DC Coalition Urges Major Investments in Affordable Housing

March 20, 2017

While I’m on an affordable housing tangent, I’ll turn to what’s going on in my own community, the District of Columbia.

We’re in the fairly early stages of the annual budget season. And advocates have already begun pressing their cases — for more affordable housing funds, among others.

The Fair Budget Coalition has released its annual recommendations — a far-reaching set, both in scope and total cost. Not a mere wish list, however, since we’ve reasons to expect funding increases for some of the priorities, even if not as hefty as FBC calls for.

Nine of the recommendations address what the report terms “housing security,” i.e., safe, affordable housing for both families with children and people without. These recommendations represent at least 53% of the total new spending FBC advocates.*

Surely everyone who lives in the District or attends to what goes on here outside the White House and the Capitol buildings knows that the shortage of housing the lowest-income residents can afford is a huge problem — hence also the homeless problem.

The recommendations go at the linked problems in several different, though in some cases related ways.

Housing Security in the FBC Report

Housing Production Trust Fund. This is the District’s single largest source of financial support for projects to develop and preserve affordable housing. Funds available for the upcoming fiscal year will be half again as high — $150 million — as what the Mayor has consistently committed to and the Council approved, if FBC and allies prevail.

The new figure reflects the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s 10-year estimate of the cost of meeting the District’s affordable housing needs and what seems realistic for the administering agency to actually commit within the upcoming year.

The recommendation wouldn’t necessarily mean $50 million more in the budget itself because the Trust Fund, by law receives a small fraction of taxes the District collects when it records deeds to real property and transfers to new owners.

The larger policy issue here is that the Trust Fund hasn’t done what it’s supposed to for the lowest-income households, i.e., those with incomes below 30% of the median for the area. The law requires that it commit 40% of its resources to housing for them.

Last year, only 15% of funds awarded helped finance new rental housing affordable for this officially lowest-income group, DCFPI’s housing policy expert recently testified. FBC wants the required percent raised by 10% and a mandated plan for meeting the full need.

Permanent Supportive Housing. FBC recommends $18 million for permanent supportive housing, That, it says, would provide 535 units for single individuals and 317 families.

The former, by definition, have been homeless for a long time or recurrently and have at least one disability. The latter have at least one member who meets this definition. The “supportive” part of the term refers to individualized services residents are offered, but not required to accept.

So the budget would have to include additional funding for these services. Don’t suppose I need to say why the District can’t expect the federal government to provide more.

Housing Vouchers. These now come in two different flavors — those funded by the Local Rent Supplement Program, i.e., indefinite-term vouchers like the federal Housing Choice vouchers, and the almost-new Targeted Affordable Housing vouchers, first proposed in the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The TAH vouchers subsidize rents for individuals and families that no longer need the ongoing, intensive services they’ve received while in PSH, but will probably become homeless again if they have to rent at market rates.

They’re also designed for individuals and families who’ve reached the end of their short-term rapid re-housing subsidies and like the prospective PSH graduates will probably return to shelters — or the streets — if left to fend for themselves.

FBC recommends 425 subsidized TAH units for singles and 513 for families. It also calls for enough LRSP funding to house an estimated 466 families on the DC Housing Authority’s enormously long — and still closed — waiting list.

These vouchers will all be the tenant-based kind, i.e., those the fortunate families could use to rent on the open market from any landlord that would accept them.

We’ve reasons to expect that the voucher increases, whatever the kind will be more than offset by losses due to insufficient Housing Choice funding — about 1,300, if Congress passes the nick Trump’s budget takes.

Rapid Re-housing. Rounding out subsidies of the voucher sort, FBC recommends enough funding to accommodate 343 single individuals in the rapid re-housing program.

No more for families, which may tell us something — at the very least, doubts about how successful the vouchers are at truly ending homelessness for all but those temporarily down on their luck.

Public Housing. Funding to repair public housing units is the single biggest ticket item on the FBC housing security list — $25 million to eliminate such safety and health hazards as leaking indoor pipes, broken windows and doors, holes that rats and roaches crawl through.

This wouldn’t make all public housing units fully habitable. DCHA estimated its capital needs at $1.3 billion last year, noting ongoing shortfalls in federal funding for them. Yet another prospective cut that the District may have to deal with at best it can.

Bottom Line

FBC’s housing security recommendations total $118.9 million — not counting, as we probably should some portion of the Trust Fund investment.

In one respect, this is what we’re told good bargainers do — put on the table more than you think the folks on the other side will agree to.

But more importantly, it’s yet another sign that the Mayor and DC Council should revise policies that unduly limit what the District can spend.

The Chief Financial Officer’s latest revenue forecast estimates about $221 million more than the the current budget requires — and further increases over the next four years.

Under current policy, the forecast will automatically trigger all the tax cuts that haven’t already reduced what the District can spend.

Next year’s budget would then have only 57% of what it could without the cuts — $103 million less for a host of critical needs. Even less in future years, as DCFPI’s analysis shows.

At the same time, the District continues to sweep all budgeted funds unspent at the end of each fiscal year into what are essentially savings accounts. It’s now got about $2.4 billion parked, probably earning at a miniscule interest rate.

It could well end the fiscal year with more unspent funds again. We’ve had surpluses every year since 2010, when the Council decided to save every penny of them.

They can’t be used for budget items that require ongoing funding commitments, but any one-time expense is okay. A transfer to the Trust Fund would qualify.

So, as the current campaign slogan says, the Mayor and Council should untie DC’s hands — or more precisely, their own. At the same time, with prospects of budgetary tornadoes, rather than rainy days, setting some money aside in a reserve they can readily tap would be prudent.

* In some cases other than housing, FBC recommends a range, rather than single dollar figure. And, as noted above, the Trust Fund recommendation would not involve total spending through the budget. The percent I’ve cited is the lowest.

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Should DC Support More Affordable Housing … or Less?

July 7, 2014

The DC Council has two bills pending that force decisions on how — and to what extent — local taxpayer dollars should be used to create and preserve affordable housing in our increasingly unaffordable market.

One bill quite clearly would increase the stock of housing affordable to low and moderate-income residents. The other would, over time, have the opposite effect, though it’s doubtful that’s what the sponsors intend.

Leveraging Public Land

A bill introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie would require private-sector developers that buy or lease District-owned land for multi-family housing to make a specific portion of units affordable for specific categories of low-income residents.

The requirements would apply to both rental housing and condos, but in both cases, only those with 10 or more units.

For housing near a Metro station, major bus route or streetcar line, at least 30% of the units would have to be affordable. A 20% minimum would apply to housing less convenient to public transit.

Those who know how dicey affordable housing requirements can be will be pleased to know that the bill sets quotas. These are all based on the customary 30% of household income and, as is also customary, the Washington-area median income, adjusted for family size.

The affordable unit requirements differ according to the type of housing, as well as where it’s located.

For rental housing, 25% of the set-aside units would have to be affordable for what the bill defines as very low-income households — those whose incomes are no greater than 30% of the AMI. (Those familiar with U.S. Department of Housing standards know them as extremely low-income households.)

The rest of the units would have to be affordable for households in the next tier — 31-50% of the AMI. For a four-person household, this would currently mean a maximum monthly cost of about $1,338 a month.

Half the set-aside for ownership units would have to be affordable for households in this tier. The remainder would have to be affordable for households with incomes between 51% and 80% of the AMI.

These restrictions would remain in place “for the life of the building,” which I assume means for as long as it’s used for housing. (Keep reading to see why this is so important.)

The District would subsidize the affordable units by selling or leasing the land at less than its appraised value. Developers could request waivers from the affordable unit requirements if that, plus other subsidies wasn’t enough.

Cutting Back of Affordability Requirements

A bill introduced by Councilmember Anita Bonds would change rules designed to ensure that condos and single-family dwellings developed with Housing Production Trust Fund subsidies remain affordable for a goodly number of years.

As things stand now, owners of subsidized units generally must sell them at a price that’s affordable to other people in the same income bracket until 15 years have passed — or longer if their purchase agreement says so.

Once the time limit expires, they can sell to anyone at any price. But they must reimburse the Trust Fund for the subsidy that made the home affordable for them. The time limit drops to 10 years if the home is in a high-poverty neighborhood. The repayment requirement remains the same.

The Bonds bill would cap the affordability limit at 15 years, making some types of homeowner affordability programs ineligible.

More importantly, it would reduce the affordability requirement to five years for homes in “distressed neighborhoods.” Owners could then sell at whatever price they could get.

They’d still have to repay the Trust Fund. So it might seem that the subsidy were merely being recycled — repaid by one owner, available for the next.

But in a housing market like the District’s, the second subsidy would often have to be larger. And the cost of subsidizing the creation of a new affordable unit would generally have to be larger yet.

So the repayment wouldn’t fund a replacement in either case — or at least not in the same neighborhood as the unit that got sold at market rate. At best, the Trust Fund would be re-creating affordable homeownership units, rather than expanding the shrunken stock.

Which brings us to the second big problem with the Bonds bill — the definition of “distressed neighborhoods.” It would reduce the definition used for the current 10-year time limit from a 30% to a 20 % poverty rate.

For technical reasons, the rate wouldn’t reflect the current poverty rate, as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s Jenny Reed has explained. So we’d have many “distressed neighborhoods” that haven’t been distressed for some time, e.g., Columbia Heights, Logan Circle, parts of Penn Quarter.

The five-year limit would also apply to neighborhoods that will soon be wholly redeveloped — and pricey. I see condos sprouting up near the Navy Yard every time I walk down that way.

The end result would be affordable housing losses in nearly 40% of the District’s Census tracts — the technical definition of “neighborhoods.”

And as housing advocate Angie Rodgers points out, it’s not only prospective homeowners who’d be affected. Any new Trust Fund money invested on their behalf would mean less to subsidize affordable rental housing, which we’re already so short on.

Preserving the current affordability requirements wouldn’t deny homeowners the opportunity to build wealth, as homeownership is said to do. It would merely ensure that future homeowners can benefit from subsidies we’ve paid for to preserve some modicum of diversity and opportunity in our community.

The current law probably isn’t the best way to do this, as Urban Institute housing and community policy expert Brett Theodos (and others) have explained.

But it’s a whole lot better than shrinking the time limits — and over-defining neighborhoods that prospective homeowners might shy away from if they couldn’t turn a maximum profit for 15 years.


For Whom Is DC’s Affordable Housing Affordable?

December 23, 2013

The New York Times leads off an article on the squeeze rental costs are putting on the poor with the story of a middle-aged woman who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in one of the District’s gentrifying neighborhoods.

She pays $828 a month for rent, which she’s able to do only by collecting $400 from an acquaintance who sleeps on the living room floor. Even her share is unaffordable, by the customary 30% of income standard.

And her landlord demands more. They want to drive her and fellow tenants out, she thinks. Not unlikely, since they could get double the rent once they renovated the grungy place.

The article duly notes Mayor Gray’s $100 million commitment to increasing affordable housing in the city.

The commitment is actually an $80 million increase, mostly for the Housing Production Trust Fund, plus a $20 million repayment of money taken out of the Fund to shore up the District’s locally-funded housing voucher program.

Added to other revenues that have flowed into the Fund, there’s now $187 million available to both preserve existing affordable housing and support construction of more. And the Gray administration is making a big deal of it.

The Mayor and two of his deputies recently held a press conference to celebrate the “nearly 3,200 units” the Fund would create or preserve.

Generous rounding up here, since the actual number is 3,137, according to a project-by-project list produced by the Department of Housing and Community Development. A lot of units nonetheless.

How many would benefit residents whom most of us think of as low-income? And how many of the 5,291 units the administration claims have been completed or will be fairly soon?

These might seem niggling questions to those who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of affordable housing terms. In fact, I think it’s a question we should always ask. Here’s why.

Like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the District and other communities use three tiers of affordability — all based on the median income for households in the area, i.e., the geographic area the federal government has defined for statistical purposes.

So we’ve got:

  • Extremely low-income households, whose earnings are no greater than 30% of AMI.
  • Very low-income households, whose earnings are between 31% and 50% of AMI.
  • Just plain low-income households, whose earnings are between 51% and 80% of AMI.

HUD sets the AMI, based on Census data. And for the District, it’s always inflated because the area includes very well-off nearby suburbs. This year, the District’s own median income is 23% lower than the AMI.

For the upcoming year, the AMI is $107,500.* Starting from that, we get the standard tiers for households. Then the maximum affordable housing cost for each is broken down by household size.

For public housing and Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers, HUD makes a further adjustment for communities like the District where housing costs are unusually high relative to income. The District adopts HUD’s figures for its locally-funded vouchers. These, like Housing Choice vouchers, are only for extremely low-income households.

The District doesn’t make the adjustment for projects developed with Trust Fund support, however — or for the “affordable” units that developers are supposed to include in certain new and expanded residential housing projects, under the D.C. inclusionary zoning law.

So for IZ and the Fund, a unit for a low-income parent with two children would qualify if the rent were about $1,581 a month. That’s nearly $855 more than would be affordable if the family were in the bottom, extremely low-income tier.

Now, the District didn’t invent these standards or set the area for the median income calculations. And it’s got to use them when HUD funding is involved. But you can see why a mere announcement of some number of affordable units created and/or preserved doesn’t tell us what we need to know.

So I asked the Department and Housing and Community Development for some specifics — and got them. I’ll have something to share in the next week or so.

* This figure was provided by DCHCD. I’ve looked in vain for an online source to link to.


My Blog Turns Five, Looks Back and Forward

December 9, 2013

Today is my blog’s fifth birthday — not an event that would have been part of my long-range plan, if I’d had one.

I’ll spare you the back story. Let’s just say that I got impatient with a blog administrator who left my time-sensitive posts languishing in the queue — so impatient that one day I said to myself, [expletive deleted] I’ll start my own blog.

I had no idea that it would become so important to me as a structure for learning — and an avenue to people who know a whole lot more than I do and achieve far more than I could ever hope to.

As I said last year on this auspicious date, I’m grateful for them, the discipline the blog provides and you who read what I post.

But this is all personal stuff. So let me share a broad-brush of what I think when I look at my earliest posts in light of what I’m following — and sometimes writing about — now.

My very first post took the DC Council to task for hurriedly cutting funds for affordable housing and, at the same time, rescinding a modest increase in benefits for families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Both were prompted by a projected drop in revenues — a problem state and local governments across the country were grappling with because we were sunk in the Great Recession.

No one then, I think knew how bad the recession would be — or that the labor market would remain in such bad shape for so long after it was officially over.

The District’s revenue stream has more than recovered, however. And happily, we who advocate for the interests of low-income residents no longer have to expend all our energies protesting imminent spending cuts.

Yet the source of the steady revenue increases has, in some ways, made life tougher for them because it’s due largely to an influx of high-earners. Their housing demands — and decisions to accommodate them — have driven up housing costs, especially for low-income renters.

And the District — understandably perhaps — is far readier to invest in things that will make high-earning taxpayers and business interests happy than to provide a secure, sufficient safety net and other income supports for residents who, for a variety of reasons, can’t afford basic living costs.

True, the DC Council recently put more money into affordable housing — $9.75 million more for vouchers this fiscal year. And it’s approved the Mayor’s one-time $100 million commitment to affordable housing construction and preservation. How much the latter will benefit the very lowest-income residents remains to be seen.

The Council is now considering a benefits increase for TANF families — about $16 more, in real dollars, than the one it pulled back, but still not enough to lift a families of three out of severe poverty.

In the meantime, it’s set in motion benefits cuts, leading to zero for most families who’ve been in the program for more than five years, even if the parents can’t find jobs that pay enough to sustain themselves and their children — a likely prospect for many, given what it costs “to get by” in D.C.

The District nevertheless isn’t engaged in more safety-net cutting. Not something one can say for some of the “red” states like Kansas.

Nor, like them, has it refused to expand its Medicaid program — a political decision on their parts that leaves a total of more than 4.8 million of their poorest residents without health insurance.

So on the local front, things could be better, from a poverty policy perspective, but a whole lot worse too.

Turning now to nearby Capitol Hill, I don’t know what to say that you don’t already know. But I feel I must say something to round out this selective review. So …

The economy was a whole lot worse when my blog was born, but I believe many of us had hope for positive change when President Obama was sworn in less than two months later.

And we did, in fact, soon get a package of measures to mitigate the personal hardships and other harms the recession was causing, while at the same time, kick-starting a recovery.

But there’s been a huge ground shift since then, due largely to right-wing Republican victories in the 2010 Congressional elections — and the Democrats’ defensive reactions.

No one, to my knowledge, believes we’ll see any genuine job-creating investments now — or additional investments in training and education that could improve prospects for some of the many millions of jobless workers.

Even an extension of the pared-back unemployment benefits for long-term jobless workers is reportedly iffy, though not to the point we should throw in the towel.

Another of the 2009 measures — the temporary SNAP (food stamp) benefits boost — has already prematurely bitten the dust.

And House and Senate negotiators are trying to strike a deal that would, at the very least, cut benefits further for well over half a million families — a compromise that House Majority Leader John Boehner reportedly won’t accept.

Other negotiators are trying to find common ground for a budget plan that would afford some relief from sequestration.

But no one at the table is looking to reverse earlier cuts to key affordable housing programs — let alone fund them and homeless assistance grants at levels consistent with rising costs and needs.

And the best we can hope for TANF, it seems, is another extension of the never-increased block grant, which is now worth 32% less than when the program was created.

To borrow from several blogging wits, our federal leaders are afflicted by deficit attention disorder.

And so long as that’s true, neither the District nor other state and local governments can effectively meet the diverse needs of their poor and near-poor residents, even if they want to.

Not a happy birthday thought. But I know I’m prone to gloom, as well as impatience.


How to Change Mayor Gray’s Plans for DC’s $140 Million Surplus

October 15, 2012

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Chief Financial Officer for the District of Columbia expects that revenues for the just-ended fiscal year will be about $140 million higher than he earlier projected.

Mayor Gray has said that the whole $140 million should go into a reserve account. That’s what the law requires, but perhaps only if he sits on his hands.

As things stand now, he may because he’s put a top priority on building up savings — already totaling $1.1 billion — so that the District’s got a big stash it could use for some future emergency.

We’ve got emergencies staring us in the face. And if the CFO had projected the surplus earlier, the extra funds would have been used to address those that the Mayor and DC Council agreed were most urgent.

That’s also the law — specifically, the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Support Act, which includes a list of programs that would get more funding (and the amounts they’d get) if revenue projections before the tail end of the fiscal year indicated that the needed revenues were available.

Top of the list is $7 million to make up for federal funds that the District had used for homeless services, but didn’t expect to have in this new fiscal year.

Next on the list are funds for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Some would provide more money for job training, counseling and other services participating parents need. Another portion would delay until next October the cuts in benefits for families who’ve been in the program for more than five years.

These families surely ought to have a chance to benefit from the improved training, counseling, etc. before they’re penalized for not finding work that pays enough to lift them above the TANF income eligibility ceiling.

Also near the top of the list are funds to partly restore those that the Mayor, with the Council’s approval, shifted out of the Housing Production Trust Fund — the main source of local funding for creating and preserving affordable housing here.

So the (relative) well-being of thousands of District residents hinges on a legal technicality. The Mayor could easily resolve it by asking the Council for a one-time, partial exception to the use of end-of-year surplus revenues.

Or the Mayor and Council might find funds for the top-of-list priorities elsewhere. Councilmember Jim Graham, after all, found $14 million in unspent child welfare funds. The audits that are always done at the end of a fiscal year may well turn up more unspent funds.

The source doesn’t matter. A firm commitment to fund these priorities does — and a commitment not to have funding for basic human needs like shelter, housing and cash for kids’ clothes on some extra revenue “wish list” in the future.

Or, for that matter, adequate funding for other anti-poverty programs like relevant job training and supportive services, e.g., affordable, high-quality child care, mental health counseling.

Which is why we need to exert some grassroots pressure on the Mayor and Council.

The Fair Budget Coalition has an editable e-mail we can send to let them know that we want some portion of the surplus spent on the top priorities — and longer-term commitments that ensure we don’t keep having these preventable emergencies.

As I remarked before, the Mayor and Council could fund the priorities and still have plenty of surplus revenues to put in the bank. Their choice, but we can help them make it.


New DC Rental Cost Figures Show Need for More Affordable Housing Investment

April 26, 2012

“How expensive is D.C. for renters?” a recent headline on DCentric asks.

The short answer from the latest report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition is “very” — more expensive, in fact, than only a year ago.

As the DC Council decides what to do with Mayor Gray’s proposed budget, it should ask whether a $19.9 million cut to the Housing Production Trust Fund will get us to that One City the Mayor is so fond of talking about.

Or will it instead drive up the already-high family homelessness rate — and leave even more families choosing between rent and other basic needs? A rhetorical question I know.

So let’s turn to the report.

How NLIHC Calculates Affordability

NLIHC uses several sets of figures to assess rental housing (un)affordability nationwide and for states, counties and major metropolitan areas.

The first set is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s fair market rents for two-bedroom apartment units — those in either the 40th or 50th percentile of all reasonably well-maintained units in the area, basic utilities included.

The second figure is the standard 30% of income that both government agencies and analysts use to determine whether housing is affordable for a particular household or group of households.

NLIHC also uses figures from other federal sources to estimate the average local wage for renters — obviously important when the issue is whether rents are affordable.

What We Learn About Rental Housing Affordability in the District

No surprise to learn that rental costs in the District are rising, but so is average income. Not enough for renters, however.

  • The 2012 FMR for a two-bedroom apartment in the District was $1,506 per month — $90 more than in 2011.
  • A household would have had to earn $60,240 a year for the apartment to be affordable — $1,800 more than the year before.
  • This translates into an hourly wage of $28.96, assuming full-time, year round work — $3.79 more than the estimated average for D.C. renters.
  • Renters earning the average — $25.17 an hour — would thus have paid $2,364 more per year for the apartment than they could afford.

Things get worse, of course, for poor and near-poor residents.

  • For what HUD defines as extremely low-income renters, i.e. those earning 30% of the median for the area, the two-bedroom apartment cost $700 more than they could afford.
  • The hourly wage that would have made it affordable is three and a half times what a full-time, year round minimum wage worker earns.
  • Looked at another way, the minimum wage worker would have had to put in 140 hours every week or live with another full-time minimum wage worker and a third who worked half-time.
  • Because the minimum wage remained flat while the two-bedroom FMR rose, the apartment was over $1,000 further out of reach than it was only the year before.
  • What would be affordable for the minimum wage worker is an apartment costing no more than $429 a month — about 37% of the current FMR for an efficiency in the D.C. area.
  • For residents dependent on Supplemental Security Income, any FMR unit is even more absurdly out of reach because the most they could afford is $209 a month.

Rent’s Too Damn High. But Why?

What’s happening here is basically what’s happening nationwide — less supply and more demand. And, as always, growing demand for a shrinking supply drives prices up.

On the supply side, affordable rental units are disappearing. This is a long-term trend, as the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies has shown.

Many low-cost units are being converted to upscale rentals or condos. Others stand empty — or have already been razed — because their owners didn’t maintain them.

Meanwhile, for various reasons, publicly-subsidized low-cost units are going-going-gone — 150,000 lost in the last 15 years, says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

At the same time, more households are seeking rental housing.

The recession and related foreclosure crisis are partly responsible for this. They’ve driven more households into the rental market. Other households are staying there because they’re leery of buying — or unable to get credit because lenders have become leery too.

Needless to say, the recession has also pushed many more households into the low-income category. They’re now more than a quarter of all renter households.

What Now?

Public policies have helped create the affordable housing crisis for low-income — and even not-so-low-income — renters. Public policies will have to help solve it.

Growing the economy — even if combined with policies and programs that get more workers into so-called living wage jobs — won’t be enough.

Policymakers, including our own Mayor and DC Council, have to invest in creating and preserving housing that’s affordable for low-income people.

The Mayor doesn’t have to wait for a report from his Comprehensive Housing Task Force to know that. Nor does the Council.


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

March 10, 2012

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.