Greater Greater Washington

Budget


DC budget unfairly hits affordable housing and more

Transportation fared well in Mayor Gray's budget, and it's looking increasingly likely that Metrorail will skate through this budget year with few or no service cuts, but things are not so good for other areas:

One area of disproportionate cuts is in affordable housing, where the budget steals money out of the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF). This is no transfer payment program. It gives for-profit and non-profit developers loans to assist them in building affordable housing.

The construction financing market is tight, and it's a lot harder to get financing for affordable housing developments even if they're fiscally solid. If a developer can raise most of the money but not all, the HPTF lets them borrow the rest. On average, for each dollar coming from the HPTF, the developer has $3 of funding from other sources, so DC gets a 4:1 benefit for its investment.

The HPTF gets its money from DC's deed and recordation taxes, which dropped in the recession. Now that the market is coming back, it was expected to grow, allowing developers to build affordable housing as the demand for construction increases. But Mayor Gray's budget took away the increase, keeping it at its low recession level and withdrawing $18 million not only next year but in future years as well.

Times are tough, and transportation programs help all residents, rich and poor, which is why it's good for DC to be making the investment. Education, public safety, and much more are also critical. But it's also unfair and unreasonable to make budget cuts disproportionately hurt the neediest residents.

With so many tax breaks being given out to attract development and retailers that would have located in DC anyway, there are surely other options the DC Council can consider.

CSG is asking DC residents to contact the DC Council and ask them to share DC's growth and prosperity with low and moderate income residents.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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The DCHFA has $25M(?) in funds it must use this year to help unemployed folks in need of mortgage assistance. There are developers around trying to upgrade and preserve low-/moderate-income housing with limited funds that are available. More non-profit owners should get up to speed on how to better manage their properties.

by CCCA Prez on May 4, 2011 4:02 pm • linkreport

Hm...if only there were some other way to lower rents...

by Stephen Smith on May 4, 2011 4:54 pm • linkreport

I seriously question the efficacy of these types of affordable housing programs.

I think the weight of evidence is they are either capitalized into the price of the building or they are ineffective, unfair "rent control-lite" subsidies.

Affordable housing starts (and probably ends) with more housing unit construction.

by WRD on May 4, 2011 4:56 pm • linkreport

Do you have any numbers on repayment and default rates? I'd be much more inclined to give my support if I could be sure that HPTF paid for itself in the long term.

by tom veil on May 4, 2011 5:33 pm • linkreport

t's cute but I think it oversimplifies the issue.  Is makes it seem that all things cut in HSS will negatively affect District residents.  Also, some of the cuts are a result of cuts made at the federal level through TANF, Medicare and other grants.  The District has few options other than to reduce spending in those areas.

by Randall M. on May 4, 2011 5:33 pm • linkreport

I'll ask, but we don't really have definitive proof that roads pay for themselves, or trains, or bike sharing, or parks, or schools. Is it just because affordable housing doesn't benefit us that many demand much firmer proof of its efficacy?

It's a good idea to establish its value and I've been pushing affordable housing advocates to do this, but there still seems to be a double standard.

by David Alpert on May 4, 2011 5:35 pm • linkreport

How are these cuts "disproportionate", and compared to what?

Why did you say "steals" when you later write this is a loan? Is there something unfavorable that turns a loan into theft?

by greent on May 4, 2011 6:03 pm • linkreport

Is it just because affordable housing doesn't benefit us that many demand much firmer proof of its efficacy?

I think it's because (fair or not) many residents think that subsidies towards housing for very poor people is not so much a benefit to the strength of the city as a detriment. Again, I think that's somewhat unfair, but when laymen think of affordable housing, they think of Potomac Gardens, or something similar. I'm conflicted.

by oboe on May 4, 2011 6:16 pm • linkreport

I'm I wrong to think that as more housing is created, the more affordable it becomes? If the District had less tax incentives but made it easier to construct housing, shouldn't the market adjust, reducing the cost?

To put it another way, must the District invest so heavily in the subsidizing of housing if it's only expensive because it doesn't have enough of it?

by Randall M. on May 4, 2011 9:32 pm • linkreport

The problem with affordable housing programs is that they distort the housing market. With a finite supply of housing in DC, these programs push the middle class out of the city and into the suburbs. If these programs went away, then the residents using these programs wouldn't be homeless; instead they'd relocate to where they could afford to live without assistance.
In the comparison with schools, parks, roads, etc, these government services benefit all residents of the city. In contrast, affordable housing programs only benefit their clients. It is effectively subsidizing poverty at the expense of the middle class. The real beneficiaries of these programs are the municipalities in Virginia and Maryland, who gladly welcome the displaced middle class into their tax base.
The bottom line is if you can't afford to live in the city, then perhaps you shouldn't live in the city.

by Smoke_Jaguar4 on May 4, 2011 9:52 pm • linkreport

"They can make better choices than this"... the video concludes. Without a hint of what those choices ought to be.

Not asking to be belligerent - believe me, I know DC's government can afford to shrink, or at least cull some of the more useless from its ranks. But what, exactly, is the DCFPI suggesting be cut instead?

by Andrew in DC on May 4, 2011 11:21 pm • linkreport

In the Hines project and in the West End project are the occupants of the low income units being provided free parking? Not to seem misery, but if so that's about $50K per space.

by Tom Coumaris on May 4, 2011 11:29 pm • linkreport

"In contrast, affordable housing programs only benefit their clients. It is effectively subsidizing poverty at the expense of the middle class. The real beneficiaries of these programs are the municipalities in Virginia and Maryland, who gladly welcome the displaced middle class into their tax base.
The bottom line is if you can't afford to live in the city, then perhaps you shouldn't live in the city"

Exactly...couldn't have said it better myself. I and my parents before me frequently wanted to live places we couldn't afford. Why is it that its unfair to expect the current generation(s) to accept the same limitations?

I'll add that we are effectively 4 decades into the affordable housing "push" and I've yet to see one actual, quantifiable benefit to the city as a whole, and some vague externality of being "more diverse" doesn't cut it.

by freely on May 5, 2011 8:28 am • linkreport

The before and after pie charts are misleading because they're not really before and after pie charts. The first one is in fact the before distribution of where our tax dollars get spent. The after isn't really an after but instead a distribution of the negative changes to the before pie chart. For example, he's saying that 2/3 of the cuts are coming from education. This doesn't tell us what the piece of the piece going to human services is shrinking by or to ... none of that ... just what the proportion of the cuts being born by human services are.

Incidentally, I was pretty shocked to see a full quarter of our tax dollars going to human services. I can fully support the idea that the needy need to be kept fed and with a roof over their heads. Of course we shouldn't be letting people starve or live outdoors. But to spend a full quarter of a many billions of dollars budget to do it means that we're spending our tax dollars doing far more than just providing basic sustenance needs. And I have to question what it is. It's one thing to help someone in those rare instances in life when they need it, but completely a whole other thing to turn this help into an institutionalized welfare system where the people being helped end up getting mired in a system of poverty which they have no basic incentive to escape from. The politicians who do things like this to people should be held accountable.

Given that Mayor Gray headed up human services in the District in years past, I'm comfortable with the notion that the cuts he's proposing won't be affecting the taxpayer's ability to help those who are truely in need.

by Lance on May 5, 2011 8:41 am • linkreport

Incidentally, I was pretty shocked to see a full quarter of our tax dollars going to human services. I can fully support the idea that the needy need to be kept fed and with a roof over their heads. Of course we shouldn't be letting people starve or live outdoors.

I'm curious if anyone knows what percentage of the MD budget goes towards "human services." Or Virginia's budget. Anyone have numbers?

My sense is that DC's disproportionately generous funding of human services serves as a very large de facto subsidy to the MD and VA suburbs.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 9:23 am • linkreport

@Lance

You'd be even more shocked to see the programs approved by HHS for funding. I'm not sure if the data came down from dc.gov when the new administration came on line, but there is an unbelievable amount of money going to private "institutions" which consist of a single individual or for 'enrichment' programs which would be better managed through a school activities budget. At least one of the grants appears to have paid for a traveling team bus for a pee-wee football program.

In addition we have almost the same number of residents on full, life time welfare as the state of MD (which actually cycles people out after 5 years) with 1/10 of the population.

by ahk on May 5, 2011 9:38 am • linkreport

Who are the actual benfeciaries of these program. Not what we think. But what are the facts?

Are conflating Section 8 with affordable housing? I really don't know but I've always thought that Section 8 fell under the umbrella of "affordable housing" not that Section 8 comprises the total of what AH is.

Don't these programs offered to officers, teachers, students etc. fall under the AH umbrella?

As far as "if you can't afford it, don't get it." If I'm a teacher making 60k/yr and wanted to live in the city and even teach in the same (let's say poor) neighborhood, why shouldn't I qualify for some sort of program since I am providing a service crucial to the city's progress. How can you encourage people to come to DC if (because of low salaries) they can't afford to live here.

Yet we complain that so many live in PG. Hell, it's cheaper.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 10:26 am • linkreport

Oh and if you want to know whether the programs are "effective," shouldn't you start by asking homeowners who purchased under an AH program.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 10:30 am • linkreport

Don't these programs offered to officers, teachers, students etc. fall under the AH umbrella?

I think this should be *most* of AH. Since this is what we, as a community, have the greatest interest in fostering. I'm curious if that's reflected in the numbers though. What share of DC's "affordable housing" goes towards keeping police/firemen/teachers in the city? I think most skeptics get the sense that such programs are used as--for lack of a better phrase--something of a Trojan Horse.

Yet we complain that so many live in PG. Hell, it's cheaper.

I don't really hear so many complaints about people moving to PG, as people moving to PG and feeling entitled to an equal voice in the continuing development of the city.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 10:42 am • linkreport

We have plenty of funding for human services. It's just that we have placed 'keeping public welfare recipients visible in very expensive parts of town' as a higher priority than actually helping the most needy people as efficiently as possible.

These chaps also fail to mention that there's a crapton of waste and fraud in the human services budget.

And that over the past 8 years the human services budget increased 60%. So actually these 'cuts' are really just a tiny rollback from a massive increase.

Plus of course the stunning focus on providing public housing and benefits to people without requiring a work component, and the accompanying hell that brings to all involved.

We could fund a good many of these pet projects if we simply used our existing resources better. Redeveloping public housing projects as mixed income developments, demanding a better use for the the wasted hundreds of millions spent 'keeping the poor visible' in very expensive neighborhoods at any cost, and requiring comprehensive reform of public housing in DC would create massive funding for pretty much every social program these folks could dream up.

But they aren't willing to do that.

Until they are willing to take on public housing reform, they have no legitimacy when they bitch about funding cuts .

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

I think this should be *most* of AH. Since this is what we, as a community, have the greatest interest in fostering. I'm curious if that's reflected in the numbers though. What share of DC's "affordable housing" goes towards keeping police/firemen/teachers in the city?

Firemen is an example of a group who qualify for these programs but it surely isn't limited to them. I believe that other people w/modest incomes qualify as well. So I would expand your inquiry into "What share of DC's AH goes towards helping qualified homeowners purchase a home."

Limiting it to just fireman and teachers is too narrow.

I don't really hear so many complaints about people moving to PG, as people moving to PG and feeling entitled to an equal voice in the continuing development of the city.

The point here is affordability. Those who would like to live in DC but can't - choosing to live elsewhere. I wonder what are those numbers. Hard to find I'm sure but wonder nonetheless.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

@HogWash If I'm a teacher making 60k/yr and wanted to live in the city and even teach in the same (let's say poor) neighborhood, why shouldn't I qualify for some sort of program since I am providing a service crucial to the city's progress. How can you encourage people to come to DC if (because of low salaries) they can't afford to live here.

Simple, you pay them enough via their salaray so that they have the choice of using it to live here or to commute and bank the difference. They're adults, they can be trusted with making their own decisions. We don't need to tell them 'if you're going to work in our schools then you're going to have to live in DC because that's the only way we're going to pay you enough to make it worthwhile to work as a public school teacher in DC'.

by Lance on May 5, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

@Hogwash Firemen is an example of a group who qualify for these programs

Years ago I had a roommate who was a fireman. I learned through him that most firemen don't live in the community they serve ... simply because of the way the work schedule is laid out. Essentially, you're on duty something like 2 to 3 days a week (all in a row) and you're on duty 24 hours ... but of course, while not out fighting fires, you're spending those 2 - 3 days cooking communal meals, working out, hanging out and sleeping. And then when your 2 - 3 days are over, you either drive home (and home can be 2 or 3 states away) or drive to another fire department in another state or city to get in another 2 - 3 day shift if you want to supplement your income.

I.e., We're already providing real close in living arrangements for them ... on the upper floors of the firehouse. Also paying to subsidize their mortgage doesn't accomplish much ...

by Lance on May 5, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

As a former fireman, I can vouch for some of that, Lance.

I wouldn't classify the 'housing' provided at the firehouse as housing. No more than an office cubicle is housing.

But a good many firemen live pretty far removed from their work location primarily because of their work schedule. That's considered one of the huge perks of the job. It allows many of them to live basically a rural lifestyle, yet get a big city fire dept paycheck. Some localities have restrictions as to how far away you can live, but those are generally roundly ignored.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

Right but putting on my "Hard-Nosed little-C Conservative A-Hole" hat, why should "other people w/modest incomes qualify" for these programs? The public benefits of having teachers/firemen/police living in the communities they serve is pretty obvious; the public benefit of subsidizing the waitress at the iHop is not so apparent.

The point here is affordability. Those who would like to live in DC but can't - choosing to live elsewhere.

Sure, but it's not enough to talk about "affordability". You have to talk about *comparative* affordability. This came up in the discussion about gentrification East of the River.

The family of five that moves out of the city from a tiny apartment to a large house in the suburbs will inevitably cite "affordability" (and schools, and convenience) as the reason they moved. It's not that they can't afford to live in the city; they can't afford to live in a large four bedroom house with a big yard and an excellent neighborhood school in the city.

After all, a one-bedroom efficiency apartment in DC is going to be cheaper than a three-bedroom, 2.5 bath single-family home on a half-acre lot in the suburbs. You're never going to make DC housing "affordable" to those who prioritize square feet over walkable neighborhoods (or large family size over small). And we shouldn't try.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

Simple, you pay them enough via their salary so that they have the choice of using it to live here or to commute and bank the difference. They're adults, they can be trusted with making their own decisions.

Lance, again that's the point. They currently don't make enough via their salary to live here. That point is made by Hillman's post stating that they choose to live elsewhere on the city's dime. I didn't suggest we should "make" them do anything nor that they "must" live in the area they serve because let's face it, most people don't and won't. However, I don't see that as an argument against AH which (again) encompasses more than just police/fireman and teachers.

Offering a program as an incentive seems like a good move to me, whether you are a qualified teacher or a student or single father w/modest income.

Several of my family members are firemen. I doubt any would agree that the "living arrangements" we provide substitute for a home.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

@Lance,

Simple, you pay them enough via their salaray so that they have the choice of using it to live here or to commute and bank the difference.

But that's not how you shape behavior. You might just as well argue that we should end transit subsidies for workers because it's just as effective to roll that money into their paycheck. Not if you want to encourage them to use transit, it's not.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

Oboe: That hat looks awesome on you, but only if you coordinate with matching vest.

The question is once you decide to start subsidizing people by profession, where do you stop?

I'd argue that a friendly hard-working city garbage man 'deserves' city housing more than a surly, nonproductive teacher any day. The garbage man certainly does more to improve my life than the teacher does. In fact, you could say that the teacher is actually making city life worse.

It also becomes a question of life choices. Many, many couples put off having kids for five or ten years or more so that they can save up money to move to a big house with a yard.

Why is it that we feel an obligation to subsidize those that decide instead to have three children before the mother turns 20?

I'd argue that a lot of her decision hinges on the fact that she knows us taxpayers will pay for her children, and she ends up on the dole for her entire life.

Ironically, her decision is lauded and fully supported by the 'affordable housing advocates', even though her decision means an actual hardworking person that needs temporary assistance will have to go without.

As long as that choice is made by 'affordable housing advocates', I have very little sympathy for their constant demands for more and more taxpayer money.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

Very true. It's really all about free choice. Pay people what it takes to get them to work for you were you need them, and let them figure out how to make it work. The major failing of the radical left is a desire to think to know what is best for everyone in all circumstances ... and how to make it happen. They devise plans such as bag taxes and other 'mother may I?' shemes rather than looking at the big picture and structuring it such that people are left with the freedom to work things out themselves. And come to think of it, that is also the major failing of the radical right ... especially in regards to so called 'morality'. Thank God for the reasonable 'middle' who help keep us from the radicalness of the others!

by Lance on May 5, 2011 11:41 am • linkreport

my 'very true' was to Oboe at 11:32 ... lots of posting going on!

by Lance on May 5, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport

An earlier poster asked what we consider 'affordable housing'.

I'd argue that as a policy standpoint it's all subsidized housing programs, from the best, most productive workforce housing, to the worst managed public housing complex.

Artificially separating them come budget time is a bit of a shell game, done primarily to increase funding while ignoring the obvious - that we have chosen to subsidize the nonworking 20 year old mother of three on the corner smoking crack instead of the suddenly unemployed responsible couple that just need help for a year or two, or the same responsible couple just needing help with a down payment, etc.

I have yet to meet a single 'affordable housing advocate' that can honestly tell me they would support an overhaul of public welfare systems to save money and more efficiently help more people.

Until that day comes, it's really hard for me to sympathize with their cause.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

@Oboe, why should "other people w/modest incomes qualify" for these programs? The public benefits of having teachers/firemen/police living in the communities they serve is pretty obvious; the public benefit of subsidizing the waitress at the iHop is not so apparent.

Yeah the asshole hat just grew taller. While I purposefully avoided including "low income" residents in this - you just took us right back to the "poor." In a discussion about AH (who needs it and why) Why must you compare a teacher's 60k salary to a IHOP (of all places since we only have two) waitress's less than 20k salary?

What home can you afford on a 20k salary in DC?

The family of five that moves out of the city from a tiny apartment to a large house in the suburbs will inevitably cite "affordability" (and schools, and convenience) as the reason they moved. It's not that they can't afford to live in the city; they can't afford to live in a large four bedroom house with a big yard and an excellent neighborhood school in the city.

So you've gone from them (family of five) moving from a tiny apartment to a larger house in the Burbs because they can't get the same deal in the city. The same family from the same tiny apartment can want to move into a 3br home in DC and still not afford it.

Everyone who wants a larger place for their family aren't all looking to move into a MD, VA-sized homed. That was the unfortunate point many on GGW made when the story ran about the guy who chose to move to MD because he couldn't "afford" here. His situation shouldn't represent the totality of all others.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

@Oboe But that's not how you shape behavior.

And that's precisely the point. Why do politicians think they have the right to shape behavior beyond anything more than being 'good and honest tax paying citizens'. For example, why should a politician decide it's best that a fireman employed in DC also live in DC ...? Next they'll start insisting that any vendor selling them new parking metering mechanisms also live in DC. It's all about choice.

Also, underlying this discussion is the theme that a lot of people living in DC make the false assumption that everyone would live in DC if they could. As Hillman aluded to above, there really are lots of people who don't see city living as something enviable ... Who rather have the 4 bedroom house on the 2 acre plot ... and be able to drive everywhere and not have to worry about parking. And that's alright. We can't all like the same things. And thank God we don't ... or the rents in this town would be 10 times higher than they already are ... And again, it's all about choice.

by Lance on May 5, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

@Hillman:

The question is once you decide to start subsidizing people by profession, where do you stop?

I say folks affiliated with public safety and public school teachers. Maybe we put doctors and nurses in the public safety category. Wow! That was easy! You guys should make me your king.

Anyway, it's not about "rewarding" folks because they've got a tough life. It's about subsidizing things that are in the greater public interest. Having cops live in the communities they serve? In the public interest. Encouraging teachers to live near their students? Yep. Garbage men? Convince me.

BTW, if you like the way I look in the hat, you should see me in my "Chaps Of Not Wanting to Hear Any Trifling Nonsense". It's quite the ensemble.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

Why do politicians think they have the right to shape behavior beyond anything more than being 'good and honest tax paying citizens'.

I don't know, and yet we seem to have reached a general consensus on this in American (and global) society over the last 300-400 years that this should be the case. Why let folks deduct charitable giving from their taxes?

Personally, I think the idea of mandating that certain classes of public employee *must* live in the city is silly (and don't get me started on First Source). But I see no problem with paying a premium on, say, policemen who *want* to live in the communities they serve...any more than paying a teacher more who sponsors an after-school club, etc...

by oboe on May 5, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

@HogWash:

Right, but you've left my two points unaddressed: First, what's the public interest being served by subsidizing the IHOP waitress (or the $50k / year DMV employee if you prefer).

Secondly, there is no such thing as "affordability". We pay according to that which we value. The sub-1000 square foot row house across the street from mine used to house a family with two parents, 7 children, and an auntie. There are way too many moving parts to just talk about whether housing is "affordable" once you move past the "roof over one's head" point.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

Stopping at police and teachers is sortof unfair.

I'd say a good librarian can make a huge difference in a kids life. Moreso than a substandard teacher.

If you include doctors and nurses, why not nurses aides and candystripers as well? Or radiology techs?

Honestly the only profession I can see having a direct benefit for living in the city is cops. Because in theory having them in the neighborhood directly after work hours would cut down on crime, as you are in theory less likely to commit crimes if you see the cops off duty car parked on the block and you know there's a good chance he's home, and everybody else in the neighborhood know he's there.

As for the garbageman, believe me when you get a crappy garbage crew you definitely know it. My Monday crew is awesome. My Thursday crew weigh and inspect every bag before deciding if they will deign to actually touch it.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

@Hillman,

As for the garbageman, believe me when you get a crappy garbage crew you definitely know it. My Monday crew is awesome. My Thursday crew weigh and inspect every bag before deciding if they will deign to actually touch it.

True, but encouraging garbagemen to live in the neighborhoods they serve shouldn't address this. You'd get much bigger bang for the buck creating a fund to provide coffee and doughnuts at the beginning of each shift.

Heck, it's likely you'd get even worse service if the garbagemen got to know you. :P

by oboe on May 5, 2011 12:11 pm • linkreport

@ David Alpert--

I'll ask, but we don't really have definitive proof that roads pay for themselves, or trains, or bike sharing, or parks, or schools. Is it just because affordable housing doesn't benefit us that many demand much firmer proof of its efficacy?

It's a good idea to establish its value and I've been pushing affordable housing advocates to do this, but there still seems to be a double standard.

Good point. Those other programs should also be subject to a cost-benefit test. Of course, cost-benefit tests shouldn't always be only dollars and cents.

I think perhaps part of the problem is affordable housing is so expensive--and the need so great--we will never be able to give out enough cash, vouchers, or other compensation. There will always be deserving people left out of affordable housing programs.

I think affordable housing advocates also need to recognize the abuses and problems with vouchers, rent control, etc. They can become signs of government failures.

These programs are necessary, in large part, because other government policies have made housing "too" expensive. I'd be much more willing to defend affordable housing expenditures if we were really working harder to actually make housing affordable.

If I was the legislative leadership addressing these issues, I might try a trade: we'll cut affordable housing subsidies to save money but in exchange, we want changes to the zoning code to make adding housing stock easier.

Obviously, we're seeing why I'm not a legislator. However that's barebones of a trade I would like to see proposed.

by WRD on May 5, 2011 12:13 pm • linkreport

Actually, one of my favorite examples of 'affordable housing advocacy' is this post....

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/01/us/01bcstevens.html?scp=1&sq=san%20francisco%20landlord&st=cse

Or this one

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

Here's an interesting link someone following our discussion here sent me:

http://dhcd.dc.gov/dhcd/cwp/view,a,1243,q,648665.asp

And apparently ALL DC govt employees are eligible ... Is it any wonder this makes up a whopping 25% of the budget!?! Don't we all wish we worked for a place that would subsidize our housing? Well, apparently if you're a DC employee, they do. Of course the question that comes to mind is, would all these jobs go unfilled if this subsidy were simply abolished?

by Lance on May 5, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

Right, but you've left my two points unaddressed: First, what's the public interest being served by subsidizing the IHOP waitress (or the $50k / year DMV employee if you prefer).

That can be a complicated answer. But homeownership seems to serve the public interest well. I prefer the 50k nonprofit worker. And I would likely argue that allowing said worker to live in a subsidized apt community benefits the community as well.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

@Lance, Here's an interesting link someone following our discussion here sent me:

http://dhcd.dc.gov/dhcd/cwp/view,a,1243,q,648665.asp

What part of the discussion is he/she following. It states that "The Employer Assisted Housing Program (EAHP) provides assistance to employees of the District of Columbia Government who are first-time homebuyers in the District.

Isn't a similar program available to most if not all first time homebuyers?

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 12:40 pm • linkreport

@HogWash Isn't a similar program available to most if not all first time homebuyers?

No. Actually I don't know of ANY other employer which offers this ... It includes downpayment assistance, loan payment subsidizations, and all sorts of perks. Actually, I take back not knowing any employer doing this. I once had a friend who worked at the World Bank who could get his mortgage loans subsidized his employer ... i.e., he'd pay 5% when the going rate was 6%. And if that's what the World Bank needs to do to get qualified employees good for them. But I doubt my tax dollars need to be spent in these formats to attract qualified personnel to our city agencies. And if that's the intent ... I'm not sure it's working ...

by Lance on May 5, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

@Lance,No. Actually I don't know of ANY other employer which offers this

Oh! I thought that the federal gov't (through various programs) offer breaks to qualifying first time homebuyers. At least that's what I always thought. I'm not a homeowner so I could be totally wrong.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

There is a DC First-Time Homebuyer Credit:
http://otr.cfo.dc.gov/otr/cwp/view,a,1330,q,594156.asp

by MLD on May 5, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

These programs are necessary, in large part, because other government policies have made housing "too" expensive.

But DC is in a somewhat unique position, given its small size, and its political isolation. The question "are these programs necessary" is a legitimate one. Housing is expensive in Georgetown, but we don't generously fund programs to subsidize poor and lower-income housing there (or at least we don't consider it a separate problem from the general issue of affordable housing in DC as a whole).

Here's a devil's advocate position: if we de-funded all these affordable housing programs, wouldn't MD and VA pick up the slack? After all, they need low-income workers--arguably more than DC does--and most of them would be as close to jobs in DC as they would jobs in MD or VA.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

WHogWash:

But homeownership seems to serve the public interest well.

By this you mean encouraging "homeownership" over renting, right? Or am I misreading you?

In any case, with rising rents, most folks who can't buy couldn't afford to rent either (excepting rent-control situations, obviously)

by oboe on May 5, 2011 1:10 pm • linkreport

@HogWash -- there was a first-time homebuyer federal tax credit offered as (I think) a Recovery Act program (and there may have been a similar DC program, too), but i'm pretty sure at least the federal program expired last spring.

by Jacques on May 5, 2011 1:10 pm • linkreport

Hogwash: How would subsidizing a $50k a year nonprofit worker to live in a particular subsidized apartment community benefit the city?

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

"But DC is in a somewhat unique position, given its small size, and its political isolation. The question "are these programs necessary" is a legitimate one. Housing is expensive in Georgetown, but we don't generously fund programs to subsidize poor and lower-income housing there (or at least we don't consider it a separate problem from the general issue of affordable housing in DC as a whole)."

DC's isolation is artificial. There are quite a few more affordable communities in the DC area. It's just that they are in the uncool suburbs.

And we do generously fund programs to artificially maintain poor and low income housing in Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and other very high dollar real estate areas. Granted, not so much in Georgetown anymore, but certainly on Capitol Hill, in Dupont, Logan, etc.

That conscious choice to do that despite the obvious poor bang for our buck is just that - a conscious decision to spend limited $$ in securing a trendy address and amenities like cupcake shops and hip nightclubs within an easy walk of public housing. What do we give up? The ability to help far more people at a less trendy and expensive address.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 1:49 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, Housing is expensive in Georgetown, but we don't generously fund programs to subsidize poor and lower-income housing there (or at least we don't consider it a separate problem from the general issue of affordable housing in DC as a whole).

I'm not sure if the 50k/yr poor nonprofit worker would choose to live in G'town nor do I think that salary would support the purchase of a home there - gov't subsidy aside. This doesn't have to be the "poor handout" meme you all are creating here.

I wonder again about DAl's point about us steadily trying to gauge the efficacy of "affordable housing" programs when we don't use the same gauge for other programs.

Yes, encouraging homeownership does serve the public interest. But I also added allowing that nonprofit worker to live in a subsidized apt community wouldn't hurt either.

@Jaques, ok thanks. Not sure why I've always thought that people could qualify for some sort of first-time homebuyer program that's offered by organizations throughout the country.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport

We need to look at other issues besides affordable housing such as transportation, work, medical care etc.

Before anyone says that people who live in affordable housing what about those who work and make between $10,000 and $20,000 a year who reside in affordable housing.

Lets not make this a racial or class issue.

If you are in VA or MD you have to own a car in any place that would be considered affordable. Strike 1, if you didn't have a car before you have to buy one.

Transit service outside of Metrobus within DC and some Ride On routes is piss poor you have to wait an hour for some routes on weekdays and may have no service on weekends at all.

If still have the same job your transportation expenses go up; this depends on how you transport yourself strike 2

If you keep the same doctor transportation goes up; you may not be able to change due to no clinics in a responsible area. strike 3

by kk on May 5, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

I'd also add that DC doesn't really have a lack of affordable housing.

There's lots of affordable housing East of the River. There's also reasonably affordable housing in more than one suburb of DC.

What we have is a lack of affordable housing in relatively safe areas that are also cool and hip.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

"If you are in VA or MD you have to own a car in any place that would be considered affordable. Strike 1, if you didn't have a car before you have to buy one."

Not necessarily true. Springfield, VA, for instance. Has awesome metro access, what with it's own metro stop and all. And is pretty cheap. Granted, it's for ugly housing, and there are damn few hip bars or cupcakeries. But that's what sucks about being poor. You can't throw a rock and hit a cupcakerie from your apartment front door.

Ditto for more than one area in MD as well.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash
Isn't a similar program available to most if not all first time homebuyers?

In the District, yes. And it still exists. There was a Federal program, nationwide (capped at 8k) which expired last April 30th. The DC program, which was superseded during the time when the Fed program ran, is capped at 5k - but has much more stringent income restrictions than the Federal program had.

/New DC resident
//Got the 8k credit with hours to spare...

by Andrew in DC on May 5, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

@How would subsidizing a $50k a year nonprofit worker to live in a particular subsidized apartment community benefit the city?

Maybe tax dollars? Likely a "good" renter?

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 2:10 pm • linkreport

@Hillman:

DC's isolation is artificial.

Right, that was my point. In what way does it serve the greater good to subsidize affordable housing one block east of Eastern Ave, versus one block west?

@HogWash, @kk:

I think everyone understands that it's inconvenient to be poor. If the argument is DC subsidizes affordable housing because we don't want people to have to move out to the 'burbs because they'll need a car, why not increase our contribution to regional transit.

Anyway, keeping my devil's advocate hat on, you both have admirably described what folks who receive affordable housing subsidies get out of the deal. Not so much what the city gets out of it, though.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

@HogWash:

@How would subsidizing a $50k a year nonprofit worker to live in a particular subsidized apartment community benefit the city?
Maybe tax dollars? Likely a "good" renter?

Right, but your answer rebuts itself: Someone who was able to purchase housing in DC at market rates should contribute a greater share of tax dollars, right? They make more money.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

"Maybe tax dollars? Likely a "good" renter?"

Wouldn't a 'good renter' in the same apartment, not subsidized by DC tax dollars, bring in at least the same tax dollars?

I just don't see what the city gets out of this deal that justifies us artificially saying some people (meaning me) gets to pay for someone else's housing because they don't want to live in the burbs or other cheaper parts of town.

Hell, I'd like to live in Manhattan. But I'm not asking you to pay for it. Ok, I am asking. Would you subsidize an apartment on Central Park for me?

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

@ Hillman

So how is the bus access ? I ask this because Metrorail is not used by the poor as much when compared to Metrobus and the other bus systems.

Can I take a bus in the morning, noon, evening and night

Do the buses Fairfax Connector and Metrobus run late at night 2am like many routes in DC.

Can I go anywhere within the Springfield, VA limits and find a bus stop within 10 blocks.

Lets say I need to go to the hospital in the middle of the night can I take transit there as could be done with most hospitals (GW, Howard, Childrens, Wash, Providence, GT)in DC

by kk on May 5, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

"burbs because they'll need a car, why not increase our contribution to regional transit."

Good question direct this to PG, Arlington, Fairfax, Charles and Howard counties.

"Not so much what the city gets out of it, though. "

What is the city supposed to get out of it ?

by kk on May 5, 2011 2:39 pm • linkreport

Are you really suggesting that we subsidize people's housing so that they can take public transit to the hospital in the middle of the night?

That doesn't really seem to be a realistic public policy goal.

I have several friends that have lived in Springfield. They all take public transit, including buses, to various work lcations in the area.

With due respect your transit specifications are a wee bit too strict. Requiring that a bus run to 2 am? For what? Sure, some people are on shift work. But the vast majority of workers are on more regular daytime hours.

And you do know that you can get a beat up but reliable car for less than $1000, don't you? Wouldn't it make more sense to do that then to artificially pay people thousands of dollars each year so they can artificially live closer to metro?

And where does it stop? Do we subsidize everyone, depending on what they tell us their individual circumstance requires?

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

@Oboe,Right, but your answer rebuts itself: Someone who was able to purchase housing in DC at market rates should contribute a greater share of tax dollars, right? They make more money.

Not sure I understand how my answer rebuts itself. In this case, we're talking about renting not purchasing. Little lost here.

Wouldn't a 'good renter' in the same apartment, not subsidized by DC tax dollars, bring in at least the same tax dollars?

Absolutely. However, if that non profit worker's 50k (living in an LIHTC community) is included among her 20k
p/yr neighbors, I would argue that the higher salary benefits the community in ways the 20k does not. Sure, we can still question "why" provide the option in the first place. But, we do. In every state in this nation.

Also, why do we consistently believe that the 50k "affordable housing" recipient pays no taxes? Where do we get this from? Do those who make 45k vs. 85k pay different taxes or is it that they pay the same taxes but have more/less taken out of their checks. In short, "your" tax dollars may not amount to any more than what the 45k resident pays.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

What is an LIHTC community?

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 2:57 pm • linkreport

@HogWash:

Not sure I understand how my answer rebuts itself. In this case, we're talking about renting not purchasing. Little lost here.

Here, let's walk through it:

People who qualify for affordable housing subsidies make less money than those who don't. If we don't subsidize those people, and they can't afford to rent apartments in the city, those apartments will be rented by folks who *can* afford to rent (or purchase) those apartments at market rate. That means tax revenues from the people in those apartments will be greater than it would be without affordable housing subsidies.

Therefore the answer "Tax dollars?" is an incoherent answer to the question "@How would subsidizing a $50k a year nonprofit worker to live in a particular subsidized apartment community benefit the city?"

by oboe on May 5, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

"why not increase our contribution to regional transit."
Good question direct this to PG, Arlington, Fairfax, Charles and Howard counties.

Only way this will change is if the population of transit-taking residents increases.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

@ Hillman

Im just making a point on how this and many other blogs talk about walkability and transit issue but don't discuss the real circumstances on how it can be achieved.

Lets get rid of the 2am lets makes it 6am-11:30pm

Some areas only have transit in the morning (6-8am) and evening (4-6pm) to get people to and from work this doesnt help people who need to leave early due to millions of reasons or who work or need to go somewhere else on weekends they are SOL

No Weekend Service (some have Saturday but no Sunday)

Some run every 1 1/2 hrs on Saturdays

Everybody isn't Whitecollar many people work anytime between 5am and 12am. What is the likelihood someone working the opening or closing shift being able to take transit. Many cant choose their hours.

The $1000 car goes against many things on this blog such as creating more drivers on the roads. Then add in insurance, gas etc.

What about those who can not drive due to health conditions.

by kk on May 5, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Doesn't this then basically mean that eventually, there will be no low-income persons in the city? Is that what we want?

by greent on May 5, 2011 3:24 pm • linkreport

@Hogwash This doesn't have to be the "poor handout" meme you all are creating here.

Are your intials MB? ... it's not often I see the word 'meme' used ... and I know someone (with those intials) who used it just last night .. So many alias on here ... you have to wonder who's who ...

by Lance on May 5, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

Doesn't this then basically mean that eventually, there will be no low-income persons in the city? Is that what we want?

Is this currently a problem?

by oboe on May 5, 2011 3:26 pm • linkreport

"@oboe: Doesn't this then basically mean that eventually, there will be no low-income persons in the city? Is that what we want? "

Have you been anywhere in DC other than NW and Capitol Hill recently? We aren't exactly suffering from a lack of poor people in DC.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

An LIHTC community is one in which the developer/owner gets a break for building affordable units. There are income caps on the amount you can make. Woodmont Crossing is an example of one.

Therefore the answer "Tax dollars?" is an incoherent answer to the question "@How would subsidizing a $50k a year nonprofit worker to live in a particular subsidized apartment community benefit the city?"

If we start with the idea that there should be no affordable housing provision it makes it harder to have a serious discussion.

A person in an LIHTC may be able to pay 1100/month to live in a 2br2ba home with a w/d in NE DC than the 1800 likely asked for elsewhere in the city. The problem is that you will have a number of people who pay a fraction of that amount due to monthly subsidies given to the owner of the unit.

If we really are going to "question" AH programs, would we would be remiss in not including developers/owners in that equation because they benefit in ways the residents of these areas do not.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

KK: I"m not sure I understand your basic argument. Are you saying that it sucks that transit isn't as good as it could be, or are you saying that we have an obligation to subsidize housing to the point that everyone that wants a transit-convenient home can have one at taxpayer expense if necessary?

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 3:34 pm • linkreport

@oboe: Doesn't this then basically mean that eventually, there will be no low-income persons in the city? Is that what we want? Good point and I meant to include that in my response.

@Lance, no not at all. It's just a word I commonly use. Does MB live EOTR in Ward 8 and loves it as much as I do?

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

Hog: I think there's a semantics problem here. You are really talking about workforce housing. Or are you limiting it that way? Are you including really anyone with a voucher or subsidy, regardless of whether they work (assuming of course they can physically work) or not?

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

@Hillman & oboe: yes, we do have poor people. But we do have AH right now to boot.

If, as oboe was discussing, DC gets rid of AH and leaves rent solely to the market... this will price out many, and so I asked my question. Is the intent of getting rid of all AH to then turn DC into Central Park West? Is that even a possibility?

Is the trend to push the poor to the suburbs?

by greent on May 5, 2011 3:41 pm • linkreport

DC as Central Park West? Not likely any time soon.

Have you actually been anywhere East of the River or in upper NE anytime lately? The idea that it's just a nudge from becoming gentrified Manhattan is laughable.

What DC has is a safe neighborhoods problem, not an affordable housing problem.

The trend, I would say, is to maximize resources and structure public housing so that it truly serves those needing help, and isn't what we have now, which are massive housing complexes where work is discouraged and crime is encouraged.

That would most logically mean that some of the regions poor more correctly belong in the suburbs and areas East of the River instead of being artificially kept in neighborhoods that are expensive primarily because of their trendiness, like Georgetown and Capitol Hill. The housing stock and metro access is just as good in those areas. And it's way less expensive.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 3:47 pm • linkreport

It's not like the 'premium' housing market is a pure libertarian exercise.

We DC taxpayers are in effect already giving huge subsidies to developers who build new expensive apartment highrises. Their tax abatements are a direct bite out of revenue the city might be taking in, and changes the incentives they have to build different types of units. I would be happy to live in a big building with amenities but the ones near me (CoHi, AdMo, Petworth) are super pricey and, not surprisingly, have high vacancy rates. Developers can bet on eventually being able to fill those units and thus afford to wait around for wealthier people to move in, while NOT paying property taxes on these useless units.

All housing is affordable to someone--but we have an oversupply of pricey units that are empty as a result of counterproductive market influences. AH that is targeted at low and middle income people isn't some kind of backwards commie nonsense, and it doesn't replace 'better' development; it's usually focused on areas and populations that developers routinely ignore because they think it can't be profitable.

by Rebecca on May 5, 2011 3:56 pm • linkreport

Yes Hillman, I have actually stepped foot in all of the quandrants. DC quadrant bona fides fulfilled.

"Not likely any time soon." Any time soon. Which means YES, it is possible. Next question was: Is that what we want?

And... AH should only be in areas EoTR? I am assuming you mean in a poor area, and not a specific geographic ghetto boundary (using word in old fashioned actual ghetto sense - walled area of city certain persons required to live in)

So, the city should only have AH in poor areas... not equally mixed in throughout the city. Isn't that the whole "concentration of poverty" that govts have realized exacerbated problems, and we have been attempting to undo for 2 decades now?

by greent on May 5, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

@Hillman
Are you really suggesting that we subsidize people's housing so that they can take public transit to the hospital in the middle of the night?
That doesn't really seem to be a realistic public policy goal.

Are you serious? Of course one of the huge major benefits of having affordable housing in dense urban areas is that it's MUCH cheaper for people to get around there. It's not just so they can "go to the hospital in the middle of the night" it's so that they can use transit (usually bus) to get to their jobs, kids to school, get groceries, etc. etc.

Suburbanization of the poor presents huge costs for society especially in terms of mobility of those people.

I find it interesting that you seem to see "transit convenient" as some kind of urban luxury, since for 30-40 years its been a necessity for the urban poor.

What we have is a lack of affordable housing in relatively safe areas that are also cool and hip.
I don't know that many people are looking to specifically find "cool, hip" places to put affordable housing - AH is targeted at working class/poor and the reason it sometimes goes into "cool, hip" neighborhoods is that we try to avoid just tossing everyone out of neighborhoods when we develop/gentrify them.

by MLD on May 5, 2011 4:02 pm • linkreport

If we start with the idea that there should be no affordable housing provision it makes it harder to have a serious discussion.

Not to be snarky, but I'd settle for a coherent discussion. I've already given a few arguments in favor of AH. Some have disagreed, but at least I made the argument that having police or others live in the community is worth an extra subsidy. Again, could we at least get an argument as to DC as a community, derives some benefit from subsidizing $50k per year non-profit workers, rather than having them live on the Red Line? I understand the desire to have a serious discussion, but if you're going to argue that it's a given an affordable housing provision is absolutely necessary, shouldn't you make an argument that AH is, you know, necessary?

Your first response to that was "Maybe tax dollars? Likely a 'good' renter?" But as Hillman pointed out, someone who is unsubsidized would pay as much or more in taxes. And be just as likely to be a "good renter"?

@kk's argument was that transit is less dependable in the suburbs than it is in the city. And while that may be true, that's an argument as to why people would want to live in the city, not why the city is better off for having them live in it.

Come on, there's got to be a particularly compelling argument in favor of AH as it's currently practiced. My gut feeling is that the argument boils down to: We have a moral obligation to make sure the region's less fortunate are able to keep a roof over their heads, and MD and VA have long since decided to outsource that job to DC (by underfunding transit, by underfunding human services, etc, etc...) So we can either race them both to the bottom, or just suck it up and do the humane thing.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 4:09 pm • linkreport

@Rebecca,

AH that is targeted at low and middle income people isn't some kind of backwards commie nonsense, and it doesn't replace 'better' development; it's usually focused on areas and populations that developers routinely ignore because they think it can't be profitable.

Thanks for this. Using things like zoning and subsidies to encourage the construction of housing that will then go on the market at a lower value makes total sense.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 4:14 pm • linkreport

@MLD:

Suburbanization of the poor presents huge costs for society especially in terms of mobility of those people.

True, but there are equally onerous and well-documented costs to DC residents (and in other urban areas of the country) presented by the regional policy of urbanization of the poor.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 4:18 pm • linkreport

@ Rebecca--

All housing is affordable to someone--but we have an oversupply of pricey units that are empty as a result of counterproductive market influences.

I strongly disagree. What evidence is there we have a ton of empty, pricey units collecting dust? How can "counterproductive market influences" produce this result? Won't prices be cut, eventually?

It's also highly misleading to portray the current housing stock as a result of "market forces," or at least to use the existing housing stock as an argument for more regulation. I'm not opposed to more intervention a priori, but it's NOT fair to say "now is the free market and it hasn't worked, bring on the government!" Plus, these programs are expensive!

It's better to frame this debate as we have a housing supply problem first and an affordability problem second. They're both serious and I see the supply problem as alleviating the affordability problem most efficiently.

AH that is targeted at low and middle income people isn't some kind of backwards commie nonsense, and it doesn't replace 'better' development; it's usually focused on areas and populations that developers routinely ignore because they think it can't be profitable

But why are certain areas unprofitable? I think evidence shows developers will build in bad areas if the government can get its incentives right. By far, the biggest problem along those lines is zoning.

Also, by making these programs available to middle-income and middle-class people, you do two things. First, you make them vastly more expensive because vastly more people qualify. Second, you tend turn them into entitlement programs, a very serious step you cannot simply gloss over.

@ Oboe--

Using things like zoning and subsidies to encourage the construction of housing that will then go on the market at a lower value makes total sense.

Here's a great example of where I agree with your conclusion, but I don't think we are eye-to-eye. The subsidies cost the government money it doesn't have and needs for other things. The zoning changes encourage private developers to use their own money. So I would probably accept your compromise, if not the precise reasoning behind every word.

by WRD on May 5, 2011 4:33 pm • linkreport

@oboe
Thanks for this. Using things like zoning and subsidies to encourage the construction of housing that will then go on the market at a lower value makes total sense.

True, and we should be putting all the energy we can into building up our urban housing stock so that prices will go down. Definitely still a problem. But that's not currently a useful substitute for affordable housing subsidies.

True, but there are equally onerous and well-documented costs to DC residents (and in other urban areas of the country) presented by the regional policy of urbanization of the poor.

True, and DC has it worse because it's its own jurisdiction. Were we part of a state we could rely more on the rest of the state to help out.

You're all arguing about economics but AH isn't a moneymaking venture, why should it have to be justified as such? It can't be. We don't do it to raise revenue, we do it out of moral obligation. The same way we have SSI/Medicare/Medicaid so we don't have poor and old people wallowing in filth and dying in the streets.

by MLD on May 5, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

@WRD,

As far as the subsidies question, I'd rather have the DC government act as the property developer, so long as the resulting housing was put on the market at fair-market value (and so long as the end property didn't come out looking like Potomac Gardens), as opposed to paying subsidies to developers, and then paying subsidies to individuals to make up the difference between what they can pay and what the market would bear.

Of course, for political reasons, any housing that DC is involved in constructing is not going on the open market, so private developers it is. Obviously if we can get them to provide a variety of housing types through zoning alone, that's preferable, too.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 4:47 pm • linkreport

"It's better to frame this debate as we have a housing supply problem first and an affordability problem second. They're both serious and I see the supply problem as alleviating the affordability problem most efficiently."

Actually, we have a safe neighborhoods problem first and foremost. We have plenty of affordable housing. In fact, there are quite a few vacant and boarded up properties in DC. It's just that in many of those areas you can't walk the streets safely.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport

MLD:

I agree totally with transit options. It's just I'm not sure that we should start saying we must subsidize everyone's apartment so that they can afford to be near transit. That's a huge effort if we really want to undertake that.

As for tossing people out when gentrification occurs, it appears that you've made your choice - very expensive subsidized housing for a few in gentrified neighborhoods versus less expensive subsidized housing for more in less desireable but perfectly adequate neighborhoods. Like Springfield.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

HillHog: I think there's a semantics problem here. You are really talking about workforce housing. Or are you limiting it that way?

Beginning w/my first post, I tried to keep the discussion of AH centered around those who actually work and can thus benefit from such programs. Sure, let's call it workforce housing which is, for all intents and purps, affordable housing.

@Oboe, My gut feeling is that the argument boils down to: We have a moral obligation to make sure the region's less fortunate are able to keep a roof over their heads. So we can either race them both to the bottom, or just suck it up and do the humane thing.

If this is truly what your gut tells you, what is it about providing AH you don't understand or take issue with.

Someone who makes 50k may technically be "less fortunate" but the moral imperative in providing AH for them is less poignant than providing AH for a single employed father of two who makes 30k.

To be snarky, you took it right back to the "less fortunate/poor" argument even after I've repeatedly expanded the AH argument to include those who aren't necessarily "less than" others.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 4:59 pm • linkreport

Green:

It depends totally on what you define as affordable housing, and who it goes to.

Does it go to anyone, including the hardworking couple that is struggling to make ends meet? Does it also go to the crack using 20 year old that expects the taxpayers to fund as many babies as she wants while she stays at home and does more crack?

Until someone can answer that question then we really can't have a substantive discussion.

If it's just workforce housing, then putting it East of the River and in the burbs is a good thing generally. Contrary to what many believe, there are solid middle class and working class neighborhoods East of the River. Adding more working people there does nothing to destroy the work ethic or culture there.

But if we are talking about yet more never-ending public housing as we think of most notorious housing complexes in DC, then that's a whole other question.

And I disagree with the notion that everyone has been fighting to break up concentrated poverty in US cities. Quite the contrary. A good many affordable housing advocates absolutely will not consider tearing down even the most notorious public housing complexes, even after forty years of seeing how destructive they are to the very people we are supposed to be helping, as the housing advocates view them apparently as some sort of political symbol of 'keeping the poor visible in gentrifying neighborhoods'. And that's apparently more important than actually using resources to provide actual housing in an environment where work is required, adequate schools are available, etc.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 5:03 pm • linkreport

@MLD:

You're all arguing about economics but AH isn't a moneymaking venture, why should it have to be justified as such? It can't be. We don't do it to raise revenue, we do it out of moral obligation. The same way we have SSI/Medicare/Medicaid so we don't have poor and old people wallowing in filth and dying in the streets.

You make excellent points, and I've been giving this a lot of thought lately. But as you allude to in your comment, "DC has it worse because it's its own jurisdiction."

Currently DC has something like 15% of it's residents living in households with incomes below $10k. In MD that's something like 5%. In VA 6%. DC has 103 homeless persons per 10k. MD has 20. VA has 11.

So, yes, while we do have a moral obligation, it's not as simple as comparing local social services to things like SS/Medicare/Medicaid. If we were to zero out all social services in DC do you think, in five years, we'd still have the same numbers of poor? Or as @greent predicted, would we drive all the poor people from DC?

My guess is that it would be the latter. What if we wrote an amendment to the DC constitution that provided a two-bedroom apartment and a stipend of $80k a year to anyone who moved to DC and filled out the paperwork? Obviously those numbers would go up.

So it's not like we're living on an island, and that it's merely a question of "taking care of DC's residents". Obviously folks in Maryland have an interest in pointing at Eastern Avenue and saying, "Those are your poor!" Just as VA residents do when looking across the Potomac. Just as Americans have when looking across the Rio Grande. But you might just as well talk about Ward 8's residents as distinct from Ward 6's. They're not; they're region's poor. And right now, there's simply no question that DC does far more than its fair share supporting them. Certainly far more than MD or VA.

So forget @greent's question "Doesn't [eliminating AH] then basically mean that eventually, there will be no low-income persons in the city? Is that what we want?"

Let's turn it around: what if the demographic profile of DC looked like MD and VA--that is, MD and VA's numbers go up marginally, DC's go down to meet them. Specifically, what if some areas of PG County or Arlington became more dense, and more transit-friendly, and also poorer?

Would that mean we'd shrugged off our moral obligation? Or would it mean that the region's obligations were more fairly distributed?

by oboe on May 5, 2011 5:08 pm • linkreport

"Would that mean we'd shrugged off our moral obligation? Or would it mean that the region's obligations were more fairly distributed?"

I'd say it would mean the latter.

But you forget the political aspect. A major component of some (but not all) affordable housing advocates in DC (particularly those that advocate for never-ending housing with no work requirement) is that the poor MUST remain in DC. No matter what the cost. Where they are housed is more important than how they are housed.

As for moral obligation, I do believe we as a society have a moral obligation to try to help anyone that truly needs help and is willing to do their part.

But after a 20 year old has her second child, and she's still refusing to work, all the while spending her spare time breaking into cars and hitting little old ladies over the head for their social security checks (and, ironically, taking up subsidized housing space that an actual old lady that worked all her life could use), then, no, I have no further moral obligation. As far as I'm concerned she can rot in the street, and the government can take her children and put them up for adoption. If she comes back at some point and actually tries to be a decent person, then we try to help again. But if not, I honestly don't care what happens to her. And I certainly don't want to pay for her housing.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

Actually, we have a safe neighborhoods problem first and foremost. We have plenty of affordable housing. In fact, there are quite a few vacant and boarded up properties in DC. It's just that in many of those areas you can't walk the streets safely.

And in these areas, what is the common theme? Poverty. The incomes/education levels aren't able to sustain them. It's not simply a safe neighborhood problem. It's a "what works for you problem."

Your arguments are formed too narrowly. You basically state that "There's plenty of affordable housing in DC, especially EOTR. The only people who would complain otherwise are those who consider "comfort" over their "ability to pay." In that, a woman who wants an affordable place really can move to areas east of benning because the only issue against it is safety. If you think Comfort and convenience should be included in your decision to move, then don't complain about affordability.

Hey! Why should those EOTR complain about the lack of dining options when there's an IHOP, Ray's the Steaks and a plethora of local carryouts. Hell, you can't complain that there aren't.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 5:19 pm • linkreport

@HogWash:

If this is truly what your gut tells you, what is it about providing AH you don't understand or take issue with.

As I said earlier, if it's such a no-brainer, you'd think you'd have made an argument by now. As it is, each of your posts have mentioned that a) we should do it; b) there's no point in arguing about it; and c) there's a "moral imperative" in there somewhere.

Here's the question I asked you, for the third time, since you must have missed it the last two:

Again, could we at least get an argument as to what benefit DC, as a community, derives from subsidizing $50k per year non-profit workers, rather than having them live on the Red Line? I understand the desire to have a serious discussion, but if you're going to argue that it's a given an affordable housing provision is absolutely necessary, shouldn't you make an argument that AH is, you know, necessary?

Maybe you should take to Rebecca, since she seems to have a handle on it. Long story short: no subsidies to individuals, subsidies (or zoning changes) to promote cheaper market-rate construction.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 5:20 pm • linkreport

"And in these areas, what is the common theme? Poverty. The incomes/education levels aren't able to sustain them. It's not simply a safe neighborhood problem. It's a "what works for you problem.""

Nonsense. There's no reason that poverty automatically means crime.

I know (or have known) a ton of poor people that would never consider a life of crime.

As for dining options, when I was poor in my youth I remember us eating out maybe once every six months. Because we couldn't afford it. I'm not really sure that suggesting a lack of dining out options makes an area unsuitable for housing paid for by others is really a strong argument.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 5:23 pm • linkreport

But after a 20 year old has her second child, and she's still refusing to work, all the while spending her spare time breaking into cars and hitting little old ladies over the head for their social security checks (and, ironically, taking up subsidized housing space that an actual old lady that worked all her life could use), then, no, I have no further moral obligation

Ok readers, obviously I've done a piss poor job at trying to keep (or at least direct) the convo regarding AH to law-abiding, upright, employed residents of modest incomes. Somehow it keeps going right back to the poor and now... criminals.

Gee, and what did DAl say again.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 5:25 pm • linkreport

"It's a "what works for you problem.""

That's great. Until you start demanding that I pay for your lodging.

Then it's no longer a 'what works for you' scenario, as I'm paying your bills, and frankly I call the shots then.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 5:27 pm • linkreport

@ Oboe--

As far as the subsidies question, I'd rather have the DC government act as the property developer

And you lost me there. I strongly oppose that.

@ Hillman--

Actually, we have a safe neighborhoods problem first and foremost. We have plenty of affordable housing.

Um, not really. You could rephrase this to say we have a housing supply problem in some neighborhoods and not in others.

As to the moral imperative issue--

I don't know any reasonable person who says policy shouldn't help the less fortunate. We're all arguing where to draw the line.

But unfortunately, too often I see people debating Section 8 Vouchers or subsidies, or tax incentives without looking at the overall goal of providing cheaper housing.

All subsidy programs cost the government money. All of them are opposed by significant proportions of the country. This means that simply because of limited resources and political opposition, government subsidized housing will never meet the need. How could it? Even most ardent supporters would balk at a multi-trillion dollar program, if that's what it took.

I'm trying to say lots of people here are asking the wrong question. We seem to be trapped in a debate about marginally expanding or contracting existing programs. No one is asking if the existing programs are effective! Lots of evidence suggests they are not!

The right question is: "How can we best address affordable housing?" Is it vouchers? CCTs? A new program no one has though of? Zoning is my answer, as it's the only way to bring enough resources to bare.

by WRD on May 5, 2011 5:27 pm • linkreport

Nonsense. There's no reason that poverty automatically means crime.

Wait, so crime isn't really concentrated in poor neighborhoods? And the reason why Wards 1-6 don't have the same levels of crime as 7, 8 is what again? Just because they're neighborhoods are safe?

And if you notice, I didn't say that poverty automatically meant crime. What I did say is that "safety" is an issue largely isolated to impoverished areas. That is unless G'town has had a rash of recent killings.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 5:29 pm • linkreport

Actually if we'd like to get esoteric (and who doesn't), I'd say white collar crime is more often in rich areas.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 5:30 pm • linkreport

LOLThen it's no longer a 'what works for you' scenario, as I'm paying your bills, and frankly I call the shots then.

Right, because it's not like that 50k resident pays taxes. Instead, we pay for them.

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport

Um, not really. You could rephrase this to say we have a housing supply problem in some neighborhoods and not in others.

Um, actually, no really. If the goal is to drive down the price of housing, and housing is expensive because there are constraints on where (and how high) it's available, then it seems relevant that some very large percentage of DC real estate is off-limits to middle-class households due to high-crime.

by oboe on May 5, 2011 5:32 pm • linkreport

If the goal is to drive down the price of housing, and housing is expensive because there are constraints on where (and how high) it's available [. . .]

Then why are we not attacking the "constraints on where (and how high) it's available" that you identified? You know, the things that cause the housing supply shortage?

Look, I'm not saying crime is good. I'm saying looking at affordable housing as a housing supply problem is extremely useful for policy analysis.

by WRD on May 5, 2011 5:48 pm • linkreport

Not all poor families want to move to the suburbs true, and they don't have to. BUT many do and they should be allowed to and take their rental assistance with them.

Metropolitan open housing is the term- let people have the right to transfer their residency without losing their benefits. The poverty industry in DC doesn't let people do that.

It's not right.

by Tom Coumaris on May 5, 2011 6:14 pm • linkreport

but if you're going to argue that it's a given an affordable housing provision is absolutely necessary, shouldn't you make an argument that AH is, you know, necessary?

Why should I argue whether it's necessary when federal, state, and local gov't, churches and organizations have all decided that it is. I just didn't think you were serious in asking "why" we need affordable housing. If you had asked "what can we do to improve" these programs, I would have taken you more seriously.

If I asked, "why do we need streetcars," I would expect you not to take me seriously. OTOH, asking whether we need them in Anacostia is totally different.

Look at the Woodmont link. It represents one of the many, many LIHTC communities in DC. I think Stanton Glen on Stanton is another. From what I understand, it used to be a killing ground. Do you think builders would have constructed "market rate" communities in the absence of the AH break?

by HogWash on May 5, 2011 7:24 pm • linkreport

Hogwash: My apologies. I keep forgetting you've defined AH as workforce housing.

But if I'm subsidizing someone's housing in any way, even if they are paying some taxes, then yes I get a say in how the housing is done. After all, in theory their taxes are going for all city services like roads and parks, just like mine. Just they are getting a housing subsidy that I and others aren't getting. So, yes, I'm still paying for their housing, albeit to a lesser degreee.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 7:30 pm • linkreport

"But unfortunately, too often I see people debating Section 8 Vouchers or subsidies, or tax incentives without looking at the overall goal of providing cheaper housing."

Again, we have literally miles of cheaper housing. Pretty much all of NE and East of the River.

The housing and infrastructure is already there.

Wouldn't it be FAR cheaper to make those areas safe, thereby giving us acres of affordable housing options?

It really wouldn't take that much. A camera on every corner. Real policing, including neighborhood beat walking. Unannounced inspections of all public housing units for evidence of crime. And redevelopment of all existing public housing complexes into mixed use developments to include work force housing.

The increased taxes to the city would be massive. As would the decrease in crime and incarceration costs.

And the lives of the most needy would be immeasurably better, as they could live without constant fear of crime.

It's doable. We just don't have the political will to do so.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 7:35 pm • linkreport

"The poverty industry in DC doesn't let people do that."

Absolutely right. Because without the very poor 'visible' then where's the justification for the poverty industry people's positions and bully pulpits?

I'm not saying all that advocate for any form of subsidized housing share this view. Particularly not those that advocate primarily workforce housing.

But absolutely a great many of the apologists for the public housing complexes in DC absolutely view the nonworking poor as, ironically, their own meal ticket. As well as their ticket to moral superiority over us less awesomely moral people. Never mind that many of us heartless amoral folks have actually seen the destruction that unlimited welfare causes up close and persona.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 7:39 pm • linkreport

"Why should I argue whether it's necessary when federal, state, and local gov't, churches and organizations have all decided that it is."

Because as you can see from just this discussion that many people remain unconvinced of the need for AH, and we remain confused about exactly who it is intended to help.

And because we've seen 40 years of failed public housing policy in DC.

And because DC is changing, very rapidly. What may have passed without scrutiny in years past is no longer going to fly with justification, as the city gets less knee-jerk liberal, for better and for worse.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 7:49 pm • linkreport

Should have been 'without justification', not 'with justification' in post above.

by Hillman on May 5, 2011 8:27 pm • linkreport

but if you're going to argue that it's a given an affordable housing provision is absolutely necessary, shouldn't you make an argument that AH is, you know, necessary?
Why should I argue whether it's necessary when federal, state, and local gov't, churches and organizations have all decided that it is. I just didn't think you were serious in asking "why" we need affordable housing.

Fair enough. You don't think we even need to make the case that DC should increase, or even maintain it's current funding for affordable housing programs. Why bother pointing out that the AH budget was just radically slashed? After all, the various federal, state, and local entities have paid lip-service, and the churches are on board.

Nothing to see here folks; move along...

by oboe on May 5, 2011 9:57 pm • linkreport

What exactly is the justification you want? I already said the justification is that it's a moral obligation. If you want an economic justification, I'll tell you right now it doesn't exist in an easily quantifiable way. There is no doubt a benefit to having the poor live in dense urban areas so that providing public transportation services to them is cheaper. There's probably also a benefit to having those people live closer to their work. But it's too hard to quantify and probably doesn't eclipse AH costs.

As for your plan to just reduce services and then tell people to screw off and move to MD or VA, would that really work? It doesn't seem to me that those places have the wherewithal or infrastructure or services to currently meet that demand. I don't disagree that they should share in the costs but are there other ways for DC to raise that money from them?

by MLD on May 6, 2011 9:07 am • linkreport

Hogwash: My apologies. I keep forgetting you've defined AH as workforce housing.

Well other than a few, I'm the only person talking about this and have made clear from the beginning where I was going with this. From the moment you chimed in, you've directed the discussion no AH to nothing but some 20yr old baby mama. No one did that, but you. And no, I didn't define AH as workforce housing. After my 50-11th post reiterating the same issue, you decided I was talking about workforce housing.

BTW, HogWash defining "workforce housing" as a type of AH seems more accurate.

You don't think we even need to make the case that DC should increase, or even maintain it's current funding for affordable housing programs.

Sure we do. But that's not what you chose to focus on. You focused almost solely on justifying "why" we need AH at all - not possible changes made to the system. This was captured in your entry, "Here's the question I asked you, for the third time. If you're going to argue that it's a given an affordable housing provision is absolutely necessary, shouldn't you make an argument that AH is, you know, necessary?

This was apparently an important point for you to focus on.

Not making the case that DC should increase, or even maintain it's current funding for affordable housing programs.

by HogWash on May 6, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

@HogWash:

Not making the case that DC should increase, or even maintain it's current funding for affordable housing programs.

Ok, thanks for the clarification. I think the confusion is that both sides are conflating the two: there are plenty of folks here talking about the "moral obligation" to provide AH. Frankly I just don't see what the moral obligation is to provide housing subsidies to folks who can otherwise afford to put a roof over their heads in Laurel, or Springfield, or elsewhere.

As far as subsidized housing for folks who would otherwise be homeless, I agree we have an obligation *as a region* to provide such services. If VA and MD underfund those services, it doesn't let DC off the hook. But where it gets hazy is whether DC residents have a moral obligation to provide services to anyone in the region (or country) who needs such services because other jurisdictions can't be bothered to fund them properly. As I said before, the policy of effectively importing poverty has well-known negative externalities, too.

I support these programs, and I think DC does a pretty heroic job of funding and implementing them in the face of real-world budget constraints. But there's a lot of space between "support everyone who has a need until there are no needy" and just "tell people to screw off and move to MD or VA".

by oboe on May 6, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

The increased taxes to the city would be massive. As would the decrease in crime and incarceration costs.

Well I'm not sure your plan is even possible. But even if it is, why spend the money to do that when you can spend $0 and change the zoning law?

Further, what happens next? We run into supply problems down the road.

I really encourage you to read at least the intro of this study by Glaeser and Gyourko.

It also has some decent lit review of current economic analyses of existing housing programs. (Hint: they're not working very well)

by WRD on May 6, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

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