Applying a Racial Equity Analysis: Housing Capacity in the District of Columbia

April 26, 2018
By Yanique Redwood

CHF will be contributing short one-pagers over the next several months that apply a racial equity analysis to different issues. These one-pagers are not intended to provide solutions. Rather, they apply a lens to issues to give our partners a sense of the kinds of questions that they can ask to sharpen their racial equity analysis. We hope these examples are helpful. The first one in our series applies a racial equity analysis to housing capacity in the District of Columbia. Download a pdf version of this one-pager here.

The D.C. Policy Center recently released a study, “Taking Stock of the District’s Housing Market: Capacity, Affordability and Pressures on Family Housing.” Among other findings, the study suggests that a preference shift to smaller housing units can help reduce the pressures on family housing because of the occupation of larger units by smaller households—couples, singles, and sometimes seniors. This chart from the study also suggests that there are not enough 1- and 2-person units in the District. There are 154,600 units, yet there are 207,800 such households. On the contrary, there are enough 3- and 4-person units. For example, there are 95,634 units that can accommodate 4 or more persons, yet there are only 39,374 such households.
A key aspect of racial equity analysis is the disaggregation of data by race/ethnicity prior to developing solutions or making recommendations. The Annie E. Casey Foundation recommends gathering and analyzing racial and ethnic data to inform policies, practices, and decision-making[1]. In this example, a racial equity analysis might include the following questions and actions:

Determine the number of 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-person households by race, the average income of those households and the number of 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-person units affordable by these households. Given the history of redlining and mortgage and employment discrimination faced by people of color, it would be important to prioritize the housing needs of these households when making recommendations for housing capacity in the District. A recent study by the Urban Institute found that a first-time homebuyer from the average Black and Latino household in D.C. could afford 9.3 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of homes sold between 2010 and 2014 compared to the average white household, which could afford to purchase 67% of homes sold[2]. While the chart may suggest an excess of 4-person units, the units may be unaffordable to people of color households, and these households may be larger due to social and economic factors. Data disaggregation would allow us to examine these differences.

Better understand the family structure of households of color by involving people of color from various backgrounds in study design and analysis (e.g., through focus groups). Numerous studies show that Black and Latino households were more likely to lose their homes in the 2008 recession[3]. Has that contributed to multi-family living arrangements that create the need for larger capacity units? What other economic factors may be impacting people of color households? In addition, are there cultural differences between white households and people of color households that lead people of color to engage in multi-generational or extended family living situations that are vital for community thriving? How are these differences being accounted for in housing recommendations and decisions?

The study by the D.C. Policy Center suggests that some families will need to shift their preference to smaller housing units and that education on the benefits of density may be helpful in influencing preferences and behavior. However, preference for smaller units may not be a choice that families of color can make, if for social and economic reasons these families are structured in different ways, necessitating larger units. A racial equity analysis assumes that race is operating to inform every aspect of our society and accounts for it. In this case, disaggregating data by race and involving those with lived experience in the study design and analysis could produce richer insights and recommendations that advance racial equity. We have partnered with the D.C. Policy Center to explore these questions.

[1] By The Numbers: A Race for Results Case Study: Using Disaggregated Data to Inform Policies, Practices and Decision-making, Annie E. Casey Foundation (March 26, 2018),

[2] A Vision for an Equitable DC, Urban Institute (December 12, 2016),

[3] Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Pew Research Center (July 26, 2011)

One response to “Applying a Racial Equity Analysis: Housing Capacity in the District of Columbia”

  1. Mike Schwartz says:

    Yanique, thank you for pointing out a concrete example of how looking at this issue with a racial equity lens may offer a very different understanding of the issue.

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