From its opening line and its title alone, a recent Washington Post article’s message is clear: Mayor Bowser’s administration is responsible for losing almost $16 million in federal funds for affordable housing. Yet the facts behind the Post’s recent article do little to support this conjecture.
The article, entitled “The D.C. Housing Department forfeited millions as families waited for help,” details how DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) was forced to return millions of dollars between 2014 and 2016.
These returns, representing a significant portion of the District’s HOME block grant for affordable housing, were compelled because of mismanagement. Some of the $16 million represented money that was never allocated for specific projects and ran into a deadline for use, while the rest came from projects that DHCD approved, but that the federal government later determined did not meet their standards.
This giveback was undoubtedly a tragedy in a city starved for affordable housing, and a preventable one. However, it’s not a reflection of DHCD’s capacity under Mayor Bowser and DHCD Director Polly Donaldson.
In fact, the Post is careful never to specifically fault the Mayor or her administration for the givebacks, preferring instead to lay blame with DHCD. It’s a fair claim—an indisputable one, actually. DHCD mismanagement under the past administration is undoubtedly the reason these funds were lost. But by weaving the facts with repeated references to Mayor Bowser and Director Donaldson, the Post attempts to imply a connection where none exists.
It’s the same game the Bush administration played in going to war in Iraq—say “9/11” and “Saddam Hussein” enough times in the same sentence, and the result is over half the population believing that Hussein was personally responsible for the attacks.
The Post additionally misleads readers with its talk of using the $16 million for local rental vouchers under the city’s Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP). The article claims that the $16 million “could have provided rent vouchers for a year to roughly 1,000 of the city’s poorest families.”
As the administration noted in a rebuttal it circulated earlier this week, the funds in question were spread over multiple years—no single year had $16 million left over. Furthermore, rent supplements are not a one-time expense. The city is required to cover that supplement for as long as the family lives in their subsidized unit. The “1,000 families,” then, is nothing but hyperbole.
The most important piece left out of the Post article is the most damning to their tenuous connection. All of the money forfeited, both because of deadlines for use or projects that didn’t meet federal standards, was the result of decisions DHCD made before the Bowser administration took over.
The administration’s statement notes that “the over $15 million in HOME funds referenced in the Post’s story actually expired prior to 2015. These projects were funded and approved by the prior administration and were subsequently found to be ineligible for HOME funds during the first six months of the Bowser Administration…”
What’s more, the Post fails to identify that the former DHCD employees it quotes were in fact responsible themselves for underwriting several of the projects that were denied by the federal government.
Whether through an intentional omission or an accidental oversight, this irony is lost for the reader.
While DHCD undeniably had major problems in the past, under Director Donaldson’s leadership it has become a major asset in DC’s work to build and preserve affordable housing. A piece like this one from the Post, with its misleading ties and hyperbolic claims, serves only to endanger funding for the families it ostensibly wants to help.