New DC Grant Offers Help for Small Rental, Co-op, Condo Buildings

A new pilot program from the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development offers grant money for needed rehab work at small rental, co-op, and condo buildings.

The Small Buildings Grant Program offers an important opportunity to preserve affordable ownership and rental housing as more affordable homes are lost each year in DC.

More than 1,000 affordable homes disappeared in the District between 2006 and 2014, and another 1,750 are in danger. Keeping affordable homeowners and renters in place helps stabilize changing neighborhoods and is more cost effective than constructing new affordable homes.

To be eligible, a building must have between 5 and 20 units, with a portion of households earning less than 50 or 80% of the Area Median Income. The grant offers $25,000 per unit for repairs, with a maximum award of $200,000.

Full details and the application can be found here.

The program is similar to the Common Interest Communities legislation attached to the budget for FY2019. That legislation establishes a fund for low- and moderate-income co-op and condo associations to repair common elements of their buildings, such as roofs, plumbing, or electrical systems.
small apt building

Since that legislation was crafted with community input, it avoids several pitfalls of the new Small Buildings Grant Program. One important difference is that the Common Interest Communities program allows residents to submit an independent assessment of their buildings’ needs, rather than relying on a DCRA inspection report.

Unfortunately, the requirements of the Small Buildings initiative may coerce buildings into seeking out a fine from DCRA just in order to be eligible for the needed grant funds. That could discourage participation and work counter to the stated goals of the program.

The Common Interest Communities legislation also imposes no cap on the number of units an eligible association can have. Although the Small Buildings Grant Program may have found such limitations necessary while working within the parameters of a limited pilot budget, Common Interest Communities has legal access to funds from the sale of city-owned property—a sufficient pot to have a much larger impact.

We hope to see both the Small Buildings Grant Program and the Common Interest Communities legislation fully implemented and expanded!

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