Category Archives: Housing Issues

Issues which impact affordable housing either locally (Washington DC) or nationally.

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What’s needed to afford housing in DC? $33 an hour

At the current minimum wage of $12.50/hr, Washingtonians need to work 107 hours each week to afford a two-bedroom apartment. That’s according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, entitled Out of Reach: The High Cost of Housing.

The report shines a spotlight on the increasing impossibility of affording rental housing in the US, coming during a period where the portion of the population that is renting continues to rise.

It’s a crisis that is truly national in nature: not a single state has an average one-bedroom rent that is affordable to someone working 40 hours a week at minimum wage. (Affordability is defined as requiring only 30 percent or less of a household’s income.)

In the District’s overheated housing market, the situation is particularly dire. As the numbers for a two-bedroom apartment indicate, families have little hope of finding housing while working for the minimum wage. Single people, however, fair little better. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,513—more than double what someone earning minimum wage can afford.

And it’s not just those earning low wages that are affected. The average full-time wage paid to a renter in DC still leaves that worker $100 short for rent each month.

Talk of more subsidy for affordable housing is often met with immediate resistance. There’s a sense that the people who need affordable housing aren’t our neighbors, friends, and families—and certainly not ourselves. Rather, they’re some vague unknown other who probably isn’t working as hard as they should be.

Add in the fact that activists are currently fighting simply to preserve what funding there is for low- and moderate-income families, and it can be a complete nonstarter. Besides, our country already spends billions on affordable housing, and it doesn’t seem to be working, right?

As Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) notes in his introduction for the report, a full three-quarters of the $200 billion the federal government spends on housing each year goes to wealthy families through the mortgage interest deduction and other tax incentives.

That’s $150 billion in assistance for households who don’t need it. It’s time to take a hard look at our discourse around housing subsidy and redefine the makers, the takers, and the deserving. Otherwise, housing will continue to be out of reach for an ever-growing number of Americans.

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Why the Housing Production Trust Fund Needs $125M+

Late Breaking: Councilmember Bonds introduces a bill to require trust fund receives at least $120M per year.

Mayor Bowser’s budget dropped yesterday, and for DC affordable housing advocates, one number popped out immediately. The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF), DC’s biggest source of funding for affordable housing in the city, is set to stagnate at $100 million.

That would be problematic in a normal year, but 2017 (in so many ways) is not normal. Uncertainty at the federal level has caused the bottom to fall out for many affordable housing projects. The trust fund increase is needed now more than ever.

What the Trust Fund Does

MANNA and HAT, along with our coalition partners at CNHED, have been pushing for at least $125 million for the fund. As of 2015, the HPTF had produced or preserved over 8500 units of affordable housing in a city drowning in an affordability crisis. HPTF money is often the only thing that keeps lifelong Washingtonian families from being pushed out of their city.

That alone would be enough reason to justify an increase, but it’s no longer clear that $125 million in the coming year would have a bigger impact than $100 million for this past year. Outside forces are threatening even more pain for DC’s affordable housing scene. In fact, the 25 percent increase may be needed just to keep many projects on track.

LIHTC Explained

The problem DC faces (and communities across the country) is the falling value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC. LIHTC gives real estate developers a tax credit for building affordable units. Developers can then sell that credit to investors to raise the money they need for an affordable housing project. The program has been wildly successful—over the past three decades, it’s helped fund almost 2.5 million affordable units across the country.

Initially enacted under President Reagan, LIHTC enjoys strong bipartisan support. It’s especially popular because of the way it amplifies the power of federal dollars: when it’s healthy, it can gain millions more in investment than what the government gives up in lost taxes.

But President Trump’s promise to drop corporate taxes from 35 percent to 15 percent have put LIHTC’s value in free fall. Investors aren’t sure what their tax burden will be next year, so they aren’t buying as many tax credits.

To put it another way, because investors think their taxes are likely to go down in the future, they don’t want to spend money lowering their taxes now. That money they aren’t spending would normally go to affordable housing projects.

These investors are like the parents who don’t want to buy any candy until the day after Halloween, and it’s causing problems for everyone.

What DC (and You) Can Do

Ultimately LIHTC problems will need to be solved at the federal level. (There’s currently a bipartisan bill that would increase LITHC’s value by 50 percent over the next five years.) But in the meantime, DC needs to plug the hole to keep affordable housing projects from stagnating. That’s why it’s so crucial that Mayor Bowser and the Council move to increase the HPTF’s allotment to at least $125 million.

As a resident of the Great American Colony, you may not have a federal representative to call, but you do have thirteen councilmembers and a mayor who are just waiting to hear from you. As this post was being written, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds introduced a bill that would guarantee at least $120 million to the trust fund each year. Call your representatives offices and tell them that you support Councilmember Bonds’ bill and at least $125 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund this year!

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How to Keep DC From Becoming the Next San Francisco

Washington, DC and San Francisco have some striking similarities. Both are mid-sized cities with institutions (government and the tech industry) that pack a punch above their population size. Both are somewhat restrained in terms of expansion, with DC’s small, set borders, and San Francisco’s watery boundaries. And above all, both have seen extreme gentrification in recent years, with the cities growing rapidly and becoming wealthier and whiter as time goes on.

But San Francisco is undoubtedly further along in this vicious process: while DC’s average monthly rent of $1,400 for a single person is the fourth highest in the US, San Francisco’s is the highest in the world at an impressively awful $2,000+.

That allows DC residents to look to San Francisco for some lessons—or, if we’re not careful, to behold our future.

Based on these insights, we’ve got some recommendations for the city council… and for you, the reader. Read on.

What will the future hold for DC if it follows the Frisco model?

  • All housing development, including affordable housing, will be stymied as fear over housing shortages and NIBMY-ism drives irrational opposition. In the Bay Area, this has resulted in severe housing shortages at every level, not just for low-income families. Unlike San Francisco, DC is currently in no danger of a total housing shutdown. The recent explosion of luxury units and high-end condos contributed to overall supply actually outpacing demand in the District’s housing market last year. Of course, affordable housing is nowhere near keeping up.
  • Homeownership will drop even further and DC, like San Francisco, will become truly a renters’ city. Ownership rates in San Francisco have been on a multi-decade slide, with only a third of residents now owning their own homes. DC isn’t much better at a 40 percent homeownership rate.
  • In part because of rock bottom homeownership rates, displacement will move from a low-income issue to a middle class issue. Only the truly wealthy will be able to afford the city proper. That’s already the case in San Francisco, where things have gotten so bad that even good-paying professional jobs are starting to move out because the companies’ employees can’t afford the city.

“Yikes!” you say. “That’s pretty grim. What can we do to avoid all this?” Well, I’m glad you asked!

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One of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars

DC doesn’t have to go down this path—there’s still time to change. Here are some simple steps we can take to make sure the District remains home for everyone.

  • Affordable Housing: It needs to be funded and constructed like never before. That’s why we’re asking the city council to commit at least $125 million to the Housing Production Trust Fund for the coming year. And honestly, that number might not be big enough. Because of problems in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit market, a primary funding tool for many affordable housing projects across the country, $125 million is probably the new $100 million. If the council really wants to take a step forward rather than just holding even, we’ll need even more commitment.
  • Homeownership: Increasing homeownership needs to be a top priority, both because of the wealth it builds and the protection it offers against sky-rocketing rents. We’re calling on the council to keep funding the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) at $16 million, the level it was increased to last year. HPAP provides crucial down payment assistance and secondary mortgage loans to first time homebuyers in DC. That builds wealth, moves people into the middle class, and keeps long-time residents in our city.
  • An ever-broader movement: More middle-income Washingtonians need to realize that affordable housing is their issue, too. NIMBY-ism and indifference might work in the short term, but sooner or later it will catch up. We need to build a broad coalition of DC residents, new and old, of all wealth levels and racial backgrounds. (The rich benefit from affordable housing, too, by the way. Unless wealthy urbanites want to start entering the service industry en masse, it’s in their best interest to keep around the people who make cities run.)

If DC is to avoid the fate of its West Coast sister city, we need to move on funding and organizing now. Tell your councilmembers to boost the Trust Fund. Get their commitment that they’ll keep supporting HPAP. And join a local organization that’s fighting for affordable housing. Hey, we’ve got a suggestion right here.

If you would like more information about joining the Housing Advocacy Team, email Jonathan Nisly at jnisly@mannadc.org!

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As Trump Moves in, 40,000 Locked Out

Hours after President Trump moved into his new home on Friday, he was busy blocking an Obama administration initiative that could have helped 40,000 low- and moderate-income households move into theirs. It was a move that united affordable housing advocates, realtors, and mortgage brokers in opposition.

It’s an issue that can be tricky to understand, but it has broad implications for affordable homeownership across the country. Stick with us as we break it down:

  • The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, issues loans to homebuyers who probably couldn’t otherwise afford to own their own home. They target first time homebuyers and buyers with lower credit scores. The FHA requires a 3.5% downpayment as opposed to the 20% often required for conventional loans.
  • It has wide reach—One in six single-family homebuyers in the second half of 2016 used FHA loans.
  • These homebuyers are required to purchase mortgage insurance from the FHA to make sure the agency doesn’t go under in case of default.
  • In December the Obama administration announced that premiums for this insurance would be cut by a quarter of a percentage point. That would mean a savings of about $500 per year for the average FHA homebuyer, and several times that amount for FHA buyers in the pricey DC housing market.
  • On Friday the Trump administration announced it was putting an indefinite suspension on that rate cut, leading many to believe that the administration intends to make it quietly disappear.

With us so far?

Republicans argue that the premium cut is irresponsible coming less than a decade after the FHA needed to be bailed out in the wake of the housing crisis.

But the data tell a different story. The FHA’s cash reserve in case of defaults (what’s known as the capital reserve ratio) has been exceeding requirements for two years in a row, and the Obama administration had wanted to pass those savings on to the borrowers.

What’s more, the cut could have a big impact for such a small price tag. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that mortgage refinancing applications were up 7 percent in December after the news was announced. A half-percent premium cut two years ago caused a big increase in refinancing and new mortgage applications.

And because so many potential homebuyers are right on the bubble, the National Association of Realtors estimated that up to 40,000 more households could have qualified for FHA loans with the rate cut. Some 800,000 would have seen savings. What happens to those households now is in limbo.

As interest rates rise and homeownership languishes at a 50-year low, government at all levels will need to work diligently to make sure the American dream of homeownership remains accessible to everyone. On Friday, however, the Trump administration seemed content with just making sure that the President got the keys to his newest property.

Investment Without Displacement: The Challenge East of the Anacostia

In the raging tempest that is DC’s housing market, the areas east of the Anacostia River offer a final bastion of affordability. But with prices starting to rise in this area too, more needs to be done to make sure longtime residents can stay.

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Wards 7 and 8 have increasingly become a world apart from the rest of the city. While DC as a whole has seen a huge influx of wealth and young, largely white, professionals, east of the river poverty and unemployment rates remain stubbornly high. Education levels languish, and segregation is more pronounced here than anywhere else in the District.

The silver lining for residents is that average home prices in these wards are hundreds of thousands less than on the river’s western bank, leaving a swath of affordability that is about 95% black households. Data suggest that the area has become a last source of refuge for many black families priced out of their longtime homes in other parts of the city.

But with a housing market so far out of control, nowhere in DC is safe for long. Neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8 saw some of the city’s biggest yearly price increases in 2016, and many are already speculating that there’s more to come in 2017.

This is driven in large part by a huge slate of new developments planned for the area*. While this kind of investment is clearly needed, many residents have legitimate fears about what it will mean for their ability to stay.

One of these developments, the 11th St Bridge Park project, has taken significant steps to ensure that it won’t end up forcing out the people it’s trying to serve. The project is working with MANNA on the development of affordable townhouses near the park, as well as a homebuyer’s club to prepare residents for homeownership.

Also in partnership with the park, the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) has pledged $50 million for the area to support affordable housing and community development needs. LISC’s website shows the individual projects that money goes to fund: several neighborhood festivals, a local school, and numerous units of affordable housing make up the first tenth of the investment.

The 11th St Bridge Park offers a model that can serve as a launching pad for even more community-oriented projects in the future. Without this kind of commitment, the areas east of the river will soon become just another gentrified section of our overpriced city.

 

*Hyperlink specifically for Anacostia

New HUD Rule Empowers Communities to Dismantle Segregation

Many cities, states, and counties across the country are currently working on an old project in a new way. The federal government’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH), finalized a year ago, is changing the way local jurisdictions deal with racial and ethnic segregation.

Activists in the '60s demonstrating for the original Fair Housing Act

Activists in the ’60s demonstrating for the original Fair Housing Act

AFFH is a new directive by the Obama Administration on the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Fair Housing Act was passed in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, as anger and grief exploded into riots in many poor predominately black communities across the country.

The nation’s attention was drawn to the conditions that these communities had lived in for decades. Activists seized the opportunity, and political will for action, which until that point had proved elusive, was mustered.

Almost sixty years later, however, the data show that not much has changed. The Fair Housing Act has been described as “forgotten, neglected and unenforced.” The United States and its cities are still highly segregated, and with the racial wealth gap worsening in the past decade, market forces are clearly not raising all boats.

That’s why the Administration felt the new rule was in order. Local jurisdictions will now be required to publicly report on the state of segregation in their territory, as well as the availability of services such as schools, libraries, and hospitals.

They will then be required to make a plan to address the issues they find, and their progress will be tracked over time. Local governments that fail to meet requirements will be in danger of losing all funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including highly coveted transportation money.

The new process also offers huge opportunities for involvement from community groups, with public comments available at each step of the process and the involvement of affected groups a required part of the planning.

If community groups feel that their jurisdiction lacks the will to address segregation and related issues, AFFH even allows for them to submit their own report and goals, which the federal government can then require the local government to enact.

And HUD is giving everyone the tools to get the job done. The department recently released a new mapping tool, which allows everyone from city planners to casual observers to document the challenges their communities are facing.

The ease of use that this tool affords means that governments with good intentions can better do their job and, on the flip side, less-motivated jurisdictions can be called out by their citizenry.

Job proximity in DC 1 dot = 100 people. Green dots are African-Americans, while orange dots show whites. The darker the grey background, the more easily accessible jobs are in that census tract. This map, created by the author with the new HUD tool, shows that literally no experience is required to find issues for AFFH consideration.

Job proximity in DC
1 dot = 100 people. Green dots are African-Americans, while orange dots show whites. The darker the grey background, the more easily accessible jobs are in that census tract. This map, created by the author with the new HUD tool, shows that literally no experience is required to find issues for AFFH consideration.

For instance, the map above shows that African-Americans in DC on average have much farther to travel than whites to find jobs. That’s the kind of issue AFFH wants local governments to work on.

Readers who caught last week’s piece on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) may think they see an opportunity for some cross-pollination—and they would be right. Another great aspect of AFFH is that it allows local jurisdictions to use all tools available to them to combat the problems they find.

So in this case, where predominantly black Anacostia can be seen to be lacking in accessible jobs, DC government and community groups could use the CRA to get banks to extend more small business loans east of the river, thus increasing job availability. In this way, data and goals from the new AFFH can work together with existing laws to further multiple objectives.

If that’s a little bit too wonky for you, that’s okay. The important thing is that, like the CRA, AFFH offers community groups and local governments another tool to chip away at the segregation that has been present in this country since its founding.

And that’s good news.

This post relies heavily on information from a recent training by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Check out their website at ncrc.org and find an upcoming training near you!

Report: U.S. Faces “Unprecedented” Decline in Homeownership

A new report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies paints a bleak picture of homeownership in America. The report, titled The State of the Nation’s Housing, details the continuation of a homeownership decline it describes as “unprecedented in American history.”

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Since a peak of 69 percent in 2004, the proportion of American households that are homeowners has dropped more than 5 percent. With the slide spurred on by the 2008 housing crash and Great Recession, homeownership has never recovered—in 2015, less of the American population owned their own home than at any point in the last thirty years.

The report also notes that the homeownership gap between white and black households has widened since the recession. The economic dip overall had a disproportionate effect on minority households, with a large part of that impact coming from reduced home equity.

Racist lender practices exacerbated the issue. In 2000, the Treasury Department found that black households in wealthier neighborhoods were twice as likely to be issued expensive subprime loans as were white households in poorer neighborhoods.

Reasons for the Drop

This decline in homeownership is not due to any lack of interest in owning a home—the report notes that 78% of Americans still think owning a home is a “great investment.” Rather, it is a reflection of the barriers that potential homeowners face.

The first big problem facing many first-time homebuyers is one that their parents may not have dealt with, or at least not in the same way. As of 2013, student loan debt affected one out of every five American households. That’s up from around one in ten households in 2001.

The problem has not only spread, but deepened. Average student loan debt per indebted household has gone from $10,500 to $17,000 in that period, and over a third of borrowers owe more than $25,000. This has made it increasingly difficult for potential buyers in their twenties and thirties to save enough for a down payment.

A second problem is the number of homeowners being removed from the pool each year. Foreclosures and foreclosure-related sales have dropped from their eye-popping numbers a few years ago, but they remain significantly higher than in the early 2000s. 2015 saw over 55,000 foreclosures and related sales per month, versus less than 20,000 per month a decade ago.

The report attributes this to “overhang” from the recession and notes that the number does continue to trend downward, albeit at a frustratingly slow pace.

Finally, the report indicates that tightening credit score requirements are keeping a large number of low- and moderate-income Americans from receiving mortgages. That group’s share of total first-time mortgages dropped precipitously between 2010 and 2014, as credit requirements became more stringent at most major lenders.

This trend also disproportionately limits homeownership for minority households, who on average have lower credit scores than their white peers.

The one bright spot? The report notes that for households who were able to buy a home between 1999 and 2009 and then hold on to it through the recession, net wealth grew by over $85,000.

And District residents can feel better knowing that their government is taking steps to address two of these issues, with its work on down payment assistance as well as homebuyer counseling to help raise credit scores.

Primary winners Robert White, Trayon White, and Vincent Gray (from thekojonnamdishow.org and glaaforum.org)

Council Primary Winners Set Big Goals for Affordable Housing

Left to right: primary winners Robert White, Trayon White, and Vincent Gray (from thekojonnamdishow.org and glaaforum.org)

Washington, D.C. is set to see some new faces in politics come November, as two newcomers and a returnee beat incumbents in the City Council Democratic primaries last Tuesday. Although nothing will officially change until after the November general election, in liberal D.C. a nod in the Democratic primary is tantamount to victory.

So how will the shake-up affect affordable housing in the city?

In the Ward 7 race, the challenger certainly wasn’t an unknown quantity. Former Mayor Vincent Gray marked his return to city politics with a defeat of first-term Councilmember Yvette Alexander. Gray had been campaigning heavily on his record as mayor, citing his work to increase funding for affordable housing programs of all kinds.

“Overall, [under my administration] we invested $287 million in affordable housing and recommended that the city subsequently invest each year at least $100 million in affordable housing.”

The city has since surpassed that number, committing $100 million each year to the Housing Protection Trust Fund (HPTF) alone, plus increasing funding for the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP). Gray has promised to support the HPTF at current funding levels.

Gray also cites more technical concerns, pointing to his effort as mayor to reform D.C. zoning laws and allow for greater residential density. He promises going forward to “support zoning changes to make building more affordable units easier and more straightforward.”

In Ward 8, Trayon White, a neighborhood organizer and alumni of the D.C. Attorney General’s office, defeated incumbent LaRuby May, another first-term councilmember.

Trayon White touched on a number of affordable housing issues throughout his campaign. He has said he supports the $100 million per year to the HPTF and more.

“I support raising additional revenue for housing. D.C. had a $417 million surplus in the last fiscal year. It’s not that we don’t have any money… We have to put more money into housing to ensure decent and affordable living quarters for all.”

Earlier this year, Trayon White called for an increase in HPAP funding that has since been answered by the Mayor and Council’s recent budget. He has also cited a need for tightening rent control laws by closing loopholes and limiting landlords’ guaranteed return on investment.

Like Gray, he supports efforts to allow for greater density and simplified zoning laws to accommodate the development of affordable housing.

In the At-Large race, another White (Robert) managed to unseat long-time incumbent Vincent Orange. Like Trayon, Robert White also hails from the Attorney General’s office.

Zoning law has also been on his mind, especially as it intersects with transportation concerns.

He has called for rezoning struggling commercial corridors to allow for more affordable housing in areas with easy transit access, an important goal in a city that struggles with gentrifying transport hubs.

Robert White has also proposed increased incentives for non-profit developers (like MANNA) that provide affordable housing.

In addition to his big policy proposals, Robert White has been critical of current enforcement of affordable housing laws, writing that “it’s the rule, not the exception, that developers get waivers in order to avoid building affordable housing.”

As Gray, White, and White look to join the Council in November, it will be up to the citizenry to remind them of their ambitious plans for affordable housing in the District.

A Returning Citizen’s Struggle: Housing and “the Box”

“It’s like trying to get restarted, but everybody’s smacking you in the face.”

Stan has had more than his fair share of struggles in life. A senior citizen and veteran of the armed forces, Stan is now disabled, diabetic, and in search of a new home. Unfortunately, Stan has one more item to add to the list—he is also a returning citizen, having spent three years of his life in prison.

Stan, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, recounts the process he recently went through in applying to lease a new residence. “I filled out all the forms, went through all the paperwork. I was highly qualified. And then, no explanation, I get a rejection letter.”

When Stan tried to follow up, he was stonewalled. Weeks went by with no response.

Stan remembers “the box” on the application dreaded by many returning citizens, asking if he had been convicted of a felony in the last five years. But he had thought he was in the clear. His last brush with the law was almost 15 years ago, and in any case it had been a minor probationary charge rather than a felony.

“I suspect they did their own background check,” says Stan. “It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

That background check would have turned up the charge from 15 years ago, plus Stan’s jail time. And when was it that Stan was incarcerated?

“That would have been between ’73 and ’75.”

Stan believes he was denied housing based on a charge from more than 40 years ago. And because D.C. offers no protections to returning citizens looking for housing, the lessors are well within their rights.

“A lot of times I wish I was still locked up.”

It’s a problem that faces some 70,000 District residents, the almost 10 percent of the population that has a criminal record. And with 8,000 more Washingtonians returning home from prison each year, the problem is only growing.

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie spoke with the DCist blog in April about the crisis.

“It is a persistent problem that we have encountered in District,” said McDuffie. “What we want is for men and women returning to the District, after paying their debt to society, to have a fair chance, and finding decent housing is critical to their reintegration.”

According to the Councilmember, 17 percent of people under probation or supervised release struggle with insecure housing.

To help combat this, McDuffie, along with At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, has introduced legislation to “ban the box” on housing. Modeled after similar legislation passed last year around employment, this bill would prohibit landlords from asking about past convictions or conducting background checks until after an initial conditional offer has been extended.

While he thinks it’s a step in the right direction, Stan is unsure that this bill would help his particular situation.

He’s wise to be cautious given a recent review of last year’s box-banning employment legislation by the DC Auditor’s office. According to the review, more than half of employers were unfamiliar with the law. And although it’s tricky to draw broad conclusions from a small pool of petitioners, the numbers don’t bode well—so far, only 17 percent of complaints have resulted in monetary settlements.

The news isn’t all bad, though. Since implementation, the DC government has increased the percentage of returning citizens hired for positions requiring a background check.

In other words, “ban the box” legislation might prove to be a helpful first step, although clearly more work is needed.

And Stan? He’s in touch with MANNA’s Housing Advocacy Team, the DC Public Defenders and others, trying to figure what’s next.

“You gotta keep fighting,” says Stan. “Just gotta keep fighting.”

Participants of all ages attended Saturday's townhall

1st Annual Homeownership Townhall a Success

The buzz started early Saturday afternoon as current and potential homeowners streamed into the exhibit hall at All Souls Church in Northwest DC. After weeks of anticipation, the 1st Annual Homeownership Townhall was finally underway!

Participants spent their first hour perusing the exhibits set up by more than a dozen District-area non-profit developers and counselors, government agencies, developers, lenders, realtors and security system companies. The hall was filled with cheerful voices as over 120 people in attendance moved from table to table learning about DC homeownership programs, property maintenance, how to improve their credit score, and more. Children squeezed in and out of the crowd, giggling, until they were herded downstairs to childcare.

As the crowd moved into the hall for the main portion of the event, they were greeted by the sultry sounds of Robert Ax Adams’ jazz guitar. His mix of oldies and original pieces gave the gathering a positive groove and set the stage for the afternoon’s speakers.

Among the stellar lineup were several speakers with first-hand knowledge of what it takes to navigate the District’s real estate market and assistance loan programs for first-time homebuyers. Stanley Augustin, who has a longtime connection to MANNA’s work, shared how important the Homeowners Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) was for him as he looked to buy a first home for a growing family, purchasing the home that his household has been renting from the current landlord. Eusabia Diaz spoke powerfully in Spanish (and with translation) about how her move from renting to owning a property developed on land formerly owned by the District had increased her confidence and peace of mind.

“Now I pay a similar amount to what I paid before,” said Diaz, “but I am the owner of my home. My old apartment is now renting for double what I was paying.”

Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Brianne Nadeau also addressed the crowd, speaking about their work for the Committee on Housing and Community Development, which Councilmember Bonds chairs. Through their hard work, and with the support of organization like MANNA and CNHED, the maximum HPAP award is increasing from $50,000 to $80,000, and Mayor Bowser is increasing the HPAP budget by $6 million, the first increase in almost 10 years.

Councilmember Anita Bonds meets with townhall attendees

Councilmember Anita Bonds meets with townhall attendees

Councilmember Nadeau also reflected on her personal experiences with homeownership, acknowledging that she would not be able to buy her own house at its current value without HPAP.

As the central piece of the event wrapped up, participants headed downstairs to join workshops on credit building, home maintenance/energy efficiency, and advocacy.

In the advocacy workshop, a lively group of participants learned from CNHED’s Director of Housing Advocacy Elizabeth Falcon about the members of the DC City Council, their respective roles, and the city budget cycle. Falcon also spoke about the successes that the Housing for All campaign has seen over the past five years and encouraged townhall attendees to become more involved in the campaign.

As participants regrouped in the main hall for a door prize raffle and closing statements, MANNA’s Housing Advocacy Team (HAT) members, the main orchestrators of the event, passed smiles and thumbs-up between each other. One thing was clear: the 1st Annual Homeownership Townhall had been a great success.

If you’d like to connect to affordable homeownership advocacy and next year’s town hall, email us at sscruggs@mannadc.org