Here in the District of Columbia, we’re hopeful about prospects for more affordable housing, especially for our very lowest-income neighbors — both those homeless now and those at high risk because they’re paying at least half their income for rent.
The Mayor’s proposed budget largely accounts for these hopes. Meanwhile, our Republican neighbors on Capitol Hill have decided to put a damper on our progress — and the progress of communities nationwide.
National Housing Trust Fund Defunded
The Mayor’s proposed budget would dedicate $100 million to the Housing Production Trust Fund — our largest source of public financial support for projects to build and renovate affordable housing.
This would double the amount the Fund has for the current fiscal year and probably expand the District’s affordable housing stock by 1,000 or more units, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports.
The District could have counted on a share of the revenues that at long last were to flow to the National Housing Trust Fund. But the House subcommittee responsible for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s appropriations raided those revenues.
A bit of budgetary legerdemain here. Basically, the subcommittee cut funds for the HOME program, which provides grants to state and local governments for a wide variety of activities related to housing and home ownership.
But it then partially offset the cut by allocating to HOME all the funds that were supposed to go to the Trust Fund. And for reasons not altogether clear to me, it tucked into its bill a provision prohibiting any other funding for the NHTF.
The defunding — and the under-funding I’ll discuss below — were approved by the full Appropriations Committee last week, on a straight party-line vote.
So much then, so far as the majority’s concerned, for funds intensively targeted to rental housing for extremely low-income households, as only 40% of the District’s Trust Fund resources must be.
Federally-Funded Housing Vouchers at Risk
The Mayor’s proposed budget would expand the Local Rent Supplement Program — the District’s locally-funded version of the federal Housing Choice (formerly Section 8) voucher program.
LRSP would get an additional $6.1 million — $3.7 million for tenant-based vouchers, which go directly to extremely low-income households so that they can afford to rent at market rates, and $2.4 million for project/sponsor-based vouchers, which help cover the operating costs of housing that’s affordable for these households.
But it’s doubtful the DC Housing Authority, which administers both LRSP and Housing Choice, will have more vouchers to award.
The House HUD appropriation reduces the funding local housing authorities will have to renew Housing Choice vouchers. They’d be shy a total of $183 million of what HUD estimates they’d need to sustain all vouchers now in use.
Here in the District, about 280 fewer families would receive Housing Choice vouchers, according to a White House fact sheet. If accurate, this means that DCHA would have to retire even more vouchers than it did after the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.
DCHA and other housing authorities may face similar problems with the contracts they’ve awarded to affordable housing projects. The President’s proposed budget included HUD’s best estimate of the cost of renewing all such contracts. The House HUD appropriations bill falls $106 million short of that.
Further Losses in Habitable Public Housing
A nationwide study conducted for HUD five years ago found a $26 billion shortfall in the funds needed to repair and renovate public housing units. DCHA alone figured it would need $1.3 billion to preserve and redevelop all the units it manages.
That was about a year ago, not long before Congress level-funded the public housing capital fund, leaving it with $625 million less than it had when the HUD study produced its shortfall estimate. And level-funding doesn’t translate into the same level and quality of goods and services, as all of us with personal and household expenses know.
The House Appropriations Committee has nevertheless cut funding for the capital fund by $194 million. Hard to see how this wouldn’t further increase the number of public housing units left vacant — or demolished — because they’re egregiously substandard or so damaged by fire, flooding and the like that repair costs exceed available resources.
Squeeze on Homeless Services
The Mayor’s proposed budget includes a range of investments to move the District forward toward the goal of making homelessness in the District “rare, brief, and non-recurring,” as the new Interagency Council on Homelessness strategic plan envisions.
Her budget also includes a more realistic estimate of the costs of providing emergency shelter for families during the winter months — a refreshing change from the past few years, when the Gray administration minimized family shelter needs and then had to shift funds from other human services programs to cover the costs of motel rooms.
As in the past, local funds would supply most of the homeless services budget. But the District also expects a small increase in homeless assistance funding from HUD.
The House Appropriations Committee would, in fact, provide a small, increase for the grants — $50 million more than approved for this fiscal year. For all intents and purposes, however, the grants would, at best, preserve the status quo.
No additional money to help communities achieve the goals set by the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness — a source for the District’s own ICH goals.
And lest I haven’t rained on this parade enough, the Mayor’s plan to expand permanent supportive housing includes an as-yet unreported number of Housing Choice vouchers supplied by DCHA. So we could be looking here at a robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Not the District’s fault. It’s what the Republican Congressional majority chose when it decided not to lift the caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, but instead to boost defense spending through another bit of budgetary legerdemain.
None of this is yet a cause for hand-wringing, though teeth-gnashing seems appropriate. A bill passed by one appropriations committee is a long way from becoming an agency’s budget.
But we’re a long, long way from a HUD budget that would meaningfully support the District’s commitments to more affordable housing and a lot less homelessness.