Category Archives: Advocate’s Corner

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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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Home Improvements for Caregivers: Tips to Help You Better Care for Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Photo by Pixabay

Guest post by Lydia Chan of Alzheimerscaregiver.net

Alzheimer’s disease affects about 5.4 million Americans, about 5.2 million of which are 65 and older. It can be your grandparent, your cousin, your sibling, or even your parent who faces the diagnosis. Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s require round-the-clock care, and for many families, that means taking the loved one into their own home. Here are some home improvement tips for those caring for an Alzheimer’s patient in their home.

First, recognize how Alzheimer’s changes a person. It affects the body, so balance and depth-perception issues can be a concern. But the main concern for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients is the loss of judgment and memory which can leave patients confused and suspicious or fearful. For instance, they may not remember where they are or how to use household appliances.

One of the first things that you can do to improve your home for Alzheimer’s patients is to remove tripping or falling hazards and add fixtures that assist them, such as grab bars in bathrooms and hand railings on both sides of stairs. Because of balance difficulties, patients tend to shuffle their feet rather than picking them up, so even deep-pile carpet or area rugs can be hard to walk on. If you think about a person in a wheelchair trying to navigate your home, you will notice things that might be difficult for Alzheimer’s patients as well. Stairs are a major concern because these patients also have trouble with depth perception. Making sure every room or hallway has bright lights and switches at every entrance can help. Remove door sills that are not flush with the flooring and avoid polished floors which may be slippery. Other simple improvements include replacing door and shower fixture knobs with pull handles that are easily gripped, and adding a shower seat.

Longer-term solutions include actually making your space wheelchair accessible, which includes widening doorways and adding a ramp at the door. Converting bathtubs into walk-in showers is also helpful. If you have stairs, make sure the steps are wide enough for an entire foot, and the surfaces are not slippery. Adding contrasting wood, carpet, or paint colors can aid in seeing individual steps more clearly. You might also consider adding a stair lift if the patient will need to traverse the stairs regularly. Check all flooring for slippery surfaces and consider replacing tile or polished wood with low-pile carpet or new flooring with low-slip ratings.

Adding recessed lighting under kitchen cabinets can help everyone see better, and adding large-print directions or brightly colored splashes of nail polish by the main buttons on the microwave or stove can help Alzheimer’s patients easily find the settings they want to use. Eventually, you will probably want to keep patients on the first floor of your home so they won’t have to go up and down stairs. A private bathroom should also be included. Adding a life alert system that monitors them and keeping safety alert numbers in a conspicuous place for them or other caregivers to use, if necessary, can be a great assistance in case of emergency.

There are many things to think about when you’re the caregiver of a person with Alzheimer’s disease. When caring for patients, it’s essential that they can navigate safely. You cannot plan for every emergency, but you can prepare your home for the majority of issues that Alzheimer’s brings. Having your loved one with you in your home will make you both feel better.

dc house

HPAP, EAHP, and Hard Work: Homeownership Success

To say that lifelong Washingtonian Erin Skinner has been busy the last few years is an understatement.

When the lease on her old apartment expired more than two years ago, she applied at a few other buildings in the area. But she quickly learned that, despite having a stable job as a DC government employee, she didn’t earn enough to even qualify in the buildings where she wanted to live. That realization led her to start looking for a home to buy instead, and she joined MANNA’s Homebuyers Club—on top of everything else in her life.

Skinner is a single parent to her two sons, ages 17 and 4. At the time, she was also hard at work on her undergraduate degree—all while never cutting back on her DC government job.

“I was in school full-time and working full-time. And looking for this house,” says Skinner.

After getting her credit score up with help from the Homebuyers Club, Skinner started looking for her new home. The search was possible thanks to DC’s Home Purchase Assistance Program, the District’s down payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, and the Employer Assistance Housing Program, which Skinner was eligible for because she is a District employee.

But even with the incredible amount of work Skinner was putting in and funding sources all lined up, the process was a constant challenge.

Skinner had a house picked out that seemed perfect, and she was set to go to closing. But at the last minute she found that the regulations calculating her eligibility had been changed—her student loans now counted against her total debt.

The deal fell through. Skinner had to pass on her perfect house and start the whole process over again. With everything else in her life, it felt overwhelming.

But Skinner kept pushing, she says, in large part because of her love for DC. “I never wanted to leave DC. I was born and raised here.”

She recognizes that in many ways it’s a different city than the one she grew up in. “The city is changing so rapidly, all the new storefronts and condos. I’ve been wondering whether that would happen to where I live [in Southeast].”

People often ask why she doesn’t leave. “I want to stay here,” says Skinner. “I want to be able to benefit from everything that’s going on. All the changes are not bad… I want to benefit from the good changes that are going on in DC, and also to have my children benefit from those changes.”

Finally, Skinner’s dream has come together. This year, she says, “has been the year of me.” In May she graduated from college, and soon after she found a house that fits her family’s needs even better than the one before. And with the lift from HPAP and EAHP, her mortgage payments are far more manageable than renting.

What’s more, it meets her top goal: staying in DC. “Actually,” says Skinner, “where I live now is 10 minutes from where I’ve lived my entire life.”

She has some advice for others going through MANNA’s Homebuyers Club.

“To other prospective homebuyers, there are going to be days that you want to quit. There are going to be times when you see the house that you really, really want, and you find out that you can’t get it. Just know that if you keep going, you’ll find a house that’s even better than the one you thought you had to have.”

After seeing what hard work and HPAP can do, it’s hard to argue with her.

HPAP Success for Retired 1st Time Homeowner

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On Monday, April 10th, Ms. Evans day had finally arrived. At last, after years of working and waiting, the retiree could close on her condo with the help of DC’s Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP). “Being a homeowner means a lot,” said Ms. Evans. “This was my first time. [It’s] an accomplishment.”

Her journey began two years ago, when she started the process of trying to buy a unit in a newly converted apartment building. Amazingly, Ms. Evans had lived in this apartment building a decade before and was looking at buying the exact unit she had previously rented. But funding issues emerged, and her dream of homeownership seemed like it might slip away.

Thankfully, the developer arranged for Ms. Evans to have a one year lease on her unit before purchasing. This allowed her time to save money and get outside funding sources in order.

One of the most important pieces to Ms. Evans is what this could mean for her family. “If something were to happen to me,” she said, “[my home] would go to my daughter, which would help her in so many ways.”

None of this would have been possible, said Ms. Evans, without HPAP. “They helped me a lot,” she said. “[Without HPAP,] I don’t think I would have done it.”

Even to the end nothing was easy. Ms. Evans closing was originally scheduled for the week before, but a last second problem with another grant forced it to be pushed back. But after so much work and so many years of waiting, Ms. Evans was unflappable.

“To be honest, I think it bothered me more than her,” said her realtor, Bill Jackson, with a chuckle. For Ms. Evans, the end was in sight. And now, after all the work and waiting, the unit she rented more than a decade ago is finally her own.

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Impassioned Speakers, Energized Crowd Get Commitment for #MoreHousingNow

On Saturday morning, people began showing up at United Foundry Methodist on 16th St NW well before the appointed time. After months of preparation the big day had arrived, and hundreds of participants wanted to make sure they got a good seat.

CNHED’s yearly Housing for All Rally—this year tagged “More for Housing Now”—was another great success in a campaign of successes. Since its birth in 2010, the Housing for All Campaign has fought for and won millions and millions in increased funding for DC affordable housing. The Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP), the Local Rent Supplement Program, Targeted Supportive Housing, and, of course, the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) have all been boosted by the campaign. The yearly rally has become such an event that it now regularly draws Mayor Bowser and councilmembers.

But on Saturday, there was no sense that the campaign was resting on its laurels. A series of speakers from all walks of life wanted to make it clear to the city officials in attendance that there was much more work to be done. Their number one priority was clear: increasing the HPTF from $100 million to a minimum of $125 million.

Without this renewed commitment, many said they feared their neighbors, families, or even they themselves could be forced out of the city they call home.

Perhaps no one made this point more forcefully than David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners. With a fiery speech that ranged from prop comedy to powerful and emotional demands, Bowers brought the crowd to its feet countless times as he described the struggle of working families in DC.

Bowers riled up the crowd by noting that if the Council’s $8 billion budget is represented by $8, only 20 cents of that (“two dimes!”) goes to affordable housing.

He brought his time to a thundering conclusion by comparing the plight of DC families in search of housing to that of a man caught in the rain. “We’re out here every day getting rained on!” he boomed to the roaring crowd, emphasizing his point by emptying a water bottle over his head. To the Council, he said, “we ask for an umbrella. ‘Please, can I have an umbrella?’” Bowers mimed being turned away and dumped more water on his head. “But we keep getting rained on!”

Another speaker to bring down the house was Jeanette Bright, a member of MANNA’s Homebuyers Club. Although initially nervous, she found her groove and captivated the audience with the story of her mother’s struggle to support five daughters. After years of working multiple jobs, Bright’s mother was finally able to buy a home for her family. And now, Bright is closing in on the same goal—thanks to HPAP, she’ll soon be able to buy a house of her own.

Jeanette Bright

MANNA Homebuyers Club member Jeanette Bright

At times overcome by emotion, she ended her speech with a tribute to her mother. Homeownership, Bright said, has been her dream for years, just like it was her mother’s before her. But she said the city must do more. “Homeownership,” concluded Bright, “must not be a dream, but a reality.”

DC lawmakers also feature prominently in the event, with At-Large Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Elissa Silverman taking turns at the podium before Mayor Bowser.

Councilmember Bonds spoke passionately about the need that exists in DC and said that she, as Chair of the Council’s housing committee, is ready to take bold steps. “You’ve asked for at least $125 million for the trust fund,” called Councilmember Bonds. “Well, I’d like to see $200 million!”

“Although,” she concluded with a chuckle, “I’m not sure all of my colleagues are there yet.”

Councilmember Silverman, also on the housing committee, spoke about the human element that is sometimes lost in budget discussions. “What you’re doing today,” said the councilmember, “is taking letters and acronyms and putting faces to them.”

Mayor Bowser, almost the last speaker of the day, let the crowd know she had heard their request. She recounted the growth that the HPTF has seen under her leadership, then turned to the present. “You want me to expand it again?” she asked to cheers.

Like others, the mayor emphasized the importance of people staying engaged in the fight for affordable housing. “We have the resources we need for affordable housing,” she told the crowd. “Now, we need the will to execute it!”

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Brookland Manor Residents Fight to Keep Their Homes–and Families–Intact

In a city starved for housing, 1200 additional units sounds like a blessing. That’s the net gain from Bethesda-based developer Mid-City Financial Corp’s proposal to redevelop Brookland Manor, a 535-unit complex near the Rhode Island Metro. But a closer look reveals that Mid-City’s designs have no room for current neighborhood residents.

The Plan

Mid-City’s grand vision for the site of Brookland Manor is, well, grand. With over 1700 rental units and 180,000 square feet of retail space, the project has the potential to be a boon to the area’s housing and economic markets.

brookland manor redevelopment

Artist’s rendering of the redevelopment plan

The problem comes, however, when these 1700 units are compared to what’s currently there.

A quarter of Brookland Manor’s units have 4 or 5 bedrooms, a rare and important feature for families living in multi-generational situations. OneDC, a local organizing group who has been working with Brookland Manor tenants, says that often the ability to add an aunt, cousin, or grandparent to the household is the only thing that keeps them from ending up in homeless shelters.

The redevelopment, however, would offer no 4 or 5 bedroom units and would reduce the number of 3 bedroom options. Units with more than 3 bedrooms, according to Mid-City, “are not consistent with the creation of a vibrant new community.” That kind of language has led residents to file a lawsuit claiming discrimination based on family size.

Affordability Concerns

At a teach-in on Brookland Manor Monday night in Northwest, OneDC tenant advocates asserted that the plan will also reduce affordability in the neighborhood. Currently 373 of the units have rent ceilings under the federal Section 8 housing program. Mid-City regularly touts the fact that they will keep this contract under the redevelopment.

However, most of these new affordable units will be designated as “senior units” with the aforementioned reductions in bedrooms. Tenant advocates say this will force elderly residents living with children and grandchildren to choose between sending their families away or joining them in their exodus.

Beyond the Section 8 units, most of the rest of Brookland Manor’s residents are renting affordably thanks to DC’s rent voucher program. According to the Washington Post, Mid-City has “pledged to try” to keep these renters on in the redevelopment.

On Monday night, advocates expressed heavy skepticism about this proposal. Because properties must meet the area’s “fair market rate” to be eligible for the voucher program, Mid-City’s new luxurious units would almost certainly be too expensive to qualify.

That would mean at least a hundred households looking for a new place to live.

Moving Residents Out of “Good Standing”

Even the only residents who could theoretically make it through the redevelopment unscathed—small families currently living in Section 8 units—feel that their situation is tenuous.

Mid-City’s promises about avoiding displacement have always included an important caveat: that it applies to residents “in good standing.” And as a recent Washington Post article pointed out, Mid-City has mounted a concerted effort to make sure that definition applies to as few residents as possible.

brookland

From @LeeyahNotLayah on Twitter

The Post article details how many tenants at Brookland Manor have faced eviction notices for late payments as small as $25. While the vast majority of those attempted evictions have been successfully avoided, it seems that Mid-City may be building a case that these residents are not “in good standing.”

OneDC advocates also noted that the management has started issuing notices of infraction to residents for offenses as benign as sitting on their front stoop or allowing their children to play on the lawn. The effect, they say, is that almost every household now has a record of violation—enough to argue that they do not meet the “good standing” requirement.

Thursday Rally

The next step in the redevelopment process is a zoning commission meeting on Thursday, February 23. OneDC is asking District residents to come out for a rally that evening at 5:00 to pressure the commission to keep residents’ interests in mind.

Ultimately they want Mid-City to preserve all 535 existing units as affordable, commit to keeping on all current residents, and maintain the present number of 4 and 5 bedroom units. To help them do so, OneDC has offered to work with them through the process of securing Housing Production Trust Fund money from the city.

So far, however, Mid-City has expressed no interest in such a proposal.

Join us at 5:00 this Thursday, Feb 23, as we rally in support of Brookland Manor tenants at the DC Zoning Commission. 441 4th St NW, Washington, DC

More details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1389018421132061/

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Automatic Tax Cuts: DC’s Leaky Bucket

An ongoing affordable housing crisis. A metro system in grave disrepair. An uncertain future of federal funding for Medicaid and other services. These problems and more face DC as the city looks to craft its budget for the coming year. However, since 2014 the city has given back $100 million dollars in tax cuts, built up $2 billion in savings for its reserve, and has plans to give back almost $130 million more before the decade is over.

In 2014, the City Council changed tax policy to give away increases in revenue as tax cuts. Whenever the District government reached a new level of income, a new round of tax cuts would automatically take place.

Some of those tax cuts made sense. For instance, a new bracket was created at a lower rate for individuals earning $40-60,000, helping middle-income families. The standard deduction that everyone can take has been raised and stands to increase even more.

Some of the cuts, however, clearly benefit only a select few. Those earning between $350,000 and $1 million a year saw their rates cut. And the new tax code goes further in making sure that this inequality persists from generation to generation, raising the threshold for higher estate taxes from $1 million to $2 million to, in the future, over $5 million.

The biggest issue with this model of tax cuts is that they are inflexible to current needs. Revenue goes out the door, right or wrong, before Washingtonians have a chance to weigh in on how they think it should be used. Our elected officials are shooting themselves in the foot by making it unnecessarily harder to deal with the affordable housing crisis, metro’s challenges, and more.

A similar problem is happening with DC’s budget surpluses. Although final numbers aren’t out yet, as of last estimate the District is looking at a $220 million budget surplus from the last fiscal year. However, this money also can’t go to any of the above concerns—it’s legally mandated to go into DC’s savings. That law has led the city to a record-breaking $2 billion bank account.

In many ways, it’s a good problem to have. Disputes over how to spend surpluses are what accountants dream of.

But in a city where families are being priced out of their homes, trains are smoking on the tracks, and a volatile federal government threatens safety net spending, reserve requirements should be revisited. And automatic tax cuts shouldn’t be slipping out the door.

The Housing Advocacy Team: “Bigger and Better Each Year”

Several weeks ago in the sweltering July heat, a group of people with a common interest in affordable housing gathered at MANNA’s headquarters in Northeast DC. They shared a couple pizzas, celebrated their recent First Annual Homeownership Town Hall, and talked about the issues facing their city: housing prices, evictions, racism.

It was a low-key event, lacking the fine dining and press coverage of many District political meetings. Mayor Bowser’s recent pitch to Republican leaders in Cleveland, for instance, featured salmon with a side of national media attention.

But given the group’s record, the press might have been wise to also snag a slice in Northeast.

That group is the Housing Advocacy Team, or HAT, a collection of individuals who are passionate about making DC homes affordable. Many of them became connected with HAT through MANNA’s homebuyer program. Others turned to HAT for help in tricky situations and then decided to stick around.

Together, the group has helped support some of the biggest wins DC has seen in affordable housing.

Through their work with the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), the yearly Housing for All rally has grown from just dozens of participants at its inception to over 1,000 people this year.

The Housing for All Campaign’s success is reflected in the $100 million directed to the Housing Protection Trust Fund in both 2015 and 2016. That money will expand the impact of the Trust Fund, which has supplied funding for projects that currently house over 18,000 District residents.

HAT and the Housing for All Campaign saw another win this spring, as their push led to the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) receiving a massive funding increase. HPAP, DC’s first time homebuyer loan program, got a bump of $6 million—a more than 60% raise. The money will go to interest-free loans as high as $80K for first time homebuyers.

But the Team has no interest in resting on its laurels. HAT will be meeting soon to decide on priorities for the next year’s advocacy cycle, and there will be an event in the second week of September for people unfamiliar with HAT to learn more and become involved.

“I hope [HAT] is around forever,” says Victoria Palacio, a HAT member. “Well, as long as it’s needed. If HAT can continue to address the problem to where there’s no longer an affordable housing issue in DC, that would be great. But as long as there is a need… [we’ll] continue to have events that are bigger and better each year.”

Although there are still no plans for salmon at the meetings, reporters would do well to mark those words. HAT hasn’t been in the business of empty promises.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about affordable housing and the political process in DC, follow @hatdc on twitter and the Housing Advocacy Team on facebook. And look for specifics on the event in September!

New Accountability Tool – Consumer Complaint Database

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Do you feel powerless to resolve a debt payment issue, a credit report mistake, or a mortgage servicing issue? Does the financial company promise to resolve the problem, you make repeated calls over several months, and the problem does not get resolved?

Fortunately, you now have one more accountability tool in your toolbox. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was required by Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 to handle and help resolve consumer complaints. The CFPB also did a smart thing: it publishes the complaint data on the internet. Of course, financial companies hate this and complain, but my bet is that the publicly available data has reduced the number of problems and helps resolve complaints faster than they were fixed before. If you feel you need help on an unresolved issue, you can go to http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaintdatabase/ to file a complaint and also to view other complaints about mortgages, bank accounts, debt collections, student debt, and more.

The CFPB has started issuing monthly reports that will help consumers and counselors understand trends and pinpoint emerging issues. Since 2012, the CFPB has received 650,700 complaints. For June of 2015, the CFPB reports that the top three products/services in terms of complaints in descending order was debt collection, mortgages, and credit reporting.

The database can be sorted by state, issue, company, and resolution status. When looking at Washington DC, complaint volumes increased 10 percent from April through June compared to a year ago (http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201507_cfpb_monthly-complaint-report-vol-1.pdf).  Complaints in DC now run about 577 complaints per 100,000 people which is a higher rate per capita than all the other states! Maryland also has a high per capita rate of 333 per 100,000.

A new feature of the complaints database is consumer complaint narratives. The individual consumer is not identified in order to protect privacy, but the narrative appears (if the consumer wants the narrative displayed). Looking at a couple of narratives reported from consumers in Washington DC shows typical complaints. In one case, a debt collection company kept contacting a consumer about debt his brother owed. In another case, a credit reporting company kept records of medical debt owed even though the consumer reports that the insurance company paid the bill.

It is hard to judge a company’s performance definitively on this database without some additional analysis. The companies that show up frequently are large companies, which by their unwieldy nature, will have some staff or divisions that do not do a good job. An analyst needs to “normalize” the data or figure out complaints per loans or complaints per assets or some other measure like this. The CFPB is currently taking comments on how to “normalize” the data. While consumers should certainly use this database to hold companies accountable, they should also be careful in labeling a company bad until additional analysis is conducted. The CFPB itself scours the database to help companies identify issues or bad offices and in some cases to pursue legal enforcement if misbehavior is due to a systematic pattern or practice.

Overall, the CFPB complaints database is a powerful accountability tool for consumers and counselors. Use it!

 

Josh Silver is the Development Manager at Manna, Inc. Prior to his time at Manna, Josh served as Vice President of Research & Policy at NCRC. Josh is an avid District sports fan and loves spending time with his daughter.