Greater Greater Washington

Passionate testimony fills 4-hour Housing Task Force hearing

Individual tenants and representatives of large organizations alike spoke about their experiences with District housing policy at a hearing on Monday. Those testifying overwhelmingly reflected the need for more affordable housing. Many spoke about the Housing Production Trust Fund, which is successful but starved for money, and the Housing First program to combat homelessness.


Photo by Jason OX4 on Flickr.

The hearing started with a packed room, with well over 100 people in attendance. The most touching testimonies drew heartfelt responses from the audience, such as when Gilma Merino, a Jubilee tenant with a visual impairment, had her testimony read by her school-aged son.

A tenant recognized long-time housing organizer and advocate Linda Leaks for her help in the creation of their housing cooperative, drawing loud applause. Although energy dwindled in the long hearing, many stayed for hours for a chance to speak or to listen and support others.

Resident Tom Gregory articulated concerns that landlords are able to profit unfairly in the housing market. Cheryl Cort, from the Coalition for Smarter Growth, argued for better use of public lands for affordable housing. Denice Speed, a Ward 7 resident at Marbury Plaza, spoke out for low income tenants. And Monica Buitrago read the testimony of Nathan Moon, an HIV positive tenant at 1111 Massachusetts Ave. who was unable to attend, and whose tenant association had worked to purchase the property when it was sold. Other participants spoke out about their success as first time homeowners, their concerns that public housing might be lost, and their desire for housing at all income levels.

Housing Production Trust Fund has successes, needs funding

Many talked about the Housing Production Trust Fund, like Marilyn Kresky-Wolff, Executive Director of Open Arms Housing. She called for the trust fund to keep enabling the housing programs we have to create successful programs like Open Arms, which serves chronically homeless women.

A tenant leader speaking through an interpreter also referenced the Trust Fund. His tenant association had hoped to maintain their housing as affordable through the tenant purchase process, but insufficient funds in the Trust Fund made it financially impossible, even though they had nonprofits who were interested in working with them. Blaise Rastello from Transitional Housing Corporation encouraged city leaders to use major projects like Walter Reed to help fill the trust fund.

It's unsurprising the trust fund got a lot of attention. Low funding levels in recent years has starved the trust fund. One of the task force's 5 working groups, "Rethinking Local Funding," has the task of looking specifically at funding for the Housing Production Trust Fund.

Housing First has made a difference in its short existence

Another highlighted program was Housing First, officially known as Permanent Supportive Housing. One of DC's smallest and newest programs, this program targets the chronically homeless with housing and wrap-around services. According to Jean Badalamenti of Miriam's Kitchen, "the District made great strides toward ending chronic homelessness when it launched the permanent supportive housing program in 2008."

John McDermott, who also testified at the hearing, was one of many people who benefited from the Housing First program. He spoke about how, before being diagnosed with major illnesses, he had worked and made a good living. Now he was thankful to the city for the support that he had gotten. But that wasn't enough. Like many others, he spoke out for more funding to address the unmet housing needs in the District. "We need an equal and balanced approach," he said. "[Where] everyone who needs housing can get it."

Task force considering many housing issues for January report

Mayor Gray announced the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force in February 2012, soon after residents selected affordable housing as their the top concern at Mayor Gray's One City Summit.

The 35 members of the Task Force represent an array of housing specialists from government, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations, all appointed by the mayor. Harry Sewell, director of the DC Housing Finance Agency and task force co-chair, hopes to have recommendations from to Mayor Gray by January so that the mayor's office can consider their report as it prepares the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.

Sewell began the hearing a presentation of data the task force has collected and a video, entitled "Miracle at East Lake," about a public housing project in Atlanta became mixed-income housing, leading to lower crime and improved education outcomes.

The group is considering a wide range of housing issues, and has posted online a lot of useful data.

The task force has a second hearing scheduled for November 14. Although they have not yet set the location, it will be somewhere east of the Anacostia River.

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

Add a comment »

"We need an equal and balanced approach," he said...

Totally agree...

"[Where] everyone who needs housing can get it."

I don't understand why DC needs a housing policy stipulating that anyone in the region (or in the country) who needs housing will have it provided by DC taxpayers. Makes no sense to me.

DC should not be single-handedly trying to come up with a substitute for a reasonable national housing policy.

by oboe on Oct 26, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

It might be helpful if we had more posting here about efforts to provide affordable housing in the suburbs. I know Arlington has an active program, its a matter of controversy there and in City of Alex. FFX program is far weaker and still elicits controversy. I am unaware of any such program in LoCo.

I too agree that we need not only nationwide housing policy, but a nationwide approach to poverty. But in the absence of that, local govts should act. I would certainly like to see it become less of a burden for DC.

I suspect Mr McDermott, who is probably a long time DC resident, was not thinking in terms of people from outside DC when he said "anyone". Still, its certainly reasonable to craft DC housing policy to ensure it addresses DC needs and does not draw in folks from outside DC. Beyond that, other jurisdictions in the region need to pitch in.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

and, no, thats neither a complaint about the blog, nor a promise to post about FFX housing policy myself ;)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 26, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport

Not to derail the discussion about DC into one about northern Va. but I remember reading that Arlington was fairly unique in that you aren't required to already be an Arlington resident to qualify for the income based housing in Arlington.

by drumz on Oct 26, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

Alexandria is the only 'suburb' (of DC) I think that has a public housing authority (and public housing)

by Kolohe on Oct 26, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

Can cities require that not only a certain % of new-built private residential buildings be reserved for lower income tenants but also that they be current residents of that city??

Alexandria may be the only suburb to have city-owned public housing, but even if so, other places probably have more reserved-for-low-income private units.

by Tom Coumaris on Oct 26, 2012 8:35 pm • linkreport

Tom,
Most cities already require you to have been living in the city that you're applying for.

by Drumz on Oct 27, 2012 12:17 am • linkreport

surprised me- but I found this link that evidently cities can possibly require private owners to impose some durational residency requirement for their below-market units:

http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=ealr

While I understand and support this for city-owned units, I think it's dubious how strict they can be on private owners. Certainly smacks of a commerce clause violation and a right of travel infringement.

by Tom Coumaris on Oct 27, 2012 10:18 am • linkreport

@Kolohoe
All of the Maryland suburbs of DC have public housing authorities that administer public housing and other types of subsidized housing including Prince George's County, Montgomery County, and the City of Rockville.

by LRL on Oct 29, 2012 9:31 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or