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barry farms

Why Won’t Residents Trust Return Guarantees? History

Residents of DC General and Barry Farms share a lot of common concerns. Their homes are crumbling. Their environments are toxic. And they don’t trust DC’s plan to fix it.

At DC General, the District’s shelter for homeless families, residents are dealing with hazardous dust from the demolition of other buildings on the shelter’s campus. Ambulances arrive regularly to take away residents with breathing problems exacerbated by the pollution, and Washington City Paper recently reported that lead had been found at the site.

Even before this latest health hazard, residents had to deal with vermin, problems with the hot water, and infections spread by unsanitary conditions.

At Barry Farms, a public housing complex just south of the Anacostia neighborhood in Ward 8, conditions are equally dire. A majority of the 444 homes now sit empty. Those boarded up units have become breeding grounds for rats and bed bugs, and residents contend that the Housing Authority has stopped performing routine maintenance.

But in both cases, residents and activists are fighting District plans to move residents out.

Residents at DC General have made headlines with their protests against the continued demolition work while they still live there, calling for the end of the asthma-exacerbating dust. But some residents and advocates have also called for the closing of the shelter to be postponed indefinitely, until replacement shelters are complete.
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At Barry Farms, residents recently won a court challenge against the redevelopment plan for their homes, and the families that remain have now managed to stay for years longer than the District’s original relocation plans called for.

District officials have promised that residents at Barry Farms will be able to return to the shiny, new development when it is completed, and DC General is scheduled to be replaced by brand new smaller shelters across the District, better suited to meet families’ needs.

So why have residents fought so hard to stay when their homes are in such unlivable conditions?

In a word, history.

The New Communities Initiative, under which Barry Farms is being redeveloped, has a poor track record of delivering on promises. The Temple Courts community near Union Station, demolished over a decade ago, is only now in motion to begin constructing replacement units. Because of that gap, most of the community’s original residents will never exercise their right to return.

At Barry Farms, the number of affordable and family-sized units is significantly reduced under redevelopment plans, falling from 444 affordable units to just 344. A significant number of multi-bedroom apartments will also be lost.

Although the community has now been winnowed down to just over 100 families, advocates and residents have argued that loss of affordable units changes the culture and demographics of the neighborhood.

And a District judge agrees. The redevelopment is now on hold, as the judge has ordered the District to reconsider how their plans can better accommodate current residents.

At DC General, there’s a general consensus among the residents that demolition should wait until after all the families have moved out. But some are also pushing for that move-out date to be extended past September, even though it means staying in the shelter’s substandard conditions.

They fear that DC’s replacement shelters won’t be ready, in which case their families could be moved to hotels in Maryland. And there’s good reason to think their fears are correct.

Washington City Paper recently reported that despite official reassurances, several replacement shelters are significantly behind schedule—likely by about a year.

At both DC General and Barry Farms, residents have a straight-forward take: they want their new homes to be ready before they move out of their old ones, and they don’t trust officials asking them to move out on faith. Given DC’s history, it’s hard to blame them.

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“Opportunity Zones” May Hold Most Opportunity for Gentrification

Advocates across the country worked tirelessly last November and December in a failed attempt to stop the Trump Administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy. As the dust settled after the fight, some advocates took comfort in the law’s creation of Opportunity Zones, low-income areas that offer tax breaks for investment.

At least, thought these advocates, here was something for our communities. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that much of the “opportunity” here is the opportunity for gentrification.

The Opportunity Zones are low-income census tracts chosen by local governments (more on that later) for this special status. They allow tax-free investments in real estate and businesses within the designated areas. According to the Brookings Institute, investors can avoid $7.50 in taxes for every $100 they invest. That’s a pretty big incentive.

Certainly our low-income communities are in need of investment. After decades of neglect from both the private and public sectors, Opportunity Zones sound like the solution that these communities deserve—a governmental program to pull in reluctant businesses and investors.

And there could be some good. Affordable housing projects will be eligible for these tax breaks, too, meaning that some low-income communities will see some benefit.

But the problem is that these investors have no stipulations that their investments be for the good of the people who already live there. A new luxury condo building would receive the same subsidy as an affordable development. New businesses could flourish with the subsidy coming their way, while long-time community institutions will be largely left out in the cold.

As Peter Moskowitz documents in his book How to Kill a City, a blanket subsidy for a low-income area almost always ends of benefiting newcomers at the expense of those who already live there. Private investment without stipulations for the public good naturally seeks the highest profit, and that almost always means a displacement of the lower-income community that already called the neighborhood home.

What’s more, only one in every four low-income census tracts can be chosen by local governments. There’s some evidence that local jurisdictions have been targeting census tracts where public-private deals are already in place, meaning that there will be additional government subsidy for private investment that was already going to happen anyway. That completely misses the ostensible point of the program, which is to incentivize new investment in underserved areas.

Hopefully Opportunity Zones can help more affordable housing move forward in vulnerable communities. But without more direction towards public benefit, this program could all too easily turn into another governmental subsidy for gentrification.

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New Report Details What It Takes to Afford DC Housing

Most people realize that 9 to 5 jobs are not the norm for DC’s working class, many of whom have irregular hours in the service industry. But no one expects those irregular days to add up to 91 hours per week.

Unfortunately, if you’re only making the minimum wage, that’s exactly what it takes to afford an average 1-bedroom apartment in DC. A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition looks at what it would take for a minimum wage worker to spend only the recommended 30% of their income on an average 1-bedroom apartment.

The results are discouraging. If a minimum wage worker is “only” working 40 hours a week in DC, they’re likely spending about 70% of their income on rent. And although the situation in DC is particularly dire, there are only 22 counties across the entire country where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford an average 1-bedroom apartment.

The numbers are even worse for DC families who need bigger apartments. A 3-bedroom apartment, if you can find it, would take a full-time minimum wage worker’s entire paycheck, with nothing left over for other bills and groceries.

All of these calculations are actually based on a minimum wage of $13.25, which won’t go into effect until July 1st. That means things have been even worse for minimum wage workers who have been earning the current rate of $12.50.

But solutions exist. DC’s Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) provides rent vouchers to some low-income families, ensuring that they pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. Close to 4,000 households either already receive assistance through that program or will soon with recent investments.

The Council needs to keep expanding LRSP to cover more households, alongside continual increases to the minimum wage. DC depends on people who do working class jobs to keep the city running, and if the District forces out its working class, it might just stop working.

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DC 2018 Voter Guide: Chairman and Democratic At-Large Councilmember

“Didn’t we just do that?” is the normal refrain from an election-weary public as mid-terms roll around. In liberal DC, however, there’s been an uncommon amount of energy and anticipation for change to come in November.

But before the Senate and the House are decided, the DC Council will largely be set by the local Democratic primary on June 19th. Check out our guide below to learn where candidates in the two District-wide races stand on housing issues.

Chairman

Phil Mendelson (Incumbent)
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As the DC Council Chairman, Phil Mendelson has used his position to act as a self-described check against the Mayor. He commands significant influence over final decisions in the budget as well as legislation before the full Council, and he is an effective whip in lining up votes for his priorities.

That’s often good news for housing advocates. In this budget cycle, he supported the late addition of $15 million for local rent vouchers and housing for people coming out of homelessness. But it’s also proven problematic at times, as he has stalled a bill increasing funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund and was the driving force behind eliminating TOPA protections for renters in single-family homes. As a result, those renters no longer have a guaranteed chance to buy their home when their landlord wants to sell.

Ed Lazere (Challenger, on leave from job as Director of DC Fiscal Policy Institute)
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As Director of DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Ed Lazere has supported many of the same priorities as HAT. Lazere has pushed for increased funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund and has talked regularly about the harmful effects of DC’s racial wealth gap. On the campaign trail, he has called for DC to significantly expand its investment in affordable housing, arguing that our current funding for housing programs is an insufficient response to the size of the problem. He also spoke out against the elimination of TOPA for single-family homes.

HAT and DCFPI have disagreed in the past, however, on long-term resale restrictions for affordable homebuyers. HAT opposes long-term restrictions because they keep affordable homebuyers, a majority of whom are people of color, from experiencing the same wealth-building that white families experienced from decades of government-backed mortgages. Proponents of the restrictions see them as the only way to keep affordable homeownership available going forward.

At-Large Councilmember

Anita Bonds (Incumbent, serves as Chair of the Council’s Housing Committee)
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In her role as At-Large Councilmember and Chair of the Council’s Housing Committee, Anita Bonds has certainly made housing her top priority. She has introduced countless important pieces of legislation dealing with affordable housing, and she was a major champion in the successful fight several years ago to increase HPAP loan amounts. Our list of 5 bills to watch in 2018, written earlier this year, was comprised entirely of legislation written by Councilmember Bonds. She displayed the backbone of her leadership during this budget process, as she oversaw the late addition of $15 million for local rent vouchers and other essential programs. She was also able to attach several important pieces of legislation to the budget, including one of the aforementioned bills to watch—one that establishes a rehab fund for lower-income condo and coop communities.

However, none of the other bills to watch have been brought up for a vote in committee. Advocates have been particularly eager to get a vote on two bills designed to strengthen rent control, which Councilmember Bonds had initially said would happen in January. Councilmember Bonds was also the author of the bill exempting single-family homes from TOPA protections.

Jeremiah Lowery (Challenger, Environmental Activist)
Jeremiah Lowery DC Council At Large 2018
Jeremiah Lowery has made affordable housing one of the centerpieces of his campaign, and he prides himself on not taking contributions from developers or other corporations. Instead, he has a significant array of endorsements from local progressive organizations. Lowery opposed the elimination of TOPA rights for single-family homes, and is generally supportive of more funding for affordable housing.

Lowery has named community land trusts as his top priority for affordable housing, an interesting model in which a community organization retains permanent control over the land on which affordable housing is built. However, while community land trusts have truly innovative potential for rental housing, HAT has the same concerns listed above about their resale restrictions on ownership housing. In short, homeownership without the potential for wealth creation is not true homeownership.

Marcus Goodwin (Challenger, Commercial Real Estate Development)
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Coming from the field of commercial real estate, Marcus Goodwin certainly knows housing development. He has expressed support for the Home Purchase Assistance Program and has spoken frequently about helping renters move into homeownership. He has also proposed a deferral of property taxes for lower-income homeowners, to be repaid when the owner sells.

While this certainly represents a significant contribution to the anti-displacement conversation, Greater Greater Washington reported that in a recent interview they found Goodwin to be more focused on the details of specific developments rather than policy solutions to create affordable housing. Goodwin also supported the exemption of single-family homes from TOPA protections.

Be sure to vote on June 19th with affordable housing priorities in mind!

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Council’s budget adds $15 million to housing programs

The DC Council released its budget for a first of two votes on Tuesday, May 15th, and there’s a lot for housing advocates to be excited about. In all, the Council added $15.6 million for housing programs on top of what the Mayor had proposed. Check out the (partial) round-up below:

Local Rent Supplement Program

The Local Rent Supplement Program, or LRSP, is the District’s version of HUD’s Housing Choice Vouchers. These vouchers, which serve households making 30% or less of the Area Median Income, are a subsidy that ensures low-income households never have to pay more than 30% of their income for housing.

The vouchers can either be given directly to residents who then search for housing on the open market, called tenant-based vouchers, or they can be tied to a specific unit that remains affordable and is only available to low-income households, called a project-based voucher.

New investments in LRSP are a big deal—taking vouchers away from residents who need them would be a disaster, so funding for more vouchers is seen as a semi-permanent commitment. Mayor Bowser recommended no new funding for LRSP in her budget, proposing that DC only fund the vouchers it had already issued.

The Council, however, heard calls from advocates to expand LRSP and responded by placing $1.5 million in new tenant-based vouchers and $3.2 million in new project-based vouchers. That’s projected to create a total of 238 newly affordable homes.

Other Programs

The rest of the housing funding added and reshuffled by the Council largely went to housing for residents coming out of homelessness. The Way Home Campaign, a local initiative dedicated to ending chronic homelessness, noted that the Council’s investments were exciting and important, but cautioned that the funding still fell well short of the need.

Among the programs with increased funding were Permanent Supportive Housing, which provides social services as well as housing to residents coming out of homelessness, and Targeted Affordable Housing, often used by residents in PSH who no longer need social services. In all, 616 new units for ending homelessness will be created above and beyond the Mayor’s proposal.
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A meeting of MANNA’s Homebuyers Club

Housing Counseling Funds

Another issue that we wrote about previously was the proposed cut to housing counseling funds. These funds are the backbone of programs like MANNA’s Homebuyers Club, which offers a range of services to low- and moderate-income residents getting ready to become first-time homebuyers.

That issue was also resolved, although neither local advocates nor the Council can take credit—Congress passed a budget with full funding for the grant program that makes housing counseling and a whole host of other local programs possible. Advocates must now work to make sure that the local housing department uses those funds for their intended purpose.

Budget Support Act Legislation

Several pieces of housing legislation are also passing with the budget in the Budget Support Act. The Housing Advocacy Team has testified in support of several of these bills, and their inclusion in the BSA is a cause for celebration.

One such bill is the Common Interest Community Repairs Funding Amendment Act, which sets up a rehab fund for condominium and cooperative associations where 2/3rds of residents make less than 60% AMI. Eligible communities will be able to receive up to $100,000 for repair work on common elements like roofs, piping, and electrical systems.

Another housing bill in the BSA aims to keep seniors with reverse mortgages from losing their homes. This bill aims to help low- and moderate-income seniors who fall behind on property tax or insurance payments after taking out a home equity loan (also called a reverse mortgage). Seniors who qualify can receive up to $25,000 in assistance. The bill was prompted by reports of older Washingtonians losing their homes over fees of several thousand dollars or less.

It’s important to remember that the Mayor also had many great factors in her proposed budget, including a big increase for the Home Purchase Assistance Program. The Council preserved that increase, and HPAP looks set to be fully funded through the end of 2019.

Thanks to all the advocates for their hard work this budget season! Feel free to comment with any questions about housing programs in the budget, and we’ll do our best to answer quickly.

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DC Close to Cutting Housing Counseling Funds

Advocates cheered this spring when Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed budget showed a $9 million increase for the Home Purchase Assistance Program, enough to keep the program fully funded through 2019. Not as readily obvious, however, was the deep cut proposed for the housing counseling that makes HPAP purchases possible.

Kept under the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Neighborhood Based Activities budget contains funds for homeownership and tenant counseling services. That budget is proposed to be cut from $9.5 million for the current year to just $6.1 million next year—a drop of more than a third for these vital programs.

The housing counseling funds allow MANNA and other groups to offer guidance to residents working through the difficult demands of the homebuying process. A 2016 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that homebuying counseling and education increases participants credit scores, encourages better communication with lenders, and improves their understanding of how their mortgage works.

Members of MANNA’s Homebuyers Club typically need help managing their credit score, setting a financial plan, and navigating the lengthy HPAP process, but they also need assistance getting through the typical barriers that arise while trying to buy in DC.

A meeting of the MANNA Homebuyers Club

A meeting of the MANNA Homebuyers Club

Erin Skinner, a lifelong Washingtonian, as well as HPAP buyer and former member of MANNA’s Homebuyers Club, can attest to that firsthand. She recounts having a first deal fall through and countless hours of work in the two-year process that finally landed her a home. (Read her full story here!)

The Council and the Mayor have shown a great commitment to homeownership in recent years through their increases in the budget and loan amounts for HPAP. Indeed, Councilmembers regularly cite affordable homeownership as a top priority, and the HPAP budget looks set to sail through Council.

But the housing counseling funds are an equally important part of the equation. Affordable ownership is, at best, an incredibly daunting process to work through without a counselor, and the turn-around HPAP has seen from its worst days a half a decade ago is largely due to the efforts of housing counselors.

Thankfully, even if the Council fails to act, DHCD and its Director Polly Donaldson have the power to put funding into this important program. Keep up with our blog for more information going forward!

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Town Hall, Advocacy Day, and Housing Budget Needs

Between the 3rd Annual Homeownership Town Hall & Housing Fair on Saturday and CNHED’s Advocacy Day on Monday, the Housing Advocacy Team has been busy! Here’s what you may have missed:

Town Hall

Saturday’s Town Hall and Housing Fair was a great success, with more than 200 residents coming out to Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia to gain information on affordable homeownership opportunities. Robert AX Adams’ smooth electric guitar and vocals entertained the community members as they wandered through 25 tables with information from nonprofits, government agencies, financial institutions, and more.

Workshops on DC property tax relief, estate planning, an introduction to MANNA’s Homebuyers Club, and more offered information for current and prospective homebuyers alike.

The Town Hall portion of the day was led by HAT’s Tanya Morris, also a MANNA board member, who told her story of buying an Affordable Dwelling Unit in Columbia Heights. (You can hear more from Tanya below.)

Rev. Jim Dickerson spoke of MANNA’s founding over 35 years ago and the more than 1500 homes MANNA has built before turning the mic over to Don Folden, the leader of Capitol Buddy’s DC Black History Tours. Don spoke about the history of Anacostia and all of DC, expounding on its racial property covenants and government backed mortgages that kept homeownership an almost exclusively white venture.

That history is a big part of why programs like the Home Purchase Assistance Program are a matter of justice. More than 90% of HPAP borrowers are people of color, and without the program many of those families still would be locked out of homeownership.

Residents signed postcards to DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson asking him to keep the Mayor’s proposed $8 million increase to HPAP’s budget (a total of $26 million). They also asked that he hold a hearing for Councilmember Anita Bonds’ (At-Large) bill guaranteeing funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund at a minimum of $120 million each year.

Councilmember Robert White (At-Large) spoke to the crowd about the importance of HPAP and homeownership. Himself a generations-deep Washingtonian, he highlighted the history that has kept black Washingtonians from owning homes and the responsibility of the government to correct those wrongs.
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Councilmember Robert White and DHCD Director Polly Donaldson

Polly Donaldson, Director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, also stopped by to highlight the investments that Mayor Bowser and the Housing Department have made in low- and moderate-income homeownership. HPAP helped about 300 Washingtonian families become homeowners last year, and the Mayor’s proposed increases could see even more families served next year.

Advocacy Day

The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development held its annual Advocacy Day on Monday, April 23, and HAT was out in force. Coucilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Vince Gray (Ward 7), David Grosso (At-Large), and Charles Allen (Ward 6) all stopped by to speak to the crowd of yellow shirts packed into the Council hearing room.

CNHED speakers then educated the crowd on important programs that are underfunded in the Mayors budget before residents fanned out to meetings in all 13 Council offices.
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Councilmembers Allen and Nadeau

Among the programs for which the Council to find more funds is the Local Rent Supplement Program, or LRSP. These local rent vouchers help families with very low incomes who otherwise would likely be severely rent burdened. The vouchers are either given to the tenant for them to find housing on the open market (called “tenant-based vouchers”) or given to a landlord and tied to a specific low-cost unit (“project-based vouchers”). They Mayor’s budget zeros out investments in project-based vouchers, a concerning development that could have the unintended consequence of forcing low-income families to become homeless in order to be eligible for rental assistance.

Another top concern is a proposed cut to Housing Counseling Services which could severely curtail the homebuying counseling that MANNA and other counselors are able to provide. It’s a cut that makes little sense alongside an increase to HPAP—families served by HPAP need access to strong counseling services in order to have the best chance to succeed.

Finally, CNHED and HAT continue to push for more funding in the Housing Production Trust Fund. While Mayor Bowser’s commitment to $100 million in the fund each year has been historic, it is no longer keeping pace with either need or capacity. DC can and must build more affordable homes in order to keep our city a place that all residents can afford, and guaranteeing a minimum of $120 million in the trust fund each year is a good place to start.

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Housing Production Trust Fund Makes for Better Homes than Headlines

When the DC Auditor’s Office released its report on the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund earlier this week, the headlines started rolling in right away. City Paper called it “damning.” Think Progress spoke of “astonishing failures.” But a deeper dig into the report’s talking points reveals that the truth in this case is a good bit less sensational than promised.

Where it misleads

The Housing Production Trust Fund is DC’s number one source of affordable housing dollars, and it has a hand in the construction of the vast majority of the District’s affordable homes—more than 10,000 such homes in the past 15 years, according to the audit. The trust fund is legally required to be used as gap financing, meaning that it can fund no more than 49% of any unit’s cost. This allows the fund to do significantly more work and touch significantly more projects than if it were the sole funding source for every unit it produced.

Given the variable level of funding each project receives, plus the fact that the size of DC’s investment in affordable housing is unrivaled in the US, it’s almost impossible to compare what the District is doing with other cities. But that’s exactly what this report tried to do.

The audit found that the trust fund’s average subsidy per unit was $61,700—a number that doesn’t seem bad compared to the District’s median home value of more than $550,000. But the report instead compared that number to Philadelphia and Seattle’s trust funds, which the auditors determined spend only $21,190 and $36,000 per unit respectively.

Even without comparing the size of the funds being managed, these numbers don’t take into account different amounts of federal funding, different income levels being served, or the vastly different markets that they’re working in (Philadelphia’s median home value is a full $400,000 lower than DC’s). Nevertheless, that $61,700 per unit and its comparison to other cities has been presented as the end-all-be-all in determining the fund’s efficiency.
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Another point that the audit and its media coverage have overblown is the state of the fund’s revolving loans. All the money that the trust fund sends out is structured as a loan, set to be repaid based on a project’s cash-flow or the expiration of its affordability covenants.

The audit notes that in the past four years, only 4% of the fund’s resources have come from loan repayment. But as the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Director Polly Donaldson has noted, delayed repayment is a key feature of the fund, not a flaw. Deferred loans allow smaller developers and non-profits the time they need to repay District funds. To put it another way, it’s no wonder this audit’s 15-year scope didn’t capture 40-year loans.

The revolving loans have also caused a flap with the somewhat inexplicable revelation that almost all of the fund’s long-term loans have been written off as unrecoverable. While repayment of 40-year loans on affordable housing projects may not be 100%, it’s certainly not going to be zero.

Finally, the audit causes confusion by not specifying the administrations responsible for some of its worst findings. For instance, while it’s a serious problem that DHCD had to give back $16 million in federal funds, it’s also important to note that that bungling came under a previous administration. It’s certainly not the sort of thing that should keep Councilmembers from investing more in the trust fund now.
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Where it shoots straight

The report is certainly helpful in some areas. It’s no secret that administrative costs for the trust fund have been too high, and the audit also points out a few instances in which small amounts of money were spent on non-housing projects, like bicycle education. Those issues are real, and they need to be addressed.

The report also points out that the trust fund hasn’t been meeting its legal requirement to spend 40% of its funds on very-low income residents, those making less than 30% of the Area Median Income. It’s an important problem to address, one that has come up frequently in Council hearings over the past few months.

The trust fund is already doing better than it seems, however, when other programs are taken into account. While trust fund income limits may not be low enough to meet requirements, those units are often cross-paired with rent supplement programs that serve residents under 30% AMI. Because those units require so much funding to produce and operate, it often requires more than one source of subsidy.

The real take-away

At the end of the day, the lede is buried, both in this post and The Washington Post. The Housing Production Trust Fund has produced or preserved more than 10,000 affordable homes over the past 15 years. That’s over 10,000 families who would otherwise almost certainly be rent burdened—if they managed to stay in DC at all.

There’s certainly room to improve the trust fund. But that improvement has to come in the context of the incredible work the fund has done and continues to do. Otherwise, this audit will cause more harm than good for the families it hopes to serve.

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5 DC Housing Bills to Watch in 2018

2018 is an election year for the DC Council, which means some bills will languish while others suddenly sprint ahead. Here are five bills that affordable housing advocates should keep an eye on. To subscribe to updates on any of these bills, click the link and then hit the orange “Subscribe” button at bottom right!

Home Purchase Assistance Program

Home Purchase Assistance Program Amendment Act of 2018 (B22-0682)

Introduced February 6th, 2018
Co-introduced/co-sponsored by: the entire Council

This bill would increase the size of HPAP in two ways. (If you need a quick explainer on what HPAP is, click here.)

First, the bill would increase the maximum income a household can have and still be eligible for the program from 110% of the Area Median Income (AMI) to 120% AMI. For a family of four, that’s an increase from about $120,000 to $130,000. Second, it would increase the loan amount that each income category is eligible for by about $20,000. That would make the maximum loan $100,000 and the minimum loan $32,000.

There’s a case to be made for each of these increases, but they come with a big price tag. Given that the program is already set to run out of money this year without the changes, the Council will need to drastically increase HPAP’s $17 million budget if they want these two expansions to have the desired impact. This bill is currently waiting for a committee hearing.

Condo/Co-op Ownership

Common Interest Communities Remedial Funding Act of 2017 (B22-0273)

Introduced May 2nd, 2017
Co-introduced/co-sponsored by: Councilmembers Anita Bonds (At-Large), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Trayon White (Ward 8), Robert White (At-Large), Elissa Silverman (At-Large), Brandon Todd (Ward 4), and Vincent Gray (Ward 7)

Across the city, low-income condo and co-op associations are struggling to keep up with needed maintenance for aging buildings. This bill would help those associations with a one-time grant of up to $30,000, along with training for board members.

At a hearing for the bill in November, residents testified that a program like this could be a great help to their associations. However, many also suggested that $100,000 would be a more appropriate grant size for rehab work on a multi-unit building. The bill is now waiting for committee mark-up.

Housing Production Trust Fund

Housing Production Trust Fund Guarantee Funding Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0226)

Introduced April 4th, 2017
Co-introduced/co-sponsored by: Councilmembers Bonds, Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), T. White, R. White, Nadeau, and Gray

The Housing Production Trust Fund is DC’s biggest source for building and preserving affordable housing. It has made and saved homes for thousands of Washingtonians, and Mayor Bowser and the Council have done historic work by funding the trust fund at $100 million each year since the Mayor took office.

But each year, the trust fund is subject to political fights about its funding. If a new Council or Mayor loses the political will, the trust fund could quickly be on the chopping block. What’s more, $100 million isn’t what it used to be.

This bill would guarantee the Housing Production Trust Fund at $120 million each year, keeping it from sinking below that level of funding no matter the political will of the moment. It is currently waiting for a committee hearing.

Rent Control

Rental Housing Affordability Stabilization Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0025)

Introduced January 10th, 2017
Co-introduced/co-sponsored by: Councilmembers Bonds, Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Silverman, Gray, David Grosso (At-Large), and T. White

Today, the thousands of units protected by DC’s rent control law see a modest increase in their rent each year: the rate of inflation, plus an extra 2 percent. Last year that increase would have been about 3 percent total—not a big deal. But tenants note that the additional 2 percent adds up quickly. Over the course of a decade, rent control units’ prices can easily increase by more than a third.

What’s more, rents can increase by up to 30 percent immediately when a unit becomes vacant. Not only does that undermine rent control, but it also incentivizes landlords to evict tenants without cause. This bill would cap the vacancy increase at 5 percent, and limit the annual rent increase to just inflation. It had a hearing last June and is now waiting for committee mark-up.

Preservation of Affordable Rent Control Housing Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0100)

Introduced February 7th, 2017
Co-introduced/co-sponsored by: Councilmembers Bonds, R. White, Silverman, Cheh, and T. White

This bill deals with another problem facing rent control: voluntary agreements. Voluntary agreements are supposed to be a way for landlords and tenants to come together on rent increases outside of rent control. They’re helpful when tenants need something done (e.g., expensive rehab work) that otherwise the landlord couldn’t afford.

But recently, landlords have been enticing tenants to sign voluntary agreements that only affect future tenants’ rents. If you could get needed benefits for yourself by signing away someone else’s cheap rent, would you do it? This bill says you shouldn’t have to make that choice.

It prohibits voluntary agreements that have different effects for current and future tenants. The bill had a hearing last June, and it’s currently waiting for committee mark-up.

Have another bill you think should be included here? Let us know in the comments!

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Trump might cut low-income lending. Here’s how DC needs to respond.

In November of 2017, DC Councilmember David Grosso (At-Large) introduced a bill that would likely increase affordable housing investments and low-income lending by banks that do business with the District government. That bill—and the work it looks to accomplish—have always been important. But recent moves by the Trump administration have made its passage more important than ever.

What’s in the bill?

The bill is actually an update to an earlier responsible banking law, the Community Development Amendment Act, or CDAA. The CDAA set standards for banks that do business with the District government, as well as making their past commitment to low-income lending a part of their score when applying for District contracts. If a bank is benefitting from DC tax dollars, the thinking goes, then that bank needs to be benefitting all DC taxpayers.

But that law, passed in 2014, has never had the impact that its supporters hoped. A loophole in the way the law was written allows DC’s Chief Financial Officer to renew District banking contracts without putting banks through the evaluations specified in the law. That means that as long as DC doesn’t change banks, the CDAA’s responsible banking requirements are meaningless.

The new bill from Councilmember Grosso, entitled Strengthening the CDAA, would close this loophole by requiring that any bank up for a contract renewal be put through the full evaluation process. It also adds to the CDAA by raising the importance of a bank’s past lending activity when that bank is applying for a District contract. The bill was introduced with the support of Councilmembers Bonds (At-Large), Robert White (At-Large), Trayon White (Ward 8), Gray (Ward 7), and Silverman (At-Large).

With this kind of evaluation in place, banks that want to compete for District contracts will have more incentive to serve all of DC’s neighborhoods. Banking services in certain parts of the city, especially Wards 7 and 8, are scarce. Residents have few options when looking for a loan, and many are forced to turn to predatory payday lenders. Getting access to non-predatory home loans and other financial services is a crucial part of increasing racial equity in DC.

One of the ways that both the current law and the new bill evaluate banks is their score from the Community Reinvestment Act. The Community Reinvestment Act was passed by Congress in 1977 as an antidote to decades of racist lending policies. It scores banks on their lending in low income communities and allows community advocates to point out racist lending patterns that exist to this day.

Banks care about their score on this test because it determines their ability to do big money-making deals like mergers with other banks. (The Community Reinvestment Act is worth its own blog post, and you should read the one linked above!) The CDAA and Councilmember Grosso’s new bill both bring extra leverage to the work that the Community Reinvestment Act does.

Why this matters now more than ever

As with most programs that support low-income Americans and people of color, the Community Reinvestment Act is under threat by the Trump White House. Reports emerged earlier this year that the Trump administration is planning to significantly weaken the Community Reinvestment Act, allowing banks to get away with less lending to deserving low-income individuals.

That could create even bigger gaps in access to mortgages and other lending in low-income communities. And those communities are already hurting. Reports from last year indicated that banks were already starting to further limit their lending in low-income communities, even before rumors of a Community Reinvestment Act rollback started.

Local governments will need to fill the hole created by lost Community Reinvestment Act lending, and Councilmember Grosso’s bill to strengthen the CDAA is a great step in that direction. If the DC government really wants to support access to lending for all Washingtonians, Strengthening the CDAA is a must.

The next step for this bill is a hearing in Councilmember McDuffie’s Committee on Business and Economic Development. You can reach Councilmember McDuffie at 202-724-8028, kmcduffie@dccouncil.us, or on twitter at @CM_McDuffie .