Category Archives: Housing news

Who’s Got Housing?

Is housing a privilege or a right?

Regardless of your opinion (it is a right), there is a NEED for housing in DC among those in plain view most easily forgotten–and a program with financial incentives to people who open their door.

How many homeless people are here in DC? 7,473 as of January 2017.

shock face

The District’s New Lease on Life program connects landlords with available units to families currently experiencing homelessness. Landlords receive a partial subsidy from DC, and the family pays the rest of the rent. The families also receive any necessary support services during their one-year lease.

The program has been incredibly successful, with participating landlord Thomas Batmen noting that, “Families exiting homelessness pose no greater risk than any other family applying for a lease.”

Monthly Landlord Outreach meetings organize folks to host meet and greets, establish risk mitigation funds to assuage landlords’ fears of losing money, and propose broader policy changes.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, DC Department of Human Services, DC Interagency Council on Homelessness and CNHED are holding a reception this Friday from 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM to talk about the New Lease on Life program.

TOPA: he-said, she-said

TOPA… where’s the cream filling?

DATA: THAT's the stuff!!!

DATA: THAT’s the stuff!!!

Something is missing in all of this talk about TOPA… data.

A hearing was held this past Thursday mulling over a change to the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which gives tenants a chance to match any offer by a third party looking to buy the tenants’ home. It’s one of DC’s best tenant protections, as well as a crucial way in which renters can become owners of their homes, and any attempt to change or weaken it is understandably met with considerable alarm.

But on Thursday, one of the most alarming things was the lack of cohesive data that either side could agree on. Data leads to facts, and facts should inform laws.

The change to TOPA currently being proposed is, on the surface, relatively minor—tenant advocates and the DC Association of Realtors (DCAR) have agreed on fixes to speed the TOPA process for single family homes, and both sides feel they’re close to reaching an agreement on tenants’ option to assign their TOPA rights to a third party (also just focusing on single family homes). However, the testimony went well beyond that, and the chair of the Council made ominous claims** towards a larger fight over TOPA.

In the hearing, Councilmember Anita Bonds (At-Large), who introduced the bill, and Chairman Phil Mendelson asked the realtors testifying from DCAR about how many successful buyouts  have occurred in their experience with cases involving TOPA.

The anecdotal remarks led to differences in the magnitude of 10x- from .5% to 5%.

Magnitudes of 10

Magnitudes of 10

The same questions posed to the legal counsel for tenants also produced questionable data. One of the tenant advocates testifying retorted that a tenant with good enough credit to execute TOPA rights isn’t seeking those in the legal counsel that were testifying at this hearing, implying that these questions about successful cases were anecdotal at best, and ridiculous to be putting on the record.

It should be noted that the metrics for which we evaluate TOPA depend on whether we define “success” as the tenants succeeding in purchasing their unit, “succeeding” at staying in their unit as a tenant, or “succeeding” by leveraging their TOPA rights so that they can see some small benefit from their displacement.

The fault is perhaps with the city for not tracking data on rental units in general, and those employing TOPA rights being an especially important aspect of that in this case. Due to obscure facts, those lobbying on both sides are putting forth data that supports their case, instead of being able to lay a factual foundation.

"I heard it through the grapevine, and I'm just about to lose my mind"

“I heard it through the grapevine, and I’m just about to lose my mind”

For the most innovative and impactful legislation that DC has to empower tenants, I am stupefied by the lack of data.

Here is an example of the data that I would like to see before changes are made:

The change to TOPA being discussed has the potential to effect _____ property owners and ______ tenants.

 

** Chairman Phil Mendelson went as far as encouraging “a flat-out exemption to single-family homes,” which was well beyond the scope of the legislative hearing

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

dc-rowhouses

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 Bill 22-0226, “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.

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?

DC_neighborhoods_map

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

Ground Breaks, Rents Shake, Fears Await… Purple Line & Langley Park

Hard_Hats

The purple line is here. With it comes opportunity for homeowners – and apprehension for renters. While the jurisdictions involved have heralded the beginning of the Purple Line’s construction, these same jurisdictions and their partnering organizations have been silent about the threats to affordable housing that they previously highlighted.

Langley Park appears to be the canary in the coal mine here, as the Washington Post and GGWash have followed the lead of UMD in focusing on the effects that the Purple Line will have on the affordable housing stock there, although it should be noted that these challenges will be faced at each and every one of the proposed stations.

Langley Park does seem to be especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of rising land costs. Of more than 5,000 housing units in the neighborhood, nearly 75% are rental units. Combine this with the fact that nearly 50% of the residents earn less than the DC Metro’s Area Median Income and it appears that there’s a huge risk posed by becoming more connected to the region. purple-line All of Langley Park’s residents will be within a half-mile of the the two transit stations proposed in the area. A CASA Needs Survey found that one-in-four respondents has had their rent increasing by at least 10% per month over the past two years. A major housing crisis is certainly on the horizon. If Prince George’s County cannot protect its population from being displaced, then a complex chain reaction will be felt across the region as various jurisdictions are threatened by displaced people desperate for secure places to live.

There are plenty of ways that the local jurisdiction can mitigate the impending displacement through measures aimed to preserve and rehabilitate the housing stock by way of grants, loans, and tax credits from federal and state agencies, and with the help of private and nonprofit assistance. In the dozens of potential options that the UMD study looked into, Prince George’s County and Langley Park were under-represented seeking this help, indicating failures among leadership.

While there are many ways forward, it is noteworthy that the majority of apartment units are owned by three companies and their subsidiaries, and that intervention and/or mediation by the public or private sector could lead to a deal that would maintain affordable housing. For example, the Conversion of Rental Housing Act of 2013 would require the owners to give Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development the option to purchase the property before they offered the sale to another party. This legislation is not perfect, as the right is not extended to tenants and there are significant loopholes where the owner is not required to follow this process; however, the program has three priorities for implementation, and Langley Park fits all three criteria.

There are also ways in which Prince George’s County can save the carrot and use the stick in order to help out the tenants. There is a misdemeanor and $500 fine for any property in violation of the County Code, and each day is a separate offense. As noted in the UMD study, there are many complaints about the housing conditions there, and “the county has the right to demolish, repair, or otherwise bring the property up to standard and place a lien in the amount of all funds expended on the owner.” This type of initiative could put pressure on the owner to sell, or if the county bureaucracy wasn’t entirely on board then it could backfire and result in the condemnation of the building and subsequent displacement.

What is clear is that all of the paths forward require a municipality willing to assist this community under threat and allow the people to be a part of the opportunities that are to come with the Purple Line. We certainly will be paying attention.

 

  1. All of the data in this post comes directly from “Preparing for the Purple Line: Affordable Housing Strategies for Langley Park, Maryland,” presented by CASA & the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education Center at the University of Maryland, College Park
housing

For Bipartisanship and Affordable Housing, Try MID Reform

The next contentious battle to sweep through Congress looks likely to be tax reform. Already the partisan lines are forming, with a more-than-healthy dose of special interest groups on both sides. But one area where there could be bipartisan agreement is the mortgage interest deduction. It would take serious political courage all the way around, but for the first time in decades progress is possible on one of the American tax codes most costly mistakes.

What is MID?

The mortgage interest deduction, or MID, allows homeowners to deduct interest payments on mortgages from their taxable income. (Translation: lower taxes for homeowners.) Because it’s a deduction and not a credit, it only applies to tax payers who itemize their taxes rather than taking the standard deduction. (Translation: lower taxes for upper income homeowners.)

What is it supposed to do?

With the current version coming from one of Reagan’s tax overhauls in the 1980s, MID has long enjoyed bipartisan support as a way to increase homeownership. The idea is simple—if you give people who buy a home a tax break, you’ll see more people buying homes. It was part of a broader push in the ’80s to move housing affordability into the private sector, which also included the end of building new federal public housing and the birth of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

What is it actually doing?

Answer 1) Not increasing homeownership. Research has shown that while MID may convince someone to buy a bigger home, it almost never is the determining factor in whether or not someone will buy something. That’s in large part because…

Answer 2) MID mainly helps rich families. Because it just applies to tax payers who are itemizing their taxes, only half of all homeowners are able to take advantage of MID at all. And among those homeowners, a hugely disproportionate amount of the overall money goes to the top. MID is a big part of the reason that 75 percent of all federal housing subsidy actually goes to wealthy families. (It really makes you think about who those “takers” are that some on the right rail against.)

That’s why groups as diverse as the CATO Institute and the National Low-Income Housing Alliance have come together in calling for the cap on deductible mortgages to be lowered from $1 million to $500,000. The move would affect just 6 percent of all mortgage holders, but it would save a whopping $241 billion over the next decade.

The Trump Administration has also floated this plan, although it’s not clear how it will fare once the full weight of the real estate lobby comes down against it.

The path forward

Unfortunately, disagreement arises with the question of how those savings should be put to use. While affordable housing advocates would like to see the money moved to lower-income homeowners and renters, congressional Republicans are likely to want the savings applied to their larger plan of tax breaks for the wealthy and increased military spending.

Regardless of how this plays out on a national level, DC has its own version to deal with: the Homestead Deduction, which allows all DC homeowners—no matter how wealthy—to save on their property taxes. It’s another piece of subsidy for the rich that could be fixed with a simple home value limit.

As Congress looks to rewrite our tax code, it’s important to remember who the “takers” really are. With 75 percent of federal housing subsidy going to wealthy households, MID is long overdue for restructuring.

soh

DC, NYC now offering low-income tenants free legal representation

Image: Tenant rights activists rally in DC earlier this year

Eviction is just about the scariest thing that a tenant can face. It increases your risk of homelessness, poverty, and job loss. It’s more likely to happen to you if you’re a woman, if you’re black, or if you have kids. And it can set your family back for years. That’s why Washington, DC and New York City just implemented laws offering free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction.

These laws are part of a growing movement across the country, called “civil Gideon,” to provide legal representation to tenants facing eviction. It stems from data showing that while landlords almost always have a lawyer in eviction suits, tenants almost never do. In DC, 94 percent of landlords have legal representation. That’s compared to only 5 percent of tenants.

That gap produces a huge disparity in outcomes, with tenants often being evicted over minimal debts. Sometimes it’s not even a debt tenants are unable to pay–withholding rent is a common last-straw tactic for tenants who can’t get landlords to make necessary fixes. But without a lawyer to guide them, that tactic can end in eviction.

Opponents of New York City’s law, which offers free representation to tenants making up to $50,000, complain about its cost–estimated to be about $200 million each year. But because evictions so often result in homelessness, increased reliance on safety net programs, and other costs to local governments, supporters of the bill decided to run the numbers.

They found that the measure will not only pay for itself, but it will result in over $300 million of additional savings each year. Between saving tenants strife and saving the city money, it’s hard to find a reason to oppose this bill.

The DC Council agrees, and a similar bill put forward earlier this year by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) ended up being included in this year’s budget support act. As a much smaller city, the costs for DC’s program are significantly less than in New York City–the budget included $3.9 million in ongoing funds and an additional $600,000 for this year.

Tenant groups and other advocates will be sure to watch this process closely. But with widespread support, plus clear benefits for tenants and the city coffers, DC’s new effort to get free legal representation for low-income tenants should be a great success.

 

Asset Building cover

New Push in DC for Racial Justice Through Asset Building

A bold new report released this month details the disparity of wealth along racial lines in DC, then plots several ways the city can achieve a more equitable future. Its authors hope it’s just the start of a city-wide movement for building wealth in communities of color.

The report, entitled An Introduction to Asset Building in the District of Columbia, was written by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) and Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB), two long-time players in DC’s asset building landscape.

The need is clear. According to the report, 40 percent of DC residents don’t have enough net worth to stay above the poverty line for three months if their income disappeared. One in ten don’t even have a bank account—and among those who do a full quarter of residents are still forced to use predatory institutions like payday loan offices.

Asset building stats

It’s a problem that largely falls along racial lines. An analysis of DC post-recession found that the average white household has over 80 times the wealth of the average black household. That’s largely due to a lack of asset ownership, especially homeownership, in black communities.

CNHED and CAAB want to start a new coalition to take this problem on. Because this disparity has been created by several centuries of discriminatory laws and spending, it will take smart new investments by public and private actors to start to shrink this racial wealth gap.

The report outlines four general approaches that an asset building coalition could take, from pressuring the city government to institute new programs for low-income wealth building, to creating and managing new programs through a steering committee made up of members from this future coalition.

Whatever form this coalition takes, DC residents are counting on it to be impactful. Many literally can’t afford failure.

For more info about the Asset Building Policy Project and how to join the coalition, click here!

Asset Building strategies

stop trumpcare

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.

Anita Bonds

CM Bonds Moves Rent Control Fixes

Councilmember Anita Bonds (At-Large) symbolically closes a rent control loophole at an event in October 2016

DC has one of the strongest rent control laws in the nation. Unfortunately, several landlord-sized loopholes turn lots of ostensibly rent controlled housing into market rate units each year. But Councilmember Anita Bonds (At-Large) is working on passing a pair of bills to fix that.

The problem comes in both cases when a rental unit changes hands.

Currently, anyone living in a rent controlled building (any building built before 1975 that has five or more units) by law sees only modest increases in their rent each year. For people who find an affordable rent-controlled unit and then are able to age in place, the protections are stellar.

But when a unit experiences turnover, as units are liable to do in DC’s fast-paced rental market, landlords are able to raise prices by up to 30 percent—often essentially taking the unit to market rate. One family may leave a home that costs $1300 a month only for the next family who moves in to find themselves facing rent of $1700 a month or more.

One of CM Bonds’ bills, entitled the Rental Housing Affordability Stabilization Amendment Act of 2017, would cap that increase at just 5 percent—an amount that preserves the unit’s affordability and doesn’t incentivize pushing current tenants out the door. Publicly supported by Councilmembers Cheh (Ward 3), Silverman (At-Large), Gray (Ward 7), Grosso (At-Large), and Trayon White (Ward 8), the bill would also limit yearly rent increases to strictly the rate of inflation.

Another tactic landlords sometimes use to raise prices is to make voluntary agreements with tenant associations. It’s a process that involves several steps of abuse.

Landlords can file to raise rent above allowable rates with a “hardship petition,”* claiming that they can’t afford to make necessary improvements (or at least can’t earn enough profit while doing so) without more revenue. If their petition is accepted, tenants have no negotiating power—they can pay the new, higher rates or move out.

But sometimes landlords are unsure whether their petition would succeed or not. If that’s the case, they’ll go a different direction and use the threat of a hardship petition as a bargaining chip. In negotiating with tenant associations, landlords portray the tenants’ choices as this: you can either go through with the petition process and likely see automatic rent increases, or you can sit down with me and work on a deal where you’re guaranteed not to see any increases—but you wave future tenants’ rent control rights.

With the voluntary agreement from the tenant association in hand, landlords are able to make any unit that changes hands into a market rate apartment.

CM Bonds’ other bill, the Preservation of Affordable Rent Control Housing Amendment Act of 2017, wants to stop landlords from pitting current and future tenants against each other. It would outlaw the practice of making deals that only raise prices for newcomers, mandating that any agreed upon increases must be applied across the board.

It was co-introduced by Councilmembers Robert White (At-Large), Silverman, Cheh, and Trayon White.

If passed by the Council and signed into law, both bills would move DC closer to protecting tenants as the District’s rent control law intended.

 

*Another one of CM Bonds’ bills on rent control, this one targeting hardship petitions, was signed into law last December. It succeeded in lowering the return on investment guaranteed to landlords from 12 percent to 5 percent.

OOR_2017_Cover

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.

out of reach