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At rally, leaders promise action on affordable housing

Over 300 people rallied for affordable housing this weekend with the Housing for All Campaign. The packed house drew Mayor Gray and Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and Jack Evans, all of whom were unified in their commitment to stem the tide of displacement in the District.


Photo by THCdc on Twitter.

Evans said, "We need to make sure the people who were here in the difficult times get to stay for the good times." But the three differed on how to respond to this need.

Mayor Gray promised a big housing announcement at his State of the District address next week, so he didn't make any commitments at this time. The Compre­hensive Housing Strategy Task Force, which the Mayor commissioned nearly a year ago, has recently finished its work. Their report is expected soon, so he's likely waiting for its publication before making a statement.

He did take the opportunity to praise key housing programs that have struggled in the recession, including the Housing Production Trust Fund and Local Rent Supplement Program.

Bowser, however, challenged the Mayor on his housing record. "You can't say you're for affordable housing and take $40 million out of the Housing Production Trust Fund," she said referring to the DC budget in 2012 and 2013 when the administration proposed $18 and $20 million in cuts to the program, respectively.

The Housing Production Trust Fund has created 7,500 affordable housing units in its 10-year history and is respected as a model across the country. It remains to be seen if the Mayor's strategy will include a continued commitment to this highly-successful program.

The next few months will be critical for housing funding. The task force is scheduled to release its report in the next few weeks, and Mayor Gray will announce his housing plan. The Mayor will then submit his budget to the DC Council, which many hope will offer increased investments to make housing affordable to District residents.

"It is time to act," said Bob Pohlman, Executive Director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. "More than a thousand newcomers are flooding into the District every month, putting more and more pressure on the cost of housing. If we don't face this reality and act now, affordable housing will be out of reach for tens of thousands of DC residents."

What does seem clear is that after years of accelerating housing need and limited political interest in the topic, affordable housing is becoming a key political issue again.

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. 

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Evans said, "We need to make sure the people who were here in the difficult times get to stay for the good times."

I hate this kind of demagoguery. First, the vast majority of the people who have been "displaced" overwhelmingly chose to relocate. A large portion of those folks left because they found they had a quarter of a million dollars in home equity. Another large portion of those folks left because the steady emigration of the first group radically changed the cultural profile of the city. They followed the churches and retail and other amenities out to the 'burbs. It's been happening since the 70s, accelerated in the 90s, and it's likely to continue.

What does seem clear is that after years of accelerating housing need and limited political interest in the topic,
affordable housing is becoming a key political issue again.

It doesn't cost anything to pay lip service to the "housing for all" agenda. The difficulty comes in trying to create significant numbers of units for the very poor. Because that's when you run into political opposition.

If people are having a hard time finding housing, we should be giving them vouchers and placement assistance and helping them look both in the city and in the suburbs where you get more for your money.

The regional housing crisis is a just that: a *regional* housing crisis. DC trying to solve regional housing issues unilaterally is a suckers game. It's in the best interest of suburban jurisdictions, and in the interest of non-profit organizations that have a vested interest in concentrated poverty in DC, but it's not in the interest of DC residents or the poor.

by oboe on Jan 28, 2013 5:18 pm • linkreport

Enough with affordable housing. How about encouraging development instead of stymying it? That would shoot up new available units and bring in construction jobs.

by Phil on Jan 28, 2013 7:16 pm • linkreport

I agree with oboe's and Phil's comments above, but they actually understate just how bad an idea "affordable housing" is. "Affordable housing" programs make housing more affordable for some people (those lucky enough to get housing assistance through the program), but inevitably make housing less affordable for a lot of other people -- either because they make development more difficult or because they lead to higher taxes.

by Rob on Jan 28, 2013 8:42 pm • linkreport

Agree totally with the 3 comments above. DC trying to solve affordable housing in a vacuum will solve little. All it does is decide winners and losers through what can best be described as a lottery, while simultaneously increasing housing costs for everyone.

by Adam L on Jan 28, 2013 8:59 pm • linkreport

Agree with the other commenters. City Government intervention on this issue usually is a net negative.

by I.rex on Jan 28, 2013 11:33 pm • linkreport

A large portion of those folks left because they found they had a quarter of a million dollars in home equity.

Really? I'm surprised you didn't include what were likely the largest contributors, crime and schools. I could be wrong but I doubt most people who moved to PG did so because of a financial windfall and likely moved out in large part for the same reasons as those in VA who chose "not" to live in the city.

Affordable housing" programs make housing more affordable for some people

Well sure. Doesn't the mortgage interest deduction and childcare/dependent credit apply to some and not others? What helps a collective more, the purchase of a home or an individual tax break? There could be arguments on both.

The anti-affordable housing on the left argument is essentially the same as the "cut gov't entitlement" one sounded off by the right. Both are a bit disingenuous.

by HogWash on Jan 29, 2013 8:06 am • linkreport

I wonder how many more homes for people could be created if historic preservation laws were amended? Housing is more expensive for everyone because of such laws and this obviously trickles down.

It's a pity that such groups have such control over our communities. Is this City Council considering any kind of changes to historic preservation law to improve the affordable housing situation?

C.F.B.

by Charlotte Bloom on Jan 29, 2013 8:20 am • linkreport

The update here is useful, but if the goal is to persuade anyone about anything, I think the author needs to lay a better foundation for the policy needs, objectives, and actions.

My impression is that "affordable housing" is several things, and perhaps the use of a term meant to sound like "mom and apple pie" undermines the message. Making housing affordable to the very poor is quite different from making it affordable to someone at the national median income. Both are different from keeping people with median incomes who are already here, have long wanted to move into the suburbs, now can afford to do so, and don't realize that the problems in DC that they seek to escape will be replaced with a different set of problems.

I think the negative comments here mainly indicate annoyance with vague analysis rather than the idea that people should have a place to live.

What is the composition of the alleged shortfall? That is, how many families are homeless, and of those, how many people could be housed with affordable housing or different types?

What is the rest of the need for affordable housing? Do you mean people with really long commutes who work in DC? How many of them are there? If they lived here, would they pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of the affordable housing?

As oboe suggests, the emigration of the black middle class has little to do with "affordable housing" issues. I'll give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt, that he meant that renters should not be forced out by higher rents.

Ultimately, however, you need to deal with the fact that it is relatively easy to provide undesirable affordable housing. But once that housing becomes desirable, it is hard to keep it both affordable and available. Income limits combined with sliding-scale rents based on household income leading to supra-market rents past a point are one approach, albeit administratively costly due to the need to assess market conditions and monitor income. The supra-market rents are needed to help cover the costs in good times from people whose income flucutates up and down, and enourage turnover from those who no longer need government help.

by JimT on Jan 29, 2013 8:37 am • linkreport

"We need to make sure the people who were here in the difficult times get to stay for the good times."

You forgot the second part of Evans' quote. I believe it was:

"Just don't even dream of letting any of those people I'm so concerned about live in MY ward."

Glad I could help.

by dcd on Jan 29, 2013 8:39 am • linkreport

Oboe, the one other major factor though in relocation is access to transportation and jobs. A lot of housing is cheaper but maybe not if you factor in additional time and money to travel to work. Until we stop having low wage employment in the city we need housing that meets the needs of people with low income.

by Alan B. on Jan 29, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

@Charlotte Bloom

Jane Jacobs would disagree with your thesis. In fact, she opined that an older building stock has the sunk costs already recovered, which means it is more affordable than new buildings. Sure, there are areas where old houses are more expensive than new, but factor out location and it might be a different story. Compare the cost of existing structures in non-historic districts to new construction anywhere. Likely the older structures are more cost-effective.

by William on Jan 29, 2013 9:23 am • linkreport

My impression is that "affordable housing" is several things, and perhaps the use of a term meant to sound like "mom and apple pie" undermines the message.

Yes, it would be nice to see an article discussing "what is affordable housing" because maybe that will allow us to have an honest conversation rather than knee jerk reactions.

by HogWash on Jan 29, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

The issue isn't affordable housing in a vacuum. What we're talking about is affordable housing in attractive neighborhoods. But, I haven't heard any legitimate argument as to why government should step in to ensure that people can live in their preferred neighborhood.

There is affordable housing available in the DC area. But it involves a longer commute to a neighborhood that isn't as much fun as, say, Dupont Circle. That's life- you shouldn't expect the government to help you live somewhere you can't otherwise afford.

by Potowmack on Jan 29, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

I remember the word supply being mentioned a few times back in Econ 101. Does anyone have an idea about how supply would factor into this problem?

by Michael Hamilton on Jan 29, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

This isn't just about affordable housing. It's about emergency housing, it's about providing basic needs and help to people and families in immediate peril. Funding for those emergency program has been cut. The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless explains the issue in this blog post: http://washingtonlegalclinic.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/dc-banks-417-million-while-residents-suffer/

by kob on Jan 29, 2013 10:21 pm • linkreport

from the Housing for All blog:
"Finding housing that is affordable has become more and more difficult for District residents. DC’s homeless population is growing, with the last count at nearly 7,000 adults and children without homes. For those who do have homes, many are paying an unsustainable amount on rent. One in five households in DC are paying more than half their income in housing, including 7,000 seniors. At the same time, housing programs have been hit hard by the recession and a series of budget cuts.....the Housing Production Trust Fund... has seen $36 million in cuts over the last two years".
The Trust Fund was created with a dedicated stream of funding from a percentage of Real Estate Recordation fees, which was impacted by the Wall Street crisis, and has been seen as "discretionary" by the DC Council when budget haggling time comes around. It has created 1500 units over 10 years, which is barely a dent if 20% of DC households are paying more than 50% of their income for rent. Those on fixed incomes, seniors and disabled are another sector challenged by housing costs. Using solely economic reasoning, where would you exile them and the working poor?
It is policy decision to include housing for all income ranges for a thriving city, rather than leave the city become a rich ghetto with no diversity.

by Elizabeth McIntire on Jan 29, 2013 10:51 pm • linkreport

We citizens are being played for fools.

Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Mayor Gray are using public issue meetings to point the finger at each other. This is what is coming for the 2014 Mayor’s race…finger pointing.

Ms. Bowser where were you (asleep) when the mayor’s office withdrew the $40 million from the Housing Trust Fund years ago? Jack Evans surely did not stand in the way of the mayor dipping into the housing fund. After the fact Bowser and Evans could have mustered up Council members’ votes to return the $40 million back to the Housing Trust Fund…if they were really that concerned.

Additionally, Bowser nor Evans gave any remedies or plans on how they will increase affordable apartment units for the working class (as noted in this article).

The mayor’s race (primary) is 14 months away…it only takes 3 to 4 months to build 100 affordable apartment units. Do our needed have to wait 14 more months until someone gets elected to the mayor’s office for housing development plans to be initiated? We are being played for fools…citizens.

Trusted Citizens….wake up. We are on our own in this District of Columbia.

Calvin H. Gurley

by Calvin H. Gurley on Jan 30, 2013 12:43 am • linkreport

A review of Census Bureau data on housing conditions in the District reveals the following trends.

¡öDC¡¯s low-cost rental stock has shrunk by more than one-third since 2000. The number of rental units with rent and utility costs of $750 or less fell from 69,000 in 2000 to 45,000 in 2007. (In this report, all figures are adjusted for inflation to equal 2007 dollars.) Meanwhile the number of rental housing units with costs of at least $1,500 a month more than doubled, from 12,000 in 2000 to 27,000 in 2007.
¡öLow-cost homeownership options also shriveled: The number of DC homes valued at $250,000 or less fell from 58,000 to 15,000 between 2000 and 2007. Homes valued at this level represented more than half of owner-occupied units in 2000 but just one-sixth in 2007. While home values have fallen in DC since 2007, home prices remain much higher than a decade ago. Median home sales prices at the end of 2008 were roughly double the median sales price from the late 1990s
¡öA growing number of DC households have housing affordability problems: Nearly 100,000 DC households ¡ª or two of five ¡ª spent more than 30 percent of income on housing in 2007, exceeding the federal housing affordability standard. The number of DC households with housing affordability problems is 20,000 higher today than in 2000.

Nearly 50,000 DC households ¡ª one in five ¡ª have severe housing affordability problems, meaning they spend half or more of income on housing. In 2000, some 36,000 DC households faced this situation.

While rising housing costs have affected a wide range of DC families, low-income residents have been hardest hit.

¡öNearly all low-income DC households have unaffordable housing costs. Four of five DC households with incomes below 30 percent of the Area Median Income spent more than the federal housing affordability standard. (30 percent of AMI equals about $28,000 for a family four.) Some 62 percent of households with incomes this low spent half or more of their income on housing in 2007 ¡ª up from 50 percent who had housing costs this high in 2000.
¡öLow-income households represent the vast majority of residents in need of affordable housing. While a growing number of moderate-income households also face housing affordability problems, most of the families facing such challenges are low-income. Of the 98,000 households that spend more than 30 percent of income on housing, two-thirds have income below half of the area median income. Of the 48,000 households that spend at least half their income on housing, 85 percent have incomes this low.
Because the private market in the District produces very little housing that is affordable to low-income families, public investment is extremely important to the housing status of DC¡¯s low-income families. Local funding for core affordable housing programs rose substantially starting in 2002 ¡ª from $7 million in 2000 to $123 million in 2008. (Both figures are adjusted for inflation to equal 2010 dollars.) This supported the construction or rehabilitation of 6,700 affordable homes ¡ª with another 1,600 underway ¡ª and the creation of 2,200 rental subsidies for the city¡¯s lowest income residents. It also supported an expansion of first-time homebuyer assistance. The major funding increases occurred in the city¡¯s Housing Production Trust Fund, the Local Rent Supplement Program, and the Home Purchase Assistance Program.

Most of these units were completed before 2007, the year that the housing affordability data in this report were collected. This means that DC¡¯s affordable crisis grew between 2000 and 2007 despite a large local investment in affordable housing, but it also means that the city¡¯s support prevented housing problems from getting even worse.

Funding for all of DC¡¯s major housing programs has been cut in recent years, however, which means that the city is unlikely to have made much progress on the affordable housing problems highlighted in this report. The budget for core housing programs in FY 2010 is $64 million, a nearly 50 percent cut from 2008 and the lowest level since 2004. The Housing Production Trust Fund will receive $18 million in 2010, compared with $62 million in 2008. In addition, the District has not been able to expand the rent subsidy program since 2008, despite a housing waiting list of 25,000 households. Funding for first-time homebuyer assistance has been cut since 2008, forcing the city to reduce the amount of assistance it provides to each household seeking aid.[1]

by Calvin H. Gurley on Jan 30, 2013 2:05 am • linkreport

@Potowmack

"But, I haven't heard any legitimate argument as to why government should step in to ensure that people can live in their preferred neighborhood."

They shouldn't, but the should but out to remove the barriers they themselves have put up.

by onelasttime on Jan 30, 2013 10:12 am • linkreport

@onelasttime

Oh, I agree. As regulations pile on, affordable housing becomes less and less economical to build. The height limit is just one example of the government-created distortions of the housing market in DC.

by Potowmack on Jan 30, 2013 10:43 am • linkreport

@Potowmack
But, I haven't heard any legitimate argument as to why government should step in to ensure that people can live in their preferred neighborhood.

It's not about ensuring that people can live in their preferred neighborhood. It's that the city benefits from spreading out poverty (especially when the people who benefit are the working poor), and the city benefits when low-income workers and working class people can live closer to their jobs. The movement of poverty towards less-dense areas is going to put a big strain on our public transportation systems (it already is). Making sure that transit-rich (more valuable) areas also have places set aside for the employed but less-fortunate among us can help us save money.

Subsidized affordable housing should not be about letting 20-somethings (I am one) have their own one-bedroom in hip places. Get roommates like the rest of us did.

That said, the supply of all housing has to increase as well. Development should be more open and easier so that the supply of housing can increase at a faster rate. Developers will build what is in demand so there is little need to dictate what type/size of housing they are building.

by MLD on Jan 30, 2013 10:49 am • linkreport

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