July 3, 2008

A Livable, Affordable City Remains an Elusive Goal

by Jim Knight, Jubilee Housing Executive Director.

The last several years have seen some interesting developments (yes, pun intended!) in the debate over affordable housing in Washington D.C. We have come a long way since the early parts of the decade when the issue was the province of a few lonely advocates.

The inertia which had long surrounded affordable housing finally began to break in 2002. That year saw the creation of the Housing Production Trust Fund – a dedicated source of development financing for affordable housing. Unfortunately, around this same time development exploded at an unprecedented rate and more and more families became priced out of the city. As apartment buildings became condos and the overall cost of living increased, affordable housing finally made it onto the city’s agenda (was this because the problem climbed its way to the middle class?). In 2004, then-mayor Anthony Williams appointed an affordable housing task force.

In response to one of the task force’s recommendations, the Local Rent Supplement Program was created in 2006. The Local Rent Supplement Program has proved to be a vital resource providing subsidies to help pay the difference between the cost of housing, and the amount that low-income households can afford. Around the same time, projects financed though the Housing Production Trust Fund began to come on line. With dedicated funding, affordable housing producers were able to establish a pipeline of worthy projects, and the city saw a modest increase in the availability of affordable housing.

But was it enough? Today the Housing Production Trust Fund is oversubscribed by $138,000,000. In addition, the number of new units funded by the Local Rent Supplement dropped from 1200 in 2007 to 150 in 2009.

Everyday, more long term DC residents are displaced to underdeveloped pockets of the city, or are forced to leave the city altogether. What will Washington D.C. do to stem this tide? Perhaps the majority of us would prefer to live in a city where everybody looks the same, acts the same and shares the same fixed set of values. I hope that this is not the case.

Our political leadership insists that they support affordable housing. But will they find the resources to invest in it at the necessary levels? What can we as advocates do to ensure that intention becomes reality? There are numerous affordable housing developers standing ready to turn resources into life affirming affordable housing. How badly do we want it?

Want to know more? Please contact the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing and Economic Development at 202-745-0902.

Jubilee Housing is a faith-based, community-based non profit organization located in Adams Morgan that offers affordable housing as well as supportive services to help residents live up to their fullest potential. Jim Knight has been the executive director for six years. His wish is for Jubilee Housing to serve as an example of what a community can become when each member seeks to find their own advancement in the search for the advancement of others.

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