Fair Budget Coalition to Host Its Own One City Summit, Says DC in Crisis

Monday morning, March 12, the Fair Budget Coalition will host its own One City Summit. One City (In Crisis) they call it.

No Convention Center space for this one. No slick participants’ guides. No digital keypads to vote on preferences. FBC doesn’t have half a million to blow on such things.

What it does have are some pretty alarming figures to justify its claim that the District is in crisis. For example:

  • One out of every three D.C. children is living in poverty.
  • One out of every five residents is on the waiting list for public housing or a voucher to help pay the rent.
  • One out of every ten residents is unemployed — and that’s just those who are actively looking for work.

The crisis doesn’t directly affect high-income residents, of course. Councilmember Jack Evans’s Georgetown constituents, for example, aren’t likely to be on that waiting list for subsidized housing.

It does, however, affect all of us who want to live in a city that’s not so radically divided between the haves and the have-nots. And all of us who want a secure, sustaining safety net for the latter.

Prospects for that don’t look so good — hence the FBC Summit.

At a recent briefing, Eric Goulet, Mayor Gray’s budget director, explained to us why the District couldn’t tap its reserve fund accounts — even the excess revenue surplus the Mayor chose to put there.

Also why the District couldn’t possibly cut funding for education or public safety.

And why it couldn’t, as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute suggested, borrow for some capital projects, at current very low interest rates, rather than immediately pay for them out of operating revenues.

Capped all this by saying that the Mayor wouldn’t propose any significant revenue raisers to help close the budget gap — now reportedly $115 million. Last year’s flap over the modest income tax increase for high earners was enough for him.

So notwithstanding the usual claim that everything’s on the table, it seems that the only big thing left there is spending for human services programs.

These and other programs for low-income residents have been hit hard by successive budget-balancing feats.

Cuts to them last year accounted for 61% of the total — even after the DC Council restored about $23 million. Chalk this up, in large part, to the raid on affordable housing.

Taking the programs off the table would restore some balance to the budget, but still leave them far short of the resources they need.

We’re told that the DC Housing Authority needs an additional $6 million just to pay its share of the rent for people who have locally-funded housing vouchers.

Homeless services is running up hotel bills — and running through its budget — because it doesn’t have shelter space or other housing for nearly all the families who’ve become homeless.

This isn’t a shelter problem, Department of Human Services Director David Berns rightly says. It’s “inadequate affordable housing.” Closing the gap in the Local Rent Supplement Program won’t do a thing about this, though it could keep some now-housed families from becoming homeless.

The Mayor apparently wants to go at the housing problem from “the demand side,” i.e., to get more people into good-paying jobs so they can afford to pay market-rate rents. Well, that’s going to require some additional spending too.

The Fair Budget Coalition flags the need to increase funding for adult education and literacy programs — an obvious priority given the high functional illiteracy rate and the demands of our local job market.

Also advocates more money for child care subsidies so that parents who find jobs can go to work — and, I’d add, to pay for rent, food, clothing and other basic needs. Hard for low-income parents without subsidies to do when child care costs in the District can eat up two-thirds of full-time minimum wage.

The District’s redesigned Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would fit in well with the demand-side focus — if DHS has the funds to do what it plans.

DCFPI rather doubts it does.

And, as the Institute notes, parents who’ve had no opportunity to benefit from the improvements will nevertheless lose more and more of the meager cash assistance that’s keeping some, though not all of them from homelessness.

Well, I could go on this way, but I think the point is clear. A Fiscal Year 2013 budget that’s balanced by spending cuts alone will not only cause greater hardships. It will undermine what the Mayor himself says he wants to achieve.

He couldn’t learn this at his One City Summit. Maybe FBC’s will get the message through.


9 Responses to Fair Budget Coalition to Host Its Own One City Summit, Says DC in Crisis

  1. danmac says:

    If one out of every 5 residents are on a waiting list for housing or housing vouchers what is the total when you add all the people in public housing and section 8 housing not to mention those in shelters.

  2. Kathryn Baer says:

    I don’t have access to all the relevant current figures. These, however, can give you a pretty good idea. The DC Housing Authority recently reported 41,125 households on the waiting list for affordable housing.

    According to DCHA, a total of 44,823 residents hold federally-funded housing vouchers or live in public housing — 31,200 for the vouchers and 13,623 for public housing.

    As you may know, the District also has a locally-funded voucher program, the Local Rent Supplement Program. As of last spring, LSRP served about 670 households. I believe this is still the case, but without more funding, some of these households will lose their vouchers.

    I’m still trying to get an accurate count for people in shelters. Figures used to be posted, but aren’t any more.

  3. danmac says:

    Thanks, These nmbers seem wrong. If my addition is correct.
    1 in 5 of 600,000 = 120,000 +43,000+13,000 = 176,000
    That would be close to 40 percent. Somethings wrong here.

  4. Kathryn Baer says:

    You seem to be adding 20% of the population to the numbers of residents who benefit from the two federally-funded housing programs. The 1 in 5 figures is for the number on the waiting list for housing assistance. It’s an estimate (not mine), but seems to me in the ballpark.

  5. danmac says:

    1 in 5 is 20% and yes if they are already receiving housing assistance then they shouldn’t be counted as on a waiting list. So I think the number is absurd or it’s time to turn the city back over to a Control Board since we have oviously become a dumping ground for the surrounding jurisdictions for their homeless or those needing assistance f

  6. Kathryn Baer says:

    I can’t imagine how a Control Board would solve the affordable housing problem in the District unless it made very different budget decisions from our local elected officials. It certainly couldn’t prevent people from moving into the District in search of affordable housing.

    Homeless assistance is a different matter. With very limited temporary exceptions, it’s available only to people who can prove they’re District residents.

  7. […] Fair Budget Coalition to Host its Own One City Summit, Says DC in Crisis, Poverty and Policy Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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  9. […] Read more: WAMU | Washington Examiner | DCist | Poverty & Policy […]

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