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The rent is too high in big cities. This mayor has a plan to fix it.

Anthony Williams, as mayor of Washington, had a problem. Residents had been fleeing for the suburbs for more than 50 years. By 2000, the District had lost one-third of its population from its peak in the 1940s. Fewer people meant fewer property-tax payers. Every departure meant more money drained from the city budget.

Williams turned to Alice Rivlin, a former top White House budget official, and they formulated an audacious goal: to increase the District’s population by 100,000.

“I thought, well, that’s a nice round number,” Rivlin said. “At some point I went to Tony and said, ‘Well, what do you think of that?’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s a good goal.’ It was no more researched than that.”

Critics rolled their eyes. The District’s schools were a mess, its murder rate was near the highest in the nation, and its neighborhoods were littered with vacant homes. Why would people want to live here?

But surprisingly – through a combination of local efforts and larger economic forces – last year that mark was achieved: the District’s population swelled to 672,228, or 100,000 more people than in 2000.

The growth ignited a construction boom that revived neighborhoods and generated billions of dollars of tax revenue that enabled investments in schools, Nationals Park, a convention center, a streetcar line and splashy new parks. “The money that we are using to rebuild our schools, where did it come from? It didn’t come from outer space,” Williams said. “It basically came from this economy, that allowed us to build the schools, to build the libraries.”

Now the city faces a different sort of problem: Along the way, it became one of the most expensive places in America to live....

[Read full article.]

Jonathan O'Connell, The Washington Post

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