Category Archives: Advocacy Days

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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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Sign the Petition: Schedule a hearing for the HPTF Guarantee Funding Act!

The Housing Production Trust Fund is DC’s best tool for building and preserving affordable housing–it has made and saved homes for thousands of Washingtonians. Mayor Bowser and the Council have done historic work by funding the HPTF at $100 million each year since the Mayor took office.

Sign the petition here!

But each year the trust fund is subject to political fights in the budget process. We can’t count on always having a Council and a Mayor this committed to affordable housing. That’s why we need to make funding the HPTF an automatic part of the DC budget. What’s more, DC’s affordable housing crisis is still getting worse, and President Trump’s disastrous leadership is threatening affordable housing dollars across the country.

Councilmember Anita Bonds (At-Large) has introduced a bill to guarantee funding for the trust fund at $120 million each year. Getting this bill passed would be the biggest win for affordable housing in years! Read the petition below, and add your voice urging Councilmember Bonds and Chairman Phil Mendelson to schedule a hearing for this important legislation!

 

Cement the District’s commitment to affordable housing: Guarantee the HPTF

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It is time to cement the legacy of the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF). The housing crisis in DC has been well documented, and the issue is not going away anytime soon. The HPTF is the most powerful tool that the District has to address this crisis. It is time for the District to solidify funding for the HPTF so that we can move forward. Let us all encourage the passing of the Housing Production Trust Fund Guarantee Funding Amendment Act of 2017!

Right now, the HPTF gets most of its money from yearly budget allocations. For the past four years, the Mayor and the Council have gotten together on putting $100 million in the fund.

This investment is historic. However, it’s vulnerable to changing political will–the $100 million needs to be re-debated each and every year. What’s more, it still doesn’t meet the need that exists in DC!

That’s why this bill, introduced by Councilmember Anita Bonds (At-Large), would guarantee the HPTF’s budget at $120 million each year.

Note: People in need of equitable assistance are not to be likened to toddlers

Note: People in need of equitable assistance are not to be likened to toddlers

QUICK FACTS:

Did you know that the HPTF has been in existence since 1988? It didn’t receive significant investment until sixteen years after, in 2004 ($50 million), and didn’t have a fund balance of more than $100 million until 2013/14.

Did you know that $100 million is enough to build or preserve approximately 1,000 units?

Did you know the shortage of affordable units is in the tens of thousands? In December of last year, DC Fiscal Policy Institute reported that “26,000 extremely low-income DC households spend more than half their income on rent,” and that “only 2,100 received new help over the past six years.”

Did you know that in DC, people of color were doing economically worse in 2016 (most recent census data) than the year prior?

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While there are criticisms of the HPTF, and whether it addresses those most in need, most critics and advocates agree that the fund is necessary and that it can be strengthened. Stabilizing the revenue source and guaranteeing its future can shift the focus towards managing it more effectively as we diversify our efforts.

There will be a public hearing on two bills related to the HPTF on Thursday, October 19th at 11:00 AM in the Wilson building, room 500. You can testify as an individual or as an organization, and if you cannot be there then you can send in written testimony to the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 112, Washington, D.C. 20004. The record will close at 5:00 p.m. on November 2, 2017

We’ll be at the hearing, and we hope you will too!

#GuaranteeHPTF

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Supportive Housing Could Be First to Go if Medicaid Cuts Pass

Even with a series of recent defections, Republicans are still working to roll back Obamacare. Various versions of their bill have all had a couple things in common—tens of millions would be made uninsured and Medicaid would be slashed dramatically.

Between trying to figure out how many people would die, how many people would lose insurance, and just how much money billionaires would save, there are a lot of pieces of this bill worth investigating. In the turmoil, however, one important component has often been overlooked: housing.

With the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, millions of people across the country gained access to healthcare for the first time. Included in that number (but often forgotten) were many who gained housing or housing stability with the expansion.

Programs like Los Angeles’ Housing for Health program use Medicaid dollars to offer mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment alongside the housing it provides to formerly homeless residents. The two parts work together—patients often can’t keep up with counseling sessions or rehab without the stability of a home, and those who receive housing without supportive services too frequently end up back on the streets.

Supportive housing, which includes a variety of social services that people may need to live outside of an institution, became available to thousands more Americans with Medicaid expansion. These programs offer help to people with disabilities, mental illness, substance abuse issues, and those recovering from homelessness.

Under the Republican plan, however, Medicaid would be rolled back—and not just to pre-Obamacare levels. GOP leadership has pushed to end Medicaid as an entitlement, meaning that states would no longer receive funding based on residents’ needs. Instead, states would get a set amount of money for each resident on Medicaid. It would then be up to the states to decide what to do with that money.

The proposed amount per person is far less than what is needed, and it wouldn’t grow with rising costs. That would create a scenario in which state governments are forced to make more and more painful cuts each year, continually shrinking the number of services they provide to their most vulnerable residents.

And experts have predicted that supportive housing could be among the first services to go.

Disability activists and others have been relentless in organizing opposition to the bill, with actions happening almost every day at the Capitol. On Monday alone, 33 people were arrested in Senate buildings and offices while peacefully sitting in to demand that Republican senators kill the bill–not an atypical day.

Because of these efforts, both the initial Republican bill and a follow-up attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement have  failed. Yet activists warn against complacency. As unpopular as the draconian cuts are with the general public, they have broad support among Republican legislators and continued action will likely be necessary to prevent the bill’s revival.

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July 26 DC Rally Against HUD Cuts Part of Week of Action

On Wednesday, July 26, at 11am DC residents will rally at the Capitol with Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

It’s part of an effort to stop draconian cuts that the Trump Administration has proposed for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Activists are organizing a National Week of Action under the banner “Our Homes, Our Voices,” and thousands across the country are expected to come out for a series of rallies, teach-ins, HUD site visits, and Congressional meetings.

The Trump Administration has proposed $6 billion in cuts for HUD, which would have devastating and wide-ranging effects. Hundreds of thousands of low-income families would lose their rent vouchers and potentially their homes. Public housing, already in a desperate state of disrepair, would further deteriorate, putting children and families across the country in danger.

In DC, funding for the Home Purchase Assistance Program, the District’s impactful first-time homebuyer assistance, is under threat. 80 percent of HPAP money comes from Community Development Block Grants—a program with bipartisan support that the Trump Administration has proposed eliminating entirely.

Action to oppose these cuts will be crucial, as Congress has so far shown that public involvement (or lack thereof) is the determining factor in its willingness to stand up to the Trump Administration.

You can see the full list of local events here! Be sure to let your enfranchised friends know that they need to call their representatives.

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HAT, Partners Work Against Racial Wealth Gap with Town Hall; Trump Administration Exacerbates It

One-sixteenth.

That’s the average wealth of a black family compared to a white family in America. It’s the result of centuries of racist policy in education, employment, and especially homeownership.

MANNA’s Housing Advocacy Team has long had an explicit focus on closing the racial wealth gap in our communities, and along with our partners at the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development and the Latino Economic Development Center, this past Saturday we hosted a Homeownership Town Hall aimed at connecting low-income families, especially families of color, to homeownership opportunities.

HAT and our partners are proud of the work we do, and we can see the impact that it has in DC. At the same time, however, we realize that there needs to be national progress in order to achieve justice in our country. The Trump Administration, on the other hand, is looking for a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top; one that’s sure to widen America’s racial wealth divide.

The Town Hall

Close to 200 people came on Saturday for a series of workshops, vendor tables, and presenters covering every step of the affordable homebuying and ownership process. Participants learned about how to improve their credit scores, how to connect with organizations like MANNA that can help them find a home, and the wide variety of city programs that can help make affordable homeownership possible.

Current homeowners were able to learn about city property tax laws and legal estate planning, helping to ensure that their homes will be passed on to their children.

MANNA’s Director of Homebuyer Education, TC Caviness, started off the strong lineup of speakers by articulating the extent to which a gap in homeownership holds back wealth building for black families. Even other areas that are typically thought of as wealth builders, like education level, pale in comparison to the impact that homeownership has.

Despite having worked around housing for years, said TC, “I was shocked when I saw these charts.”

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A college education, while important for many, many reasons beyond money, does almost nothing to close the racial wealth gap, explained TC. Homeownership, on the other hand, shrinks that gap by more than a third.

Polly Donaldson, Director of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, and Councilmember Anita Bonds, Chair of the Council’s housing committee, both spoke about the importance of affordable homeownership for building a city where all residents can thrive.

Councilmember Bonds, reflecting on the positive impact of recent increases to DC’s Home Purchase Assistance Program for first time low- and moderate-income homebuyers, told the crowd, “Next year, I want to increase it again!”

Trump Administration’s Reverse Robin Hood

That was in stark contrast to the ideas that are coming out of the White House. The Trump Administration has released a series of tax cuts for the wealthy that would collectively cost around $6.2 trillion over the next decade.

To pay for them, the President has introduced a budget plan that would drastically cut many programs targeting poor families, among which families of color are disproportionately represented.

Here are a few of his proposed tax and budget cuts, juxtaposed for context.

  • $192 billion cut to food stamps pays for $174 billion giveaway by abolishing the Estate Tax
  • $143 billion in cuts to student loans helps pay for $158 billion lost by repealing a tax on the unearned income of the wealthy (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.)
  • $40 billion in cuts to EITC and the child tax credit vs. $400 billion lost by abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT is often the only tax paid by billionaires)

(from Americans for Tax Fairness)

While HAT and others are prepared to continue our push for fair funding in the District, we need help from our national partners and from people all around the country to stop the Trump Administration’s disastrous and immoral plan to take from the poor and give to the rich. We know that the impact of this theft will disproportionately fall on communities of color, causing the racial wealth gap to grow wider and wider.

Looking at our country’s history, it’s certainly not unprecedented. But as MANNA’s work in DC has proven, it’s not inevitable, either.

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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!”

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!

Ensuring Affordable Housing, Ending Chronic Homelessness, & Building a DC where all Residents Thrive

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The Washington region is home to some of the wealthiest counties in the country; however, there are many households that are struggling to get by on minimum- or lower-wage jobs.  Despite these income disparities, Washington, DC is a city with one of the highest costs of living, which makes finding quality, affordable housing difficult for many residents. Thanks to passionate residents, housing advocates, and elected officials, housing issues are in the spotlight, and some of our housing concerns are currently being addressed.

Homelessness can stem from various causes, such as “insufficient income, the loss of a job or health insurance, rising rents, physical and mental disabilities, and domestic violence.” People become especially vulnerable to these conditions when there is a lack of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing options. For most people, homelessness only lasts for a few months or less, however, there is a small percentage of the homeless population that experience homelessness for years.

It is important that we advocate to ensure affordable housing, to end chronic homelessness, and to build a DC where all residents thrive. However, under current conditions, as long as working people are unable to find affordable places to live, homelessness will continue to be an issue, and this shouldn’t be the case.  According to the Urban Institute, “increasing the supply of affordable rental units and permanent supportive housing would reduce homelessness in the region”. Correspondingly, these are the types of housing supports that we have been continuously fighting for in the District. Last year, housing advocates fought for $100 million dollars to be put into the Housing Production Trust Fund, and this was one of the issues that we rallied behind at last year’s Housing for All Rally. The mayor listened, and that amount was allotted into the fund.  As a result of those efforts, last month, the mayor announced that she will be using nearly $82.2 million dollars from the Trust Fund to take on 12 affordable housing projects. The plan is to preserve 466 units of affordable housing, while producing 338 new units. This development will take place in most of the wards, and they will house approximately 1,760 DC residents.

Strides are also being made towards ending chronic homelessness. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Mayor announced her plan to close DC General, and replace it with eight new family shelters that are to be developed by 2018. The goal of these shelters is to be clean and safe neighborhood-based facilities that have accommodations for children. Furthermore, these shelters are expected to help improve the lives of those living there by providing residents with resources such as housing assistance, and job placement to help them overcome homelessness.

Neither the aforementioned 12 affordable housing developments nor the eight new homeless shelters will be enough to end homelessness or DC’s affordable housing crisis. However, they are signs that our voices are being heard, and they will make a difference in the lives of thousands of DC’s residents. However, we have to continuously advocate for a full continuum of housing, from supportive housing up to homeownership. It is important that we all come out to this year’s housing rally on March 5 so the Mayor can see that housing is still important to us, and that it is necessary in order to build a DC where all residents thrive.