May 18, 2011

Cuts to Housing Programs, No New Investment

Anyone who thinks that the affordable housing crisis in the District of Columbia is over is wrong.

One only has to spend a day chatting with Bread for the City clients to realize that the crisis is real. The vast majority of clients identify housing as an issue in their lives. Take for example the woman I recently encountered during an intake. She is disabled, and is living on monthly disability benefits of $674 from SSI. She pays $555 of that income in rent. She is not alone.

Nearly 1 in 5 DC residents are spending more than 50% of their incomes on housing.
(The standard for “affordability” is 30%.) Perhaps this explains why there are approximately 38,500 households on the waiting lists for subsidized housing through the D.C. Housing Authority.

There are a variety of tools the DC government uses to assist in providing affordable housing options to residents. They include a wide spectrum from homeless shelters to home ownership programs. Three of these vital programs are at risk in the proposed city budget (as per DCFPI’s analysis).

  • The Housing Production Trust Fund finances the construction and renovation of affordable housing, and also provides financial support to tenants who want to purchase their buildings.
  • The Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) provides a rental subsidy to help low-income residents -- those making less than $30,000 a year — afford their rent. Since 2006, it’s funded housing for 1,700 families.
  • The Permanent Supportive Housing Program (PSH) provides supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and families, in the Housing First model.


While Mayor Vince Gray declares that they are not cutting funding for any of these programs, the budget put forth essentially does just that. First, the budget raids $18 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund by using money intended for the creation of new affordable housing to pay existing LRSP rental subsidy costs. Without the Housing Production Trust Fund, the disparity between creation of affordable housing and luxury housing will continue. Since 2000 the number of low cost rental housing units has shrunk by more than ⅓ while production of luxury units has nearly doubled. We need the trust fund to continue at full funding levels in order to have any chance at reducing the number of tenants who need affordable housing.

Second, the budget ends the LRSP voucher program through attrition, both in policy language and through reduced funding. Phasing out the LRSP tenant based vouchers will result in the loss of an important affordable housing tool. We cannot abandon this program. In the last several years it is the only program that has resulted in households moving off of the DCHA waiting list. In addition, it is the only program that serves the lowest income residents – folks at or below 30% of area median income.

The need for additional vouchers is clear. It is evidenced by the wait list. It is evidenced by the large number of tenants paying more than 50% of their income toward their housing costs. It is evidenced by the number of people coming through the doors of Bread for the City each day.

Finally, the budget moves PSH participants (and their funding) in two ways that may or may not even be possible -- by transferring them to federal vouchers and commandeering newly available units opening at project-based sites. The Housing First model is an innovative way to serve chronically homeless individuals. PSH serves those most difficult to house, including individuals with drug addiction, mental illness, criminal records, poor credit history, poor rental history and a host of other issues. However, transitioning these individuals to federal vouchers or project-based local programs may prove impossible. Criminal records, poor credit history, substance abuse, family size, and poor rental history are all considered in the screening process for the federal voucher program. Many folks, if not the majority, will simply not qualify.

We cannot afford to reduce the number of people served through these very important housing programs. We need to make progress in serving the 38,500 families on the waiting list. Reducing this funding only adds to the wait list.

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