Monday, September 29, 2014

WAMU: "Battle Over 'Pop-Ups' and 'Pop-Backs' Exposes Fault Lines Over Housing in DC"

Click on the link to read the * entire * WAMU Metro Connection transcript.

Pop-ups and pop-backs are a current hot topic here in Bloomingdale. 

Here is the link to the audio story.

Battle Over 'Pop-Ups' and 'Pop-Backs' Exposes Fault Lines Over Housing in D.C.

September 26, 2014 
Sandra LeSesne lives in a two-story rowhouse on Buchanan Street Northwest. It’s a modest home, like many on this quiet block in the 16th Street Heights neighborhood.
But a few weeks ago, LeSesne was awakened by the sounds of a construction crew. They were demolishing the house immediately next to hers, and within two days nothing was left standing but the façade. Since then, the foundations of the new home have sprouted up — a much bigger one than the one that was originally there.
When done, the house will extend some 15 feet further into its lots than any other home on the block. It will also tower over LeSesne's yard, and cast a permanent shadow over the sunroom extruding off of the back of her home. The new house will come so close to her sunroom, she says, that she's being forced to pay $2,200 for new siding to protect it.
It's not just the size of the home that irks her, but also what will happen inside: What was once a single-family home in a low-density neighborhood is becoming a three-unit condo building.
This is a pop-back, one of a variety of creative ways that developers are turning single-family homes into multi-unit buildings. Homes across D.C. are growing every which way they can: up, back and sideways. The logic is simple: As the city’s population and housing prices keep going up, developers are getting creative in building units wherever they can. If that means expanding a rowhouse and dividing it up into multiple apartments, so be it.
As D.C. continues to draw in new and younger residents — close to 100,000 residents have moved in since 2000, and the fastest-growing demographic has been residents between the ages of 25 and 39 — more pressure is being brought to bear on the city's housing market. While luxury apartment buildings have sprouted up all over D.C., developers have also swept in to buy single-family homes and repurpose them as multi-unit condominiums.
Earlier this month, residents of the Lanier Heights neighborhood north of Adams Morgan packed into a recreation center to discuss an issue that has been simmering for a while: single-family rowhouses that are being popped-up and turned into multi-unit condominiums. Some long-term residents oppose the pop-ups, while younger denizens simply see them as the result of the city's popularity.
Brodsky and other supporters of pop-ups say that expanding and converting single-family homes doesn’t push long-time residents out, but rather allows new ones in. It also increases the city’s housing stock, which could help push down already high prices. Michael Hamilton, a resident who created the pro-development In My Backyard D.C. blog, recently penned a defense of pop-ups and condo conversions.
"Preserving a neighborhood’s 'character' in D.C. comes at a very high cost. Allowing more people to live in a single building creates more opportunities for families to find housing. Preserving neighborhood character really means preserving views for those rich enough to own expensive houses at the expense of affordable housing, diversity, and the poor," he wrote.
Hamilton argues that D.C.'s housing stock does not reflect the city's changing demographics, and that as more young residents move in, space has to be made for them.
The city's current zoning code allows the changes to happen, and now some residents are trying to rewrite the regulations to limit how big homes can get — both in size and occupancy. In Lanier Heights, a group is pushing to down-zone the neighborhood, a process by which the zoning requirements are changed so that they limit how many people can live in each house.
More broadly, the D.C. Office of Planning has similarly proposed a stricter height limit on homes in R-4 zones, low-density residential areas that stretch from Northwest D.C. to areas north of and including Capitol Hill, a move that would limit pop-ups. The Office of Planning has also proposed a moratorium on condo conversions in those areas. The changes would apply to Buchanan Street, where Sandra LeSesne lives, but are still a ways off — a hearing on the matter isn't until January, and the Zoning Commission could reject them. (Some commissioners have already expressed skepticism.)
Music: "Two Story House" by George Jones from 50 Years of Hits  

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