Greater Greater Washington

Budget


Protect DC's Housing Production Trust Fund

The Housing Production Trust Fund, DC's premier tool for producing and preserving affordable housing, is nearing extinction. Facing 2 years of cuts from Mayor Gray totaling $38 million, and apathy toward undoing this decision from the DC Council, the Trust Fund is dwindling into irrelevance.


The St. Dennis in Mt. Pleasant. Photo by Martin Austermuhle on DCist, reprinted with permission.

The Trust Fund has created over 7000 homes in its 10-year history, and 1000 more are in various stages of development. But this year's proposed budget only leaves enough for 170 units to be built next year. By 2016, that number will fall to only 36. A Trust Fund that can only produce a few dozen units is no longer a Housing Production Trust Fund.

The city has seen big changes over the life of the Trust Fund, but today the Trust Fund's mission is more important than ever. In the last 10 years, DC has finally crossed the mythical population mark of 600,000 residents, and has become a destination for young professionals.

Neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and H Street have seen makeovers so dramatic their own mothers might not recognize them. It's no secret that these changes have had a mixed impact on longtime and low-income residents.

Over the last decade, the has city lost 20,000 units of low-cost housing. In fact, Brookings' analysis of the population data shows that affluent residents increased as the population of low income residents fell. To put it another way, higher-income people moved into lower-income people's apartments.

Preserving affordable housing is one of the mandates of the Housing Production Trust Fund. The Trust Fund is meant to preserve low- and moderate-income families' ability to stay in their homes and communities as neighborhoods change. The Trust Fund has done this successfully all over the city.

Tucked within some of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods are buildings that have long-term affordability locked in because of their funding from the Housing Production Trust Fund. In Mount Pleasant there is the St. Dennis, in Logan Circle there is the Norwood and in Petworth there is Three Tree Flats. The current residents and future low-income tenants of these buildings get the benefits of the new grocery stores, upgraded libraries, and all the other amenities that are making DC a place where so many people want to live.

The other goal of the Trust Fund is to produce new high-quality affordable housing. SOME, a 40-year-old nonprofit that provides a wide range of services to DC's homeless population, has been doing this with great success, most recently in Wards 7 and 8. They have purchased, gutted, and rehabbed vacant, decrepit buildings around the wards, and are turning them into 250 high-quality homes for currently homeless individuals.

These refurbished buildings include a thoughtful mixture of housing needs (including emergency shelter beds in buildings with single-room occupancy and efficiency units) as well as social needs such as a rooftop deck, with elevator access, for a new senior building.

Unfortunately, these types of projects will no longer be possible if the cuts to the Trust Fund continue. By not taking it seriously enough, the city risks losing its only locally-funded tool for remaking derelict property into vibrant community assets, and for helping long time residents stay in place.

Elizabeth Falcon is the campaign organizer for the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), an association of affordable housing developers, community organizations, government agencies and more in DC. She writes about how policies affect affordable housing at the Housing For All blog. 

Comments

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Affordable Housing is the number one priority of DC residents. It is about time the City start investing in it!

by KR on Apr 17, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

I tend to be skeptical of "affordable housing" because I suspect it will be heavily means-tested. This leaves middle class workers, who can barely afford market rents, also means-tested out of affordable housing set aside for the poor; creating a "doughnut hole" in housing affordability.

by Steve S. on Apr 17, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

I'm skeptical of "affordable housing" for the same reason Steve S. is. And I'd add that in many cases, "affordable housing" program make it more expensive to build market-rate housing, so the "affordable housing" programs raise market rents. As a result, "affordable housing" programs usually make housing less affordable for the middle class.

You can see that in DC: there's a substantial affluent population living in market-rate housing, a substantial poor population living in subsidized housing, but not much of a genuine middle class.

by Rob on Apr 17, 2012 5:08 pm • linkreport

1. there are affordable housing progams that target workforce housing at various percentages of Average income, not only housing for the worst off

2. While an overly harsh affordability requirement for private developers could limit production of market rate housing A. This post is not about such requirements, but about local govt funding for affordable housing and B. the rate of development of new market rate housing in DC suggest this problem still allows large scale production of market rate housing and C. To the extent that inclusive zoning overcomes local resistance to dense redevelopment, it actually enables the production of market rate housing.

In parts of NoVa affordable housing is at the option of the developer, in exchange for density bonuses.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 17, 2012 5:13 pm • linkreport

We will never subsidize ourselves into affordable housing. Supply side reforms must be enacted as aggressively as demand side subsidies.

by WRD on Apr 17, 2012 9:07 pm • linkreport

"DC has finally crossed the mythical population mark of 600,000 residents"

Uh, what does this mean? Hogwarts is opening a charter school on Benning Road? Griffins are replacing the Canadian Geese around the reflecting pool? Tommy Wells is going walk across town to throw the One Ring into Mount Pleasant?

by Kolohe on Apr 17, 2012 9:36 pm • linkreport

For everybody in affordable housing there is a taxpayer getting stuck with having to pay part of the cost. Nothing fair about that.
My parents had to pay their own rent and I had to work my way through college holding a full time job. Both of my parents had a full time and a part time job. I guess we were all stupid, we should have just cried "Woe is Me" and let somebody else pay for everything.
I worked with a man who had seven kids. He was in subsidized housing and always refused overtime because the extra money would interfere with his subsidized rent and other giveaways he was getting, including food stamps.
Somebody has to advocate for the taxpayers sooner or later because they are really getting screwed.

by Taxed Enough on Apr 17, 2012 11:18 pm • linkreport

The Trust Fund can be used to develop housing for people who make up to 80% AMI, so working class and middle class families can benefit from the program. Although the program is targeted at lower income levels, this allows for greater income diversity in Trust Fund-funded properties than many other federal and local programs.

by Elizabeth on Apr 18, 2012 8:19 am • linkreport

@Kolohe: I admit it, the image of Tommy Wells as Frodo cracked me up. Nicely played.

by dcd on Apr 18, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

The Trust Fund can be used to develop housing for people who make up to 80% AMI, so working class and middle class families can benefit from the program. Although the program is targeted at lower income levels, this allows for greater income diversity in Trust Fund-funded properties than many other federal and local programs.

There's always the tendency to conflate two different things: on the one hand, ensuring we have a supply of housing for working class and middle-class residents contributes to the economic health of the city. On the other, providing housing as charity for very poor people is a moral good.

The problem is that DC already has a far higher number of very poor people than any other jurisdiction in the region. Increasing the amount of spending so that we can increase that number makes no sense. DC is doing its share. (What's our end goal? To corner the market?)

When the poverty numbers in MD and VA are anywhere close to DC, then we can talk about how DC should do more. Til then, workforce housing should be our goal.

by oboe on Apr 18, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

"The problem is that DC already has a far higher number of very poor people than any other jurisdiction in the region. Increasing the amount of spending so that we can increase that number makes no sense"

My guess is that the number of poor people in DC is trending down (with a spike due to the recent recession)(and the percent is going down even faster, as total pop increases). Programs for affordable housing for the poor would be more likely to slow the rate of decrease than to lead to an increase.

To the extent that they reduce the resistance to new development at higher densities (a political question) they might in fact result in increased production of market rate housing, and hence a faster increase in the middle and upper class population.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 18, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

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