The key to a better city is an affordable continuum of housing. That’s the core message of an ambitious, well-thought-out campaign launched by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development.
Its vision and the policies and processes to get us from where we are to a city that offers affordable housing to all residents are spelled out in a lengthy, fact-packed report. It could mark the beginning of a new day in the District’s faltering efforts to create the housing choices that were part of the former administration’s “vision for growing an inclusive city.”
For one thing, the report represents a consensus among 125 local organizations that play a variety of roles in developing and operating diverse types of affordable housing in the District. It’s the first time that so many have come together in support of such a substantive, comprehensive framework.
For another, the report offers a compelling vision centered in two related concepts. One is a continuum of affordable housing options — from emergency shelters all the way to conventional home ownership. Within this continuum it focuses on three options that are subsidized by federal and local funding — housing with supportive services, other rental housing and assisted home ownership.
The second concept is what CNHED calls “neighborhoods of opportunity.” These are neighborhoods that offer residents “a strong sense of place, pride and connectedness.” The coalition views a continuum of housing choices suited to their needs and incomes as the “defining,” though far from the only element of these neighborhoods.
This concept of neighborhood is, to me, one of the most attractive things about the CNHED framework because it recognizes and, in a manner of speaking, celebrates the physical, social and economic diversity of our community. It envisions transformational changes that preserve the unique neighborhoods we’ve got.
The affordable housing continuum CNHED advocates thus stands in direct contrast to “the dehumanized investment commodity that dominates much of the contemporary conversation about the local housing market.” The report repeatedly emphasizes the need to recognize that current residents are “the predominant stakeholders” in revitalization projects and warns against their displacement.
The District has some innovative programs for financing the development and operation of affordable housing. Funding for these programs increased after 2006, when the multi-stakeholder Comprehensive Housing Task Force issued its report. But, as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has tells us, funding for these programs has been cut nearly 50% in the last two years.
The current budget, says CNHED, commits only $80 million in local funds to affordable housing — $1.33 out of every $100. If the District were implementing the recommendations produced by the Comprehensive Housing Task Force, it would be spending more than three times as much — $255 million a year or $4.26 out of every $100.
True, the recession has brought a sharp decline in tax revenues. Spending cuts were inevitable. Yet affordable housing took a bigger hit than many other areas — 34% since Fiscal Year 2008, as compared to 5% in total spending authority.
So we’re looking here at priority choices, both in spending and in tax policy. Jenny Reed, the housing guru at DCFPI, participated in the briefing to launch the campaign. When someone asked what should be cut to free up funds for affordable housing, she suggested the District “grow the pie” instead.
Options she mentioned (not mutually exclusive) include new and/or expanded revenue raisers, reforms in tax preferences and a more disciplined approach to tax abatements. CNHED has some additional recommendations.
But the first and most important thing is for the District to make a meaningful commitment to addressing our affordable housing crisis — and in a way that will preserve and strengthen the values of community.
CNHED’s report aims to provide a foundation for this commitment, as well as a host of ideas for implementing it. A pretty hefty piece for our elected officials, but I hope they (0r their staff) will tackle it. For the rest of you, highly recommended.
I also recommend that you consider signing on as a campaign supporter. Because as CNHED recognizes, we’re not going to get anything approaching an affordable housing continuum without strong, grassroots support.