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D.C. Attorney General Pushing To Expand Inclusionary Zoning, Protect Affordability

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine

The D.C. Office of the Attorney General is revamping its Land Use section to focus on housing affordability, racial equity and environmental justice, it announced Thursday. 

The move, initiated by Attorney General Karl Racine, will put legal heft behind a movement to expand the city's inclusionary zoning program and provide greater affordability for tenants.

"My office has always had tremendous expertise in complex issues of zoning and land use, and I’m proud that we are now using this knowledge to level the playing field between wealthy developers and long-term residents," Racine said in a statement. 

The office previously provided confidential legal counsel to the Zoning Commission or Board of Zoning Adjustment, a power that was transferred to the Office of Zoning this year.

Racine's office said it will push to expand the areas in which developers must provide inclusionary zoning units and lower the income threshold for those units.

The city's first elected attorney general, Racine said he was advocating for the changes because rising rents over the last several years are pushing out long-term and low-income residents, a phenomenon developers have also watched accelerate.

He is not the only elected official aware of the challenge. Mayor Muriel Bowser has set a goal of adding 12,000 new affordable units in the city by 2025. The district has used innovative financing methods to try and reach that goal, including through federal funding. 

Racine has announced he will not seek re-election next year. The candidates vying to be D.C.'s next attorney general include Ward 5 Council Member Kenyan McDuffie, who leads the council's Committee on Business and Economic Development, Bruce Spiva, who leads the D.C. office of law firm Perkins Coie, and local attorney Ryan Jones

Racine has previously used his office to protect tenants facing poor housing conditions. Last year, the attorney general's office won $3M from the D.C. Housing Authority to respond to safety issues on 10 city-owned properties.

Racine also filed a lawsuit against landlord Joseph Kisha in 2018 for mismanaging two affordable housing properties in Barry Farmearning a $3.5M settlement in 2020.

More recently, Racine signed on to the city's efforts to seize the NoMa Wendy's site via eminent domain to transform what's become known as "Dave Thomas Circle."