Not Much in DC Affordable Housing “Pipeline” for Lowest-Income Renters

As I recently wrote, I asked the DC Department of Housing and Community Development for some specifics about the “nearly 3,200” additional units of affordable housing that the Gray administration recently announced.

Marcus Williams, the Public Information Officer there, responded with just what I asked for. Here’s what I learned.

But first, a few prefatory remarks. As I said in my prior post, the area median income for the District this year is $107,500. Affordability is calculated for both percent of AMI and household size.

So there are lots of income ranges — and by the same token, lots of maximum monthly rents. The AMI itself is based on a four-person household. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use that here. Other household sizes are in this table.

As I also said, “nearly 3,200” is actually 3,137. This is the number of units in the “pipeline” for the current and next fiscal years. In other words, they’re at some stage of development — anywhere from still getting underwriting to actually under construction or renovation.

DCHCD doesn’t yet know for what tier (or tiers) of low-income households 710 of the units will be affordable. These belong to a TOPA (Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act) project that’s due for some financial assistance from the Housing Production Trust Fund.

At this point then, DCHD can account for the affordability tiers of 2,427 units. And so, without further ado …

SixtyFifty-six percent will be for the highest of the low-income tiers, i.e., for households with incomes between 51% and 80% of the AMI. The current range for a four-person household is $54,825 to $70,900.

But the allocation tilts toward the lower end of the tier. All but 114 (5%) of the 1,358 units in this category will be for households with incomes topping out at 60% of the AMI — $64,500 for our four-person household. This is $580 less than last year’s median income for D.C. families with children.

Twenty-seven percent of the units will be for households in the lowest of the low-income tiers, i.e., those classified as extremely low-income. For our four-person household to qualify, its annual income would have to be no greater than $32,250.

Nearly two-thirds of these units (657) will be in housing that’s linked to supportive services, e.g., mental health and/or employment counseling, training in “life skills” like financial management.

Some will be in transitional housing, which is usually limited-term, and the rest in permanent supportive housing, which has no fixed time limit. Both are usually for individuals and families who’ve become homeless.

Only 227 units in the ELI group (about 9% of all the accounted-for units) are for households who are poor or nearly so, but have somehow managed to keep a roof over their heads.

Rounding out the list are 412 units for very low-income households, i.e., those with incomes between 31% and 50% of the AMI. The current maximum for our four-person household is $52,750.

I’m not sure what we should make of all this, but I’ll take a stab at it.

Insofar as the unit breakout reflects priorities, we see two. One is a preference for housing that will be affordable for what would generally be considered middle-class families, whose budgets can be stressed by rising housing costs here.

The other preference is for housing that will get homeless people out of shelters — or actually off the streets — and then try to move them to a point where they can pay for housing on their own.

All well and good. But we don’t see a priority for other extremely low-income people, including prospective graduates of transitional housing or PSH.

Nearly two-thirds of households in this category had “severe housing burdens” in 2010. This means they paid more than half their income for rent, putting them at high risk of homelessness.

Very low-income households don’t seem much of a priority either. Seventeen percent of the units are designated for them, but nearly a third had severe housing burdens.

Well, choices must be made. And no one, to my knowledge, believes that Mayor Gray’s one-time $100 million commitment to affordable housing will meet the needs of all the many residents for whom the influx of high-earners is creating an ever-greater crunch.

Nor, for that matter, would a steady stream of revenues from the property transaction taxes that are dedicated to the Housing Production Trust Fund — not, at this point, a certainty, as the latest housing market plunge showed.

We have a complex problem, rooted in a diversity of interests, needs, imperatives and constraints. I doubt that a budget boost for affordable housing construction and preservation would solve it. But it sure could help.


3 Responses to Not Much in DC Affordable Housing “Pipeline” for Lowest-Income Renters

  1. […] Who’s being left out of the city’s affordable housing efforts? (Poverty & Policy) […]

  2. […] has apparently done its part. But units it funds don’t have to follow the Housing First model. Nor do they […]

  3. […] also the case, as I’ve said before, that the Housing Production Trust Fund doesn’t support only development and […]

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