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Photo/Ted Eytan. Used with permission.

The Week Observed | City Observatory

February 21, 2020
  • D.C. Policy Center

On February 21, 2020, the D.C. Policy Center’s articles, Where the Washington region achieves walkable density and Roughly 36 percent of D.C.’s rental housing units are rent-stabilized, were featured by City Observatory:

4. Mapping Walkable Density.  DW Rowlands has mapped walkable density in 17 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.  Her maps compare the actual walkable density of census tracts with their theoretical ideal density (i.e. how many people one would live near, ignoring the nature of the street network. These maps show which neighborhoods come closest to realizing their “ideal” density, with dark colors indicating places with relatively high levels of walkable density (relative to their ideal) and lighter colors showing places where actual density falls shortest of the ideal. 


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1. Rent control works best when rent control works least.  The District of Columbia has had a rent stabilization law since the mid 1980s, and more than a third of the District’s apartments are covered by the law. The usual economic concern about rent control is that it tends to stifle upkeep and maintenance, encourages condominium conversions and discourages new construction. If DC’s ordinance hasn’t had all those effects, its probably because it imposes relatively modest limits on landlords: the stabilization provisions limit rent increases to the cost of living plus two percent per year. According to the DC Policy Center’s Yesim Sayin Taylor, the reason the program works so well, and why there’s been relatively less shrinkage in the rental housing stock in DC, than in San Francisco (which has tougher rent control), is because it only aims to stabilize, not restrict, rents:

D.C.’s stock of rent-stabilized units has remained so steady in part because the law prioritizes rent stabilization over strict price controls. The Rental Housing Act’s goal is not to create or preserve affordable housing, but to protect tenants from rapid, unreasonable increases in their rents.

More stringent rent controls, Taylor argues, would likely prompt landlords to convert units to condominiums, and would discourage new construction, leading to a reduction in the total number of rent controlled units.

Read more: The Week Observed | City Observatory

Related: Where the Washington region achieves walkable density | D.C. Policy Center

Related: Roughly 36 percent of D.C.’s rental housing units are rent-stabilized | D.C. Policy Center


D.C. Policy Center

Established in 2016, the D.C. Policy Center is a non-partisan research and policy organization committed to advancing policies for a strong and vibrant economy in the District of Columbia. Through rigorous research and collaboration, the D.C. Policy Center develops and tests policy ideas, disseminates its findings, and engages in constructive dialogue and debate.

For more information, please see our About page.