From the Field: DC Advocates Lobby for Sustained Commitment to Affordable Housing

Advocates, service providers, resident leaders, and developers from across the District of Columbia gathered on Tuesday, May 10, to lobby councilmembers to sustain and expand essential affordable housing and economic development programs. The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), an NLIHC state partner, hosts the advocacy event each year. CNHED’s Housing For All Campaign has won a number of significant recent victories for affordable housing in DC and is now at work to build on those successes. CNHED’s innovative and effective leadership as the convener of the Housing for All campaign has earned the campaign access to key decision makers on the DC Council (the Council), which determines the city’s annual budget.

More than 80 Housing for All advocates held lobby meetings throughout the day, meeting with the councilmembers from each of DC’s wards and all of the at-large councilmembers. Their chief priority was the Council’s continued commitment to an annual $100 million appropriation to the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF). Created in 1988, the HPTF provides grants and loans to nonprofit and for-profit developers in DC for the development of rental and owner-occupied homes. Forty percent of HPTF funds must benefit households with extremely low incomes (ELI), meaning those earning at or below 30% of area median income (AMI). An additional 40% of HPTF funds must benefit very low income (VLI) households with incomes between 31% and 50% of AMI, and 20% of funds can be used for households with incomes between 51% and 80% of AMI. Until recently, the HPTF received only limited funding and underwent deep cuts during the Great Recession.

The HPTF’s current dedicated source of revenue consists of 15% of the proceeds from the DC deed transfer and recordation tax (see Memo, 7/4/2014). The approximately $50 million in annual revenue from this funding source is insufficient to address the overwhelming shortage of affordable housing in DC. In the search for additional funding, CNHED’s Housing for All campaign partnered with then councilmember and current mayor Muriel Bowser in support of the “Housing Production Trust Fund Baseline Funding Amendment Act of 2014” (see Memo, 12/22/2014). This legislation would commit the Council to supplement the proceeds from the deed transfer and recordation tax to reach $100 million in the HPTF annually. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson addressed the Housing for All advocates before their lobby meetings and affirmed that the Council expects to meet the $100 million commitment in their FY17 budget.

Advocates stressed the importance of the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) that provides operating assistance to work in conjunction with the HPTF and other sources to ensure that rents remain affordable to ELI households. The CNHED goal for FY17 is to see sufficient funding to produce 250 new homes for ELI households, many in the form of permanent supportive housing (PSH). LRSP also has a tenant-based supplement program to help some of the thousands of families and individuals on the waiting list for public assistance. CNHED is pushing the Council to appropriate an additional $5 million to the LRSP.

Homes for All advocates spoke to Council members about their support for maintenance and repairs needed at public housing properties operated by the District of Columbia Housing Authority. The advocates urged maintenance of the current $15 million commitment to repair public housing units that are currently uninhabitable so that households can be moved off waiting lists and into housing.

Lobby Day participants also encouraged Council members to support the $6 million in additional funding that Ms. Bowser proposed for the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) to bring the total commitment to the first-time home buyer program to $16 million. HPAP provides gap financing assistance and closing cost assistance to moderate and low income households, with priority given to very low income applicants.

CNHED Executive Director of CNHED Steve Glaude spoke with the advocates before their meetings. He stressed recent strategic planning at CNHED that revealed better results could be achieved if the group broadened their advocacy to a more diverse set of priorities and included other coalitions and key partners. To that end, he indicated that CNHED’s advocacy will more prominently include economic development programs. For FY17, CNHED advocates for increasing by $750,000 the Emerging Business District Demonstration Grants program, maintaining $8.384 million for the Great Streets program, and committing $500,000 to the Small Business Capital Access Fund, all of which would support entrepreneurship among local small businesses.

 “We were thrilled to see such a strong turnout for our Advocacy Day this year,” Mr. Glaude said. “The strength of our campaign comes from the experience and knowledge of the advocates in our network, and this why we are seeing so much progress with leaders on the Council.”

For more information about the Housing for All campaign and CNHED efforts, contact Elizabeth Falcon, Housing Advocacy Director, at efalcon@cnhed.org.      .