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D.C. Council Passes Comprehensive Plan, Rejects Changes To Eviction Moratorium

The D.C. Council at a March 2018 hearing on the Comprehensive Plan.

The D.C. Council has given final approval to amendments to the city's Comprehensive Plan, ending a years-long process to change the city's guiding land use document. 

The council's unanimous vote to pass the Comprehensive Plan came Tuesday, the same day it rejected a proposal to loosen the city's eviction moratorium that was enacted at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The final Comprehensive Plan vote came two weeks after an initial vote that included a series of amendments from council members, and they made additional changes ahead of the document's final passage. 

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson partially walked back the changes he made earlier this month to restrict housing development in a series of industrial areas in Northeast D.C. The final plan allowed mixed-use developments in those areas, on the condition that they are agreed upon as part of a small area plan process, the Washington Business Journal reported

But Mendelson didn't fully reinstate the mayor's proposed residential designations on the plan's Future Land Use Map. In Eckington, where he had proposed stripping residential from two adjacent areas, he restored the mayor's amendments to one of the areas, but he left the larger one only for industrial use. 

Eckington Civic Association President Conor Shaw, whose group supported the mayor's amendments and opposed Mendelson's changes, said he was disappointed that the chairman didn't fully reinstate the residential areas. 

"The council’s decision to continue prioritizing industrial uses of land where we could embrace up to 5,000 housing units is a real shame," Shaw wrote in a statement to Bisnow. "By not embracing changes to the comprehensive plan that had overwhelming community support, the council has jeopardized the relative affordability of Eckington."

The latest version of the plan also includes new language about affordable housing. It defines affordable units as being designated for those making up to 80% of the median family income, and it includes a "deeply affordable" category of units that are 40% MFI and below. 

And the plan includes new language on weighing the impact projects have on racial equity, added after the new Council Office on Racial Equity said in an April report that the Comprehensive Plan wouldn't do enough to address racial inequalities. 

While the plan's passage cements a long-term development vision for the District, the council also voted Tuesday on the short-term issue of D.C.'s eviction moratorium.

The council rejected an amendment Mendelson proposed that would have provided another exception to the eviction moratorium, which has been in place since the pandemic began. Mendelson's amendment would have allowed landlords to resume eviction filings July 1, but only if they had applied for federal assistance on behalf of the tenant, informed the tenant that rent relief is available and given enough written notice, DCist reported

The first exception to the eviction moratorium was passed last month, when the council allowed landlords to evict tenants who are deemed by a judge to be dangerous to their neighbors. 

The latest amendment sought to encourage more renters to use the city's $350M rental assistance program. Tenant advocates say that the rental assistance program isn't working and needs to be revised, DCist reported.  

Small Multifamily Owners Association CEO Dean Hunter said that the eviction moratorium is preventing renters from seeking assistance. 

"This is not an intellectual exercise. This is having a devastating impact on landlords," Hunter wrote in an emailed statement. "People are suffering unnecessarily. Providers can file for evictions and send demand letters in Virginia and Maryland. There is no tsunami of evictions. The safety net works. Tenants and landlords are getting federal assistance everywhere except here, thanks to the Council."