can’t afford a condo” to “I can’t afford a condo in a neighborhood with good amenities that is close to transit.”* As you say, “Location matters” – it is the primary driver of real estate prices. Affordable housing doesn’t mean everyone can afford to live in every neighborhood.
          *Note – I think good schools and low crime should are things that should be present in ALL neighborhoods, so I intentionally left them off the list. Naïve, I know.

      • If SG goes to one of those cheaper neighborhoods won’t he displace the person who otherwise would have bought there?

        I mean I guess he could move to some brand new sprawl in PG, but is that really a good thing?

        • Nope. Drive to qualify is a really stupid and short-sighted philosophy (see: 2008 when gas prices started rising). If you do the math, the costs of living in a higher-cost area in the city near transit actually can be cheaper than living in a lower-cost suburb or exurb without transit when you add in the additional costs of owning and operating a car.

          • It could be cheaper, but the cost of maintaining a car isn’t really that far out of line with frequent metro takers….I’m around $1800-2k/yr for insurance, gas, parking, and basic maintenance; average metro is about $3 x 2 x 365=$2,010. This is one roundtrip everyday as an average. Bus folks are probably going to have costs increase though, and at times, metro/bus are subsidized while cars are not. Now yes, a big repair would put me over the metro costs, but many cars are long-term reliable. I also save time on many trips with my car. Couple about equal costs (I’m assuming someone already has a car if they’re considering a move further out) with much cheaper real estate, moving further out is cheaper in some cases.
            Even still, I see why many people choose to live closer in. I’m one of them, but I think the distinction between I cannot afford anything in DC proper to I cannot afford DC proper in neighborhoods I find to be desirable are a tad different and worth noting.

          • It’s definitely not always true, but frequently the benefits of moving far away from work centers really evaporates when you take a car into consideration. It’s an expense that is difficult to predict; a lot of homeowners who scraped together their monthly expenses when gas was $2.50 a gallon suddenly found their house and commute unaffordable when it jumped to over $4 a gallon in 2008. Another consideration is the time wasted sitting in traffic. But, it’s a trade-off that might be worthwhile to some to build equity, it’s just not as affordable as it appears.

          • There is transit oriented affordable housing in NE/SE and PG County. Check it out. Some good areas. I wasn’t proposing a schlep out to the boondocks.

      • Have been thinking this the entire time I read the thread. I haven’t seen any pop ups over here in Riggs Park and there are plenty of SFH with yards and walking distance to Metro around me but I guess since they aren’t in that handful of neighborhoods that are constantly discussed on here as if they are the only parts of DC that are liveable, it’s not a consideration. Oh well. My equity continues to grow.

    • Well said SG! Density has to happen, this city is only so big and everyone wants to live in it!

    • While I thankfully bought a few years ago, I am in full support of sub-dividing housing. The demand is very high, and eventually it will cross the river. Frankly it has been a slowly building in the district year after year. I think we are nearing the point it could very well consume the entire district. When everybody is competing to buy the same places, it is the highest earners who will win out. If there is variety in housing stock to buy, there is less competition for certian types of units. People do not get that, not only providing more supply, but varying that supply so certian markets are not competing for the same housing. Either way, DC could easily become a disaster. We need more condos and co-ops right now, the supply is running short there, and all we have are more and more rentals. If we build condos it might help some of the demand constraints on townhouses/rowhomes/SFH. Not all of it, but enough.
      I mean I love my house, but I get the market well enough that without subdivisions and increased supply of condos DC could very well in the future look like SF in terms of housing prices.

  • People are conflating two types of anti-pop crusaders that have formed an alliance. There’s the NIMBY preservationists who argue it changes the character, and the race-bating old timers (Orange). Both baffle me, especially the later. Anyone who has followed the Ward 4 race has heard a lot of this, especially from Acqunetta Anderson. I find it completely disgusting and wish more people would speak out against them.

    • Why are you baffled by people wishing to preserve the character and aesthetics of neighborhoods that they like? What baffles me is that the pro-PU crowd are often those decrying the “soulless, suburban” style of DC USA and other chain stores. If you want to spur ugly developments, seems like you can’t pick and choose…

      • and the only way to do that is to downzone entire neighborhoods, so the buildings currently in them couldn’t be built today? BS.

        • Usually only a minority of buildings currently in any given neighborhood wouldn’t qualify under current zoning regulations if they were to be built afresh.
          And given that D.C.’s zoning regulations first (IIRC) came into being circa 1958 and a good bit of the District’s housing stock is from before 1925 or so, it’s not surprising that there would ee some buildings in that category.

          • Therefore pre-1925 housing stock can’t be preserved under current zoning? I though that was the whole point of the anti-pop-up people?

          • That housing stock can and should be preserved. I was responding to carlosthedwarf’s assertion that downzoning would mean that the buildings currently in a given neighborhood “couldn’t be built today.”

  • GGW has been having about two years of slow news days. Orange is always doing ish like this. So what?
    That pop-up in the photo is nice, by the way. If people really feel the need to regulate pop-ups, why not just pass an ordinance saying that they all have to conform to existing architecture in this way?

  • Tacopuss wrote: “Find me this mythical $900,000 row house in 16th St Heights which is only being converted into two condos. In reality, developers are snatching up houses at around $500,000-$600,000 and converting them into four (or in the case of 1521 Varnum, seven) two bedroom condos which start at $500,000 a piece.”

    That’s exactly right. And incidentally, 1521 Varnum has TWO STOP WORK ORDERS ISSUED against it by DCRA now, which is why the Council/Orange is proposing a moratorium. It’s not just about affordability. It’s about SAFE HOUSING. 1521 Varnum is emblematic of flippers who continue to ignore the building code and fail to get proper permits. And in the process they are putting home onwers at risk (safety and health-wise). Not just the people who buy the nice-on-the-outside-but-rotten-on-the-inside homes and condos, but also the next door neighbors who have their shared walls damaged and structureal integrity impacted adversely. While 1521 Varnum has a stop work order (got caught cheating by DCRA), it is actually way too rare where DCRA issues SWOs and catches these bad flippers. That is why a moratorium is being proposed, because there is a grave failure in the regulatory system, where even when the bad flippers do get caught, they pay a $4,000 fine as the cost of doing business (and they save $80,000 by cheating in terms of saving time and money on licenses, permits, licensed labor and safe materials and demolition).

    • So, punish all developers (and homeowners and people looking to become homeowners and the city at large) because a few developers “cheated?”

      • A few cheaters? Wake up man. It’s a substantial number of flippers who cheat, thanks to DCRA’s dysfunctional state, corruption, and excessive delays. And the good developers would welcome reforms to punish the cheaters and even the playing field (I know because we are now working with one, after having gotten taken by a bad developer). What’s happening is that the good developers who play by the rules are being punished by the bad developers who put home owners at risk by selling unsafe and contaminated homes. So if you’re feigning concern about economic fairness, consider that. Look through the DCRA records and PIVS system at the permit applications (where you’ll see minor work permits applied for) and then compare (for the same addresses) with the “newly and completely renovated” MLS listings where rooms have been mysteriously and miraculously added without proper permits. The home owners think everything is above board. And they’re getting homes with asbestos and lead contamination. You get what you pay for. Just like you get the government you deserve.

        • Well, I should say you actually don’t get what you pay for in this case, and that’s the problem. The bad flippers charge a lot for work done illegally and improperly on the cheap. And the homeowners end up with unsafe homes (meanwhile the good developers suffer because they cannot compete with the cheaters).

        • “Just like you get the government you deserve.”
          Man, sounds like you’ve done some bad things if this is the government that you deserve Stuart.

          • We (as in you and me) get the government we deserve because we haven’t done enough to increase transparency and accountability in governance, and to stop the fraud.

            Want numbers? Me too! Ask DCRA why they deny FOIA requests that have tried to get these numbers and why they make it so difficult to obtain the stop work orders issued, the permits applications, the Notices of Infraction/Violation, etc. It seems DCRA is not open to shedding light on this problem and would rather not show numbers. Could it be because the developers donate to the campaigns of those who oversee DCRA?

            One number I can share: there are only 2 and 1/2 people in DCRA who work to regulate illegal construction. Two-and-a-half people for a city of 650,000. Cities like San Fran and Boston (of comparable size) have many, many more illegal construction ‘police’ than that. Even a large African city such as Nairobi does better than D.C. Another number I can share: a single developer has committed mortgage fraud and illegal construction on more than 40 homes in D.C. That’s one developer — and it’s the tip of the iceburg. We’re not talking about building a fence in the backyard without a permit. It’s about redoing the HVAC illegally and defectively (without permits or licensed labor) to the point that you get carbon monoxide leaks that can kill.

          • We (as in you and me) get the government we deserve because we haven’t done enough to increase transparency and accountability in governance, and to stop the fraud.

            Want numbers? Me too! Ask DCRA why they deny FOIA requests that have tried to get these numbers and why they make it so difficult to obtain the stop work orders issued, the permits applications, the Notices of Infraction/Violation, etc. It seems DCRA is not open to shedding light on this problem and would rather not show numbers. Could it be because the developers donate to the campaigns of those who oversee DCRA?

            One number I can share: there are only 2 and 1/2 people in DCRA who work to regulate illegal construction. Two-and-a-half people for a city of 650,000. Cities like San Fran and Boston (of comparable size) have many, many more illegal construction ‘police’ than that. Even a large African city such as Nairobi does better than D.C. Another number I can share: a single developer has committed mortgage fraud and illegal construction on more than 40 homes in D.C. That’s one developer — and it’s the tip of the iceberg. We’re not talking about building a fence in the backyard without a permit. It’s about redoing the HVAC illegally and defectively (without permits or licensed labor) to the point that you get carbon monoxide leaks that can kill.

      • It’s more than just a few.

        • That’s sort of an ambiguous comment. Can we have some numbers, please? How many “cheaters” are there? What percentage of developers are “cheaters”? How serious is the “cheating” at present? And how do you define “cheating” in these cases? Deliberate fraud? Exceeding the scope of work — by a little — by a lot? The majority of Stop Work Orders are issued due to reports from neighbors. Most of them are resolved rather promptly, either by the developer making corrections or winning an appeal. Would love to see a real survey of the problem rather than just a collection of anonymous anecdotes.

    • Then why not simply have DCRA enforce regulations rather than stop all development? There is no logic to this argument.

  • Assuming Orange’s measure doesn’t pass but the board changes the regulations, when would the regulations go into effect?

    Second question: Does anyone know where I can find the details of how the board voted a few weeks ago? There was a story in the post but it didn’t clarify all details and I can’t find the information on the Zoning Board web site. I sent them an email asking for the information and got no response.
    (note: I am not looking to build a pop-up but I might be affected by other parts of the new regulations, depending on how they modified them from the original proposals)

  • Most people have no idea about the political intrigue behind the infill regulation debate.

    First of all, every major politician is “connected” to one or more major developers, so there is a winner-loser aspect to the change in mayoral administrations.

    Every one of these large “connected” developers hates the cottage industry infill condo conversion business. They have been lobbying hard to shut down the entire business because there are thousands of condos coming to market in several large development arenas. Anyone who’s seen the development around Nats Park knows that those condos are harder to sell if there’s a surge in condo development in the close-in neighborhoods.

    As a result, you should expect the moratorium to go forward, even though it will hurt the District’s coffers.

    Any idiot can see that the condo development surge creates a massive increase in tax revenues for the city. Do the math. A single family house with one or two taxpayers and a property tax base of 600k is contributing less than twenty thousand to the city coffers. But convert that house to 4 or 5 condos worth 2.5-3.0 million and the property taxes alone will exceed prior revenue, and income taxes recovered are likely to double that take.

    You should take notice that the city has not supplied any data concerning additional tax revenues associated with the condo development and population surge.

    I would suggest that everyone look to New York and the Bloomberg Administration’s answer to this urban planning issue. There was a massive alteration in zoning, both up-zoning and down-zoning in order to preserve some historical low-rise neighborhoods, without any development, and completely razing other neighborhoods so as to concentrate the new units.

    DC Office of Planning is too weak and the Administration is too timid to discuss the topic, mostly because it has huge racial undertones.

    Meanwhile, DCRA can’t handle the surge in demand for their services. Take a look at the budgeting and staffing and you’ll understand why DCRA is using citizen complaints as a barometer of where to put there oversight resources. How many permits would be denied if they had been proactively involved? Their reactive role results in fining developers who lie or fail to implement the plan properly. Not a good system.

    The City Counsel should pass the Moratorium if only to start the process of “planning” the future. We all know that the city is headed toward a million residents. We need to push the “big picture” to the front-burner in order to avoid looking like a developing country’s version of urban development.

    • Did you not read? The city counsel has no say over zoning rules, it is entirely in the hands of the zoning commission. They cannot pass this moratorium because it is not within the scope of counsel by the federal home rule legislation. Again, you an many others fail to understand this is completely out of the hands of council. The zoning commission has sole power over these rules.
      The matter of right rules in R-4 were changed to limit height, but subdividing properties is still well within the rights of developers. Likewise the R-5 rules remain.

      Additionally the city council has no role in future planning for residents, again, zoning commission. Personally I am pretty happy about the decision the zoning commission a few weeks back.

      • It is incorrect to state that the “city counsel has no say over zoning rules”…….there are overlapping “legislative” authorities and more importantly a very complicated set of procedural authorities.

        There are lots of good resources on the subject. One law school starts with the “DC Zoning Regulations Administrative Process Study” written in 2008. That gives you the players and some of the historical context.

        Think of the Orange Resolution in support of a Moratorium as a Temporary Restraining Order……that’s why the “maintaining the status quo” language is in the Orange Emergency Resolution. And similarly the language: “property rights disputes” and “adverse effects ….need to be studied”.

        This particular legislation is a call for a TIMEOUT… does not unilaterally call timeout, simply states that it supports a timeout and more than likely the Zoning Commission will acquiesce.

    • James,

      I am one of the legitimate developers, and despite that am still a target for many persons anger and ridicule. It’s all well and good for persons that aren’t on the hook for tens of millions and a livelihood at stake, to comment so irresponsibly (I don’t mean you, just in general). The development business was my alternative to the construction business, which is full of land mines unless you have an “in” and are a MC Dean, Clark, Hitt, etc. I am a responsible business person and am responding to a need and demand, which makes it a bit odd that I am such an object of ridicule. Sort of like the fellow that opens up the Luxury Car Dealership in an affluential neighborhood, where folks flock in to buy cars, but now somehow the local folks are angry about it, doesn’t make sense to me.

      I do all my construction legally, get as many permits as I can, and welcome inspections. I know quite a few people at DCRA and their sister agencies, and although it’s not all roses all the time, I generally find you can work with folks there, and there are some outstanding individuals who make the experience not all together unpleasant. DCRA has been open in admitting that they do no proactive inspections, and only respond to complaints. We believe in making neighbors as happy as possible, so have few problems, but still see an inspector occasionally, which is a total waste of time for both the inspector and us. I see entire blocks with SWO’s (and I know the developers so can corroborate this), where one person basically called in a complaint on every project, usually someone with no reason other than they don’t want the neighborhood to change. I see other blocks with dangerous situations, including houses basically falling down, but no DCRA action, not their fault, they are too busy responding to nimby neighbors. I’ve had residents come up to me screaming that they didn’t want me in my neighborhood, sometimes it turns into a race thing, which is a real shame, since I’m the least prejudiced person you would meet and I should have the same rights as any other property owner. Most of the comments concerning developers cutting corners, is again persons with little or no knowledge, knowing the inspection and C of O system, its really pretty hard to cut corners on any multi-family project, because you just won’t be able to legally get a C of O, plus thats what the Structural Warranty exists for. If you are converting, Lauren Pair (DCHD) will require a budget that makes sense, along with a cash deposit or Letter of Credit. It seems most persons comments about enforcement and DCRA really are product of single family projects and much smaller developers, not in the multifamily arena. Cutting down on legitimate legal development, will only encourage more corner cutting and bad situations. Legitimate development, and of all the things required in the way of safety, insurances, inspections, etc., costs more than what most single family flips would yield. If you are like me, you maintain a good connection with the folks down at DCRA, we never ask for “free passes”, instead always invoke higher standards and work with them to get it right. It some sense that does give us special privilege, but not because we bribe anyone, only because folks at DCRA know that we won’t put them in a position where anyones decisions or professionalism will be called into question.

      The real reason I am commenting on your post though is; this is fully and illegal act, if they do in fact try to pass such legislation, but like you; I know the racial undertones that nobody is willing to openly speak on and also know that some of the legality of many acts of different legislative and quasi-judicial bodies in the district, are highly questionable, to say the least. I would have also of thought your comment concerning the real reasons for this action was interesting, but pretty far-fetched, if I hadn’t heard the same exact story from a DCRA official just this morning at DCRA. If DCRA knows the real reasons, then it all can’t be too much of a secret.

      I’ve always been keen to continue in this business, but with these kinds of intrigues, it may be in other outlying areas instead of the city. It’s a really shame though, I really like this city, it needs the development and at some point folks are going to have to understand that rows and rows of identical low-slung row-homes are not going to be the answer to the density that is coming.

      Astute observations though… You should be elected to office.

      • JAW,

        It does bother me that the infill builder community is being sucker punched by the politicians. Some developers have acquired an inventory of properties to be developed and could be stuck with unrecoverable losses. Time is costly, so even a short-term Moratorium carries heavy interest expenses.

        And I agree that a small neighborhood resistance group (with the help of the ANC) has taken command of the stage in several locales. The press loves this kind of drama because it appears to be David vs. Goliath. City Paper has run with the premise, so has ABC Channel 7, and it looks like good public interest work, but the real story is way more complicated. But this is a democracy and there needs to be a legitimate group process.

        Having grown up in a block/brick construction family on Long Island, I know how solid these old houses are, so I am concerned with the crappy designs and materials that are replacing the old stock.

        I live in R-5-B, a 1905 mini-mansion with a cupola. I’ve been approached several times about selling, the house being relatively immaterial, what motivated them was the 2610 sq. ft lot. So I got schooled in the FAR 1.8 rule, 60% lot occupancy, 50ft. height rule, etc and I’ve seen the conversion blueprints for my sfd, 5 condos. pop-up and pop-back. So I understand why they want to buy my house at more than 1 million. Those five condos would fetch more than 3 million, and the construction costs are less than 1 million, pretty simple math. But one road block and you’re screwed, so there is some risk. I get it.

        As to your comment that the City Counsel resolution is an “illegal act”, not correct. The counsel can shut down the whole process thru several legislative avenues. Frankly, I think they should move this issue to the front burner, upgrade the Office of Planning, invoke the Comprehensive Plan legislative process, sit down with the National Capital Planning Commission and broker a viable 10-year plan so that the city can grow to 1 million population without turning into Deadwood.

        I very much appreciated your response and good luck to you.

  • Under their police power, many cities institute temporary moratoriums on issuing building permits while in the process of changing zoning rules when the purpose of the zoning rule change can be undermined by the permits issued during the moratorium period. One purpose of the 14-11 amendments is to protect the architectural look of row homes, requiring the conversion design to blend into the neighboring row homes and not infringe on the air and light rights of adjoining row homes. This purpose can be undermined by permitting more ugly, large row home conversions which can damage the look of a block or row homes. It only takes one such conversion to ruin the look of a block of DC row homes. The inconvenience to developers is the time delay — they have to wait 2-8 months until the 14-11 amendments are either finalized or rejected.

    Anyone who is outraged by the idea of a delay (i.e., moratorium) probably is a developer opposed to the 14-11 amendments. Such people may opportunistically rush through building permit applications in the window before the 14-11 amendments are finalized. This undermines the open, democratic process for changing zoning rules. The alternative to moratoriums is to adopt a quick process for changing zoning rules that is less open and amenable for obtaining comments from the public. The ,moratorium idea makes more sense to me than a closed zoning change process.

    en undergoing zoning changes because due to democratic processes these changes take one or more years to finalize. When the purpose of the change can be significantly undermined by the issuance of permits prior to the finalization of the change

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