What’s in the New DC Comprehensive Housing Strategy … and Not?

The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development devoted its latest monthly meeting to the comprehensive housing strategy produced by the task force Mayor Gray appointed in 2012.

I’ve waited to write about it until I could hear from some of the lead task force members because the report is hard to digest. And much of it isn’t written for the likes of thee and me.

It’s clearly of, by and for housing developers, though the interests of some of constituencies represented on the task force are wedged in as well. Not, however, the interests of the District’s lowest-income residents.

The strategy establishes three big goals for the next eight years:

  • Preserve the 8,000 or so affordable units with subsidies that are due to expire.
  • Produce and preserve 10,000 net affordable housing units, i.e., increase the stock by this number.
  • Support the development of 3,000 market-rate units a year.

The market-rate units — 24,000 in all, if I’ve got the timeframe right — are in the plan because the task force fears that the District could wind up with housing affordable only for the wealthy and the poor who’ve got subsidies.

But whom the preserved and/or produced affordable housing units would be for isn’t specified.

The task force recommends that “the lions share of new funds” (emphasis added) be used to finance housing for households at or below 60% of AMI (the median income for the D.C. area).

Based on the 2012 figures the task force used, that would mean housing for those with incomes no higher than $64,500.

Yet more than one in five D.C. households had incomes at or below half of that, putting them in the category housing experts call extremely low-income.

The task force dutifully notes the more than 67,000 of these households on the housing assistance waiting list and the nearly 7,000 people who were literally homeless in January 2012.

Also a recent estimate that the District would need about 2,700 permanent supportive housing units to end homelessness for chronically homeless residents. (Sorry folks, no online document.)*

Yet I looked in vain for a target for extremely-low income residents as a whole — a specific number of affordable units, for example, or some portion of whatever the total dollar investments will be.

These are residents who, if not homeless now, are at high risk. Nearly two-thirds of them paid more than half their income for rent in 2010 — a far greater portion than households in any of the higher income tiers.

On a positive note, the task force recommends:

  • A new, more reliable revenue stream for the Housing Production Trust Fund, which now suffers whenever the local real estate market does.
  • That the Trust Fund no longer be tapped to cover the costs of locally-funded housing vouchers, as it has been for the last two years.
  • A new fund to finance “shovel ready” affordable housing projects. What it could do that existing programs couldn’t, if adequately funded, isn’t explained.
  • An increase in rent and operating subsidies — and use of all the subsidies. No more administrative directives that the DC Housing Authority hold on to fully-funded vouchers.
  • That DCHA develop additional public housing, exercising the authority it has under its contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Some of these initiatives would clearly benefit the District’s poor and near-poor residents. How much would depend on what the District is prepared to spend — and how the total would be divvied up.

We’ve got more than enough experience to know that a developer can promise affordable housing without doing much, if anything, for extremely low-income households — and get financial help from the District.

And more than enough experience to know that goals and action plans don’t drive budget and other policy decisions unless elected officials view the potential results as priorities.

So the task force wisely recommends a standing Housing Investment Council to implement the strategy and report on results every two years.

The Council will have a lot of work to do. Many recommendations in the report aren’t “shovel ready” — partly because data the task force needed weren’t available and partly because “it was hard enough to get agreement on concepts,” according to CNHED Executive Director Bob Pohlman.

I’d hoped for a report that provided clearer benchmarks for what the many proposed benefits to developers would achieve.

But it does represent a serious effort — and a serious commitment to get those responsible to follow through. We see this in the detailed action items and timeframes that constitute nearly half.

Finally, however, it’s the Mayor and the DC Council who’ll have to commit ongoing resources to translating the recommendations into realities.

And clearly, we who care about affordable housing will have to commit to ongoing advocacy — especially, I think, for the most vulnerable District residents.

* The report references the five-year strategic plan issued by the Interagency Council on Homelessness. This plan, however, reiterates the District’s earlier commitment to at least 2,500 PSH units. So I assume the task force had access to some other document.


One Response to What’s in the New DC Comprehensive Housing Strategy … and Not?

  1. […] Affordable housing task force report is “clearly of, by and for housing developers” (Poverty & Policy) […]

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