Professor laments D.C. housing costs

Housing costs are higher than ever, and as the possibility of a recession looms, affordable housing is a major concern for D.C. residents.

Joseph Howell, a part-time professor in the honors program, started working to fix D.C.’s housing problem more than 30 years ago when he developed St. Mary’s Court, an affordable apartment complex for seniors that is located behind the Health and Wellness Center. He said housing in the District has become a problem for the old and young.

“Cities that do well in terms of growing and vitality have a great amount of residents from the creative class, which consists of professionals and white collar workers,” he said. “The good news is that incomes are high. The bad news is that young people cannot afford to live here.”

He said housing prices have dramatically changed since he moved to Washington as a young professional in 1972. He and his wife bought a home in Cleveland Park for $40,000 in 1972. At the time, there was only one restaurant within walking distance, and now he estimates there are at least 25 dining options in the area, and the field is still growing.

“D.C. actually has a very progressive infrastructure in place with a huge housing trust fund; however, the issue lies in the implementation of these solutions. It is also very difficult to find sites that are available in D.C. to build affordable housing,” Howell said.

Howell began his career in housing development in 1975 with the development of St. Mary’s Court at on 24th Street. He still serves on the board of St. Mary’s Court, as well as several other affordable housing organizations. Residents of St. Mary’s Court pay 30 percent of their income for their housing, which is on average $200 per month.

“It’s a real coup to be here,” Howell said. “Foggy Bottom is very desirable. We are in the high rent district with the Watergate and the Kennedy Center down the street. Even neighborhoods that used to be ‘bad’, such as U Street and Columbia Heights, are now ‘good’. The demand for housing is extremely high.”

He added, “We are ground zero for a perfect retirement community. We are so fortunate to have this location. The residents feel that they are a part of the GW community here.”

GW students often volunteer to clean and run errands for the seniors. But the staff at St. Mary’s Court said the residents fear that GW may expand and take over their home.

“Our residents occasionally get worried that GW is going to buy St. Mary’s Court and turn it into a dorm,” said Margaret Pully, executive director of St. Mary’s Court.

Howell addresses housing issues in his honors course, “Affordable Housing and Urban Development Issues in Washington.”

He formerly owned Howell Associates, which employed about 25 people. His companies have provided non-profit organizations with the technical expertise to take advantage of the opportunities that the government offers for low-income people needing housing.

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