By: Councilmember David Grosso & Katrina Forrest
Access to housing is a fundamental human right. Like clean air and water, everyone deserves a habitable dwelling to ensure personal safety, shelter and peace of mind. This view should not be subject to change. Regardless of changes in political leadership, creating and maintaining affordable housing in the District of Columbia must always be a top priority. For this to happen, we must be willing to candidly discuss past policy failures, to improve on existing policies and to create better policies moving forward. As was discussed in the previous blog post, D.C. has seen numerous housing initiatives started and stalled over the years. This reality necessitates a need for a comprehensive look at our housing policies and strategies to ensure that all D.C. residents have access to quality affordable housing.
Below is a list of recommendations that we believe the District of Columbia government should begin working on within the next twelve months. These recommendations are not intended to be comprehensive and we encourage any and all feedback, comments, questions and suggestions. Many of these recommendations are nationally identified best practices, some were included in Mayor Gray’s affordable housing plan released last year, and others are new strategies.
1. Create standalone Committee on Housing and Community Development at the D.C. Council.
Housing is an important issue separate and apart from economic development. Creating a standalone Committee on Housing and Community Development will provide greater oversight of all housing related agencies including the Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD), the District Housing Finance Agency (DCHFA), the District Housing Authority (DCHA) and others to ensure performance goals are being met and the creation and preservation of affordable housing is a top priority that is in line with all of the city’s housing strategies. Additionally, important aspects of the agencies responsible for providing services to the homeless will fall under the purview of this committee to ensure that the full spectrum of housing issues, from homelessness to homeownership, are prioritized.
2. Convene a Housing Policy Council.
The Housing Policy Council should consist of agency directors from DHCD, DCHFA, DCHA, Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), Office of Planning (OP), Office of Zoning (OZ), Department of Human Services (DHS), Department of General Services (DGS), the Office on Aging, nonprofit organizations, local banking institutions and other lenders, developers, and community residents. The Housing Policy Council will examine the District’s regulatory and policy framework, identify redundancies; gather data about the District’s programs and how they have performed; and, finally, prepare a report offering recommendations. Every two years the Housing Policy Council will reconvene to evaluate the District’s comprehensive housing strategy and assess current needs based on the District’s housing market and consider initiatives happening around the country. The Housing Council should also establish an annual interagency symposium with all interested D.C. agencies and other stakeholders to discuss their strategic plans as they relate to housing and evaluate new housing trends. This will encourage stronger collaboration and coordination.
3. Stabilize the Housing Production Trust Fund with annual commitments.
The Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) is used to provide pre-development loans for non-profit and for-profit housing developers, grants for architectural designs for adaptive re-use, loans for first-effort model projects, financing for the construction of new housing or rehabilitation or preservation, financing for site acquisition, loans or grants to finance on-site child development facilities and more. We must commit to providing, at a minimum, $80 million a year to the HPTF so that we are not solely relying on deed recordation and transfer taxes, which can make funding the HPTF volatile due to the fluctuation of the real estate market in any given year. Additionally, the HPTF should only be used for its mandated purposes; this means programs like the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) should no longer be funded through HPTF (LRSP should still be fully funded through the General Fund). Yearly commitments to the HPTF demonstrate a long-term commitment to housing and DHCD should fully utilize all funds available to ensure that the District is continuing to preserve the existing affordable housing stock and providing the means to increase affordable options. $79.3 million has been committed to the HPTF for FY15. Additionally, under the FY15 Budget Support Act, 50% of future year-end unrestricted surpluses will be committed to the HPTF once all required reserves have been achieved.
4. Establish the District of Columbia Housing Land Trust.
The D.C. Housing Land Trust should be created to assist the city in preserving more units of affordable housing. The land trust would be seeded with public money and would be tasked with identifying housing units throughout the city that could be bought and made affordable. The units would include single-family homes, apartments, apartment buildings, etc. D.C. would acquire the properties and put them into the land trust to be managed and maintained by a third-party contracted organization. The properties would then be used to supply affordable housing in perpetuity.
5. Create a District of Columbia Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.
As mentioned in a prior post, D.C. is currently at risk of losing 45 Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) buildings within the next five years. City officials should create a District of Columbia LIHTC program to supplement the federal program. Presently, 16 other states have implemented some form of a state-based LIHTC program. This program would provide funding for the development costs of affordable housing by allowing investors to take advantage of both the federal and a District tax credit equal to a percentage of the cost incurred for the development of affordable units in a rental housing project.
6. Overhaul existing agency performance measurements.
Currently, the performance measures for city agencies are not strong indicators of housing performance in the District of Columbia. All agencies should tailor their performance measures to properly align with D.C.’s housing plan. This will enable the D.C. Council to better hold agencies accountable as they strive to reach targeted housing goals that will properly assess how the city is preserving the existing affordable housing stock and working to increase it. It will also help the Council to ensure homelessness to homeownership practices are being employed citywide.
7. Build a centralized housing database.
DCHA and DHCD should collaborate to build a centralized database that is public, user-friendly and offers, at a minimum, the following information:
- Affordable housing finance information (to include a list of available tax expenditures)
- Detailed inventory of all D.C.-funded affordable housing options by Ward to enable the city to quantify the number of affordable housing units created or preserved
- Tenant & Homeowner education information
- List of certified housing counselors in the District of Columbia
8. Establish fast-track permitting process at the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs
The District of Columbia government should create a fast-track permitting process for the renovation or creation of affordable housing. Additionally, fee waivers and reductions (building permit fees/impact fees) should be implemented to reduce the costs associated with affordable housing renovation or development.
9. Invest in Financial Literacy Programs.
Through the Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2013, the District of Columbia has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that all residents are able to earn a basic minimum wage. Still, it is incumbent upon city officials to recognize that a minimum wage is not the same thing as a living wage. In light of that reality, the government should make programs available so that residents know and understand how to best manage their finances. DCHFA, Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB), Department of Employment Services (DOES), DHCD and other city agencies should work to promote and advertise existing programs and services and collaborate to create and enhance programs that include:
- Budget and Debt Management (to assist residents in understanding their credit, savings techniques, etc.)
- Homebuyer Education (to include informing residents about budgeting and credit, helping them to understand the mortgage transaction and preparing them for home ownership)
- Foreclosure Prevention (to include information about loan modification and refinancing programs, deed in lieu of foreclosure, etc.)
10. Comprehensively address the homelessness crisis.
City officials must work to enhance the wrap-around services for homeless individuals and families and for everyone at risk of becoming homeless. The District of Columbia should at a minimum do the following:
- Fully commit to the Statement of Principles as presented by the Way Home Campaign (Ending Chronic Homelessness in D.C.)
- Fund more care coordinators, social workers and mental health providers in shelters who can identify problems impacting moves to permanent housing (unemployment or underemployment, mental health issues or substance abuse, domestic violence or any other traumatic incident, etc.)
- Provide homeless individuals and families the tools they need to commit to education opportunities and workforce development training
- Invest more money in the annual budget for permanent supportive housing; the Local Rent Supplemental Program; Emergency Rental Assistance Program; and Rapid Rehousing. In particular, we need to reform the rapid rehousing program to allow participants to remain on the program past the one year mark when necessary.