Former D.C. Council Candidate Chides Housing Policy

Sheika Reid
Sheika Reid (Courtesy of TheDistrictNow)

Though she possesses intimate knowledge about what’s been described as an affordable housing crisis in D.C., denizen and former city council candidate Sheika Reid said the stories she heard during her campaign further revealed the need for immediate solutions.

In the wake of her primary loss in the Ward 1 Council race to incumbent Brianne Nadeau (D), Reid has further committed to tackling the issue the best way she knows her how: through her family’s affordable-housing construction venture, which has been in existence for decades.

“It’s not that affordable housing has shrunk. It’s that so much expensive housing has been produced in D.C.,” said Reid, 27, a third-generation Washingtonian and former Howard University student.

Reid said Avanti Real Estate, founded by her parents nearly 30 years ago, has coordinated the finance and construction of affordable housing units throughout the District, a process she said often takes at least three years to navigate.

Within the same timeframe, D.C.’s housing crisis has gotten to the point where some residents struggle to find affordable family units within the city and parts of the suburbs.

Data collected by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute shows that members of more than 26,000 low-income households spend more than three-quarters of their monthly income on rent. More than 7,500 people in D.C. are reportedly homeless, and tens of thousands more are on the D.C. Housing Authority’s waitlist for affordable housing.

Even with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s infusion of $103 million into affordable housing this year, the dearth of such units has threatened the stability of Reid’s one-time potential clients.

“A lot of people didn’t know if they would be living in Ward 1 by the time the election came around,” Reid said. “It became expensive for people across the board: White, Black, Latino, Asian.”

At her relatively young age, Reid has already played a role in securing the financing and overseeing the construction of Langdon Lofts, a Northeast property on Bladensburg Road that ground broke in 2016. The five-story building, currently near capacity, contains 33 units and 17 parking spaces that had been designed to meet the D.C. Green Building standards for multi-family housing.

Langdon Lofts, developed where two dilapidated buildings once stood, counted among the many projects under what city officials touted as the Great Streets Initiative, started in 2005.

Reid said while she wanted to create similar results around the District, economic conditions and public policy that spur income inequity prevent her and her colleagues from fulfilling that obligation.

For her, the series of steps needed before breaking ground on a property has proven to be daunting.

“It’s a long process in order to get that bonding,” Reid said as she reflected on the journey to opening the Langdon Lofts property that started in the early 2010s. “When you’re looking at the real estate market, it’s designed to raise the price of valued property and affordable housing goes against that. The city has to intervene. It’s harder to get the approval and financing [for affordable housing].”

The need for legislative action that will induce affordable housing for low-income resident deeply influenced Reid’s decision to run for the Ward 1 Council seat last fall. Her campaign platform centered on the increase of the Housing Production Trust Fund, a special source of revenue that the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development doles out for the construction of low-income housing.

Other policy solutions she suggested include the expansion of programs for first-time homebuyers and renovation of housing.

Despite her loss in the June primary, Reid said she remains committed to challenging local lawmakers on issues important to her and her neighbors. Last month, she railed against ICE raids during a mass protest in her Columbia Heights. Last year, D.C. Councilman Trayon White (D-Ward 8) reportedly introduced legislation exempting residents from late fees on parking and traffic tickets after Reid show his office the results of an online survey she conducted.

While she did not reveal explicit plans to lobby council members around affordable housing issues, Reid reinforced the importance of legislative leadership in making D.C. a comfortable place for all residents to live.

“There are broader horizons when you’re looking for legislative ways to address affordable housing,” she said. “I can fight all day but it doesn’t matter if the army as a whole isn’t moving in the right direction.”

Reid criticized the council for what she said has been a lethargic response to the city’s housing shortage, particularly in comparison to its quick rebuke of comments made by White earlier this year on an unrelated matter that many viewed as anti-Semitic.

“I think we’re moving too slow,” she said. “The council protests a comment about anti-Semitism that I think had no place in the District, but I think we should have more active protests from the council and our local legislative bodies about people getting taken out of their communities.”

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