D.C. Seeks to Improve Its Comprehensive Plan

Cross-Posted from Street Sense
by Ashley Clarke

The D.C. Office of Planning is amending the Comprehensive Plan, a long-standing document that outlines priorities for D.C.’s future growth and change. In a statement from the Office of Planning, Director Eric Shaw encouraged residents to read the Comprehensive Plan and make suggestions for changes.

“‘Planning an Inclusive City’ is the guiding vision for the DC Comprehensive Plan. An inclusive city is one where every member of the community feels welcome wherever they are in the city, and where everyone has a fair and equitable opportunity to live a healthy, successful and fulfilling life,” Edward Geifer, associate director of the Office of Planning, wrote in an email to Street Sense.

A heterogeneous coalition was born out of the Office of Planning’s call to the public.  Community organizations, for-profit and nonprofit developers, faith groups, tenant advocates and other local organizations have formed a loose coalition of interested parties to identify priorities for creating more affordable housing and community support for under-resourced communities in D.C.  The coalition met over several months to reach an agreement on a series of priorities that are listed on their website at www.DCHousingpriorities.org.Comprehensive-Plan-Timeline-717x422

According to the 2016 annual census done by the D.C. Council on Homelessness,  8,350 people experience homelessness on any given night in the city.  Coalition members want to see growth in the city but also want the Office of Planning to know that growth does not mean pushing marginalized people further to the margins.

“It is possible to build new housing, including a good measure of affordable housing, and grow the District’s tax base in a way that makes business sense and advances the public good. The result can be a combination of new housing and amenities for residents and increased revenue for the city so it can continue to enhance quality of life,” said Aakash Thakkar in the a news release. Thakkar is the senior vice president of EYA, a real estate development firm that is part of the coalition.

Coalition  members believe that more affordable housing and targeted support for D.C. communities should be in the Comprehensive Plan.  Philip Stump-Kennedy told Street Sense that Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) joined the coalition in hopes of using the Office of Planning as a tool for their mission. Stump-Kennedy is the regional tenant organizing manager at LEDC. He said he is tasked with the preservation of affordable housing in D.C, which is one of the priorities the coalition wants addressed. He referred to the lack of affordable housing in D.C. and said it is important that subsidized housing like Section 8 housing is maintained in the District.

Stump-Kennedy also believes rent control is an important part of affordable housing preservation. The rest of the coalition agrees and lists the protection of tenants as a priority. Stump-Kennedy said that the LEDC focuses on organizing tenants, connecting them with attorneys and other tenant associations. Stump-Kennedy said there is strength in numbers and organization.

“We need policies that preserve the affordable housing we already have as the District develops. It’s clear the city needs more units to meet the demand of the people coming here, but we also need strategies to protect tenants who are struggling to stay in the city. Those goals don’t have to be in conflict,” said Rob Wohl, a tenant organizer for the LEDC, in a news release.

The coalition members believe that the development of affordable housing and equitable economics requires the participation of all D.C. communities in order to move toward a solution. A full list of organizations and businesses in support of the D.C. housing priorities can be found on their webpage.

Residents can get involved by signing up for updates at plandc.dc.gov and submitting proposed amendments during the open call period for amendments.

Understanding How Public Housing Is Funded… It’s Harder Than You’d Think

Emily McDonald is a graduate student in the sociology department of George Mason University.  She  has been a volunteer intern for Grassroots DC since May 2016. 

THE FIGHT FOR PUBLIC HOUSING IN 2016

In my time with Grassroots DC, I was given the underestimated task of tracking DCHA’s budget from the founding of Potomac Gardens on Capitol Hill until now. I began looking through HUD documents, only to find different structures of information for each year. I was able to track large budget numbers, indicating a large pullback in federal spending, but little evidence of what was appropriated specifically to DC. Rather, I found changing agreements between the federal and the local every few years with little overall consistency in the federal government fully funding the DC Housing Authority, leaving public housing residents feeling the pinch.

As a sociologist, I started to see connections between what is happening with public housing in the United States and the current social concerns of our nation as a whole. Specifically, I started to understand that the fight for public housing cannot stop with pressuring local governments to subsidize housing authorities which were created to be fully funded by the federal government, but must also take on a the 21st century conversation about neoliberalism.

HOW IS DCHA FUNDED AND GOVERNED?

For a brief background, the process of funding DCHA is a bit more complicated than a strictly local DC agency. Funds are appropriated first to the the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), then to local housing authorities. The District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) is an entity of HUD and an independent agency of DC local government. This means the agency is particularly susceptible to federal pullbacks depending on the current political and economic ideology of the time, but is governed by a board appointed by the DC Mayor. The DC local government then subsidizes DCHA, though the only legal responsibility to fund the agency lies with HUD and the federal government.  

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PUBLIC HOUSING RESIDENTS AND ADVOCATES?

It is imAdrian_Todmanportant to understand the pullback of federal funding as a national trend trickles down to local spending. According to a 2016 DC Fiscal Policy Institute report, DC Council funding is not only a subsidy, but a requirement for DCHA to sustain. I found the same through DCHA director Adrianne Todman’s 2016 testimony to the DC Council. She urges for DC local spending to continue as they have for the few years prior. Her testimony includes an appeal for funding that is not only to promote new programs, but a basic necessity for the agency to sustain itself. I make this distinction to say Todman is not asking for additional money to add programming to additionally benefit the district, but a subsidy without which the agency may not operate at its expected capacity.This indicates the federal funding is insufficient for operation.


The central problem is the basic capacity of DC local government in contrast to the federal budget. As the cost of living in the district increases for residents who have, quite literally, built DC local, they are left with little options for housing in the city that is their birthright. This remains particularly true for the elderly, disabled, and families with children. While DC local government is subsidizing the agency to ensure the operation continues, there is a changing landscape at the federal level that I argue requires a new form of understanding.

According to theories of neoliberalism, big institutions are broken down, then slowly discarded in pieces in the name of private rule and small tax burdens on the rich (Brown 2015). This is often masked as freedom and flexibility for agencies like DCHA. Government programs aimed to support the lower and middle classes under a capitalist system are chipped away. Public-private partnerships are emphasized to reduce the burden of government. In turn, what is traditionally a public good paid for by publicly accountable funds are privatized.

Housing_TestimonyIn terms of housing, The free market certainly has not shown the ability to self-produce adequate, accessible housing for all. Without the protection of dedicated public housing, the affordable housing market begins to dwindle, forcing low-income residents in the area to relocate elsewhere. According to a 2015 report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, since 2012, should the lowest DC residents not receive housing subsidies and reside solely in the private market, “the average rent for this group [would equal] 80 percent of average income” (p. 3). Essentially, non-subsidized housing is not an option for this population. The free market has also not promised higher wages for the lowest income residents. Public housing is a good that must be preserved should the district remain a diverse, inclusive place. 

This preservation will require more than pressuring DC local to subsidize DCHA, though I do not disagree this is an important point. However, eyes must remain on both the federal and local to sustain such public goods. I base this point on how public housing is structured in the first place, as a federal entity which ensures access to safe and consistent housing. Federal pullbacks allow for pressure to go to the states, but states and local districts are not necessarily bound to ensuring public housing remains a public good. With this understanding, I have come to conceptualize public housing in the context of economic justice that has popularized in mainstream conversations recently (i.e. Occupy Wall Street, the Bernie Sanders campaign, etc). The rich are richer than ever before, and even the most “progressive” of politicians are operating in a changed landscape where private solutions to public problems are valued as “sustainable” and “self-reliant,” across party lines in the United States. Advocating for public housing certainly requires pressure on local officials, but it will also require a strong stand against neoliberal ideology that is changing the environment in which our public life operates.


Sources

http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1685683-d-c-affordable-housing-report.html#document/p1

http://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/16-01-27-Public-housing-paper-final.pdf

http://dccouncil.us/budget/2016/housing-and-community-development

http://dccouncil.us/files/user_uploads/budget_responses/41515DCHACombinedTestimony.pdf

 

Proposed Bill to Fund DC Public Housing Repairs Raises Concerns

The fight to increase the amount of affordable housing in the District of Columbia should also include efforts to maintain the city’s public housing. It was a need for clean, safe and affordable housing that prompted the creation of public housing in the 1930s. That need still exists today but our willingness to fund it has been on the decline since the 1960s. Today, the Public Housing Operating Fund—the main source of revenue for public housing maintenance and repairs–pays for only 86% of the items in HUD’s budget.

It looks as though the D.C. City Council may at long last be trying to make up the difference with the Public Housing Rehabilitation Amendment Act of 2016.  The problem that those who advocate on behalf of public housing have with the bill is that it won’t pay for maintenance if the housing is slated for redevelopment. So if you live in Barry Farm, Kenilworth Courts, Park Morton, Highland Dwellings or Lincoln Heights–all properties scheduled for eventual redevelopment–you’re out of luck.

The article below provides more details.

New Legislation Welcomed by Public Housing Advocates

Cross-posted from Street Sense
Written By Reginald Black

ReginaldBlack1-750x422Members of the Empower DC housing campaign and residents of public housing took a walk around the Wilson Building weeks before the first FY2017 budget vote to meet with council members and discuss their budget priorities. The residents have been calling for desperately needed repairs to both occupied and unoccupied units of public housing managed by the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA). The residents have been requesting work orders for more than six years, some properties haven’t been properly maintained since the 1980s.

In March, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Charles Allen (Ward 6) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced a bill that would provide funds for maintenance of existing public housing units. It is a great move by council, but public housing residents still had some concerns regard language within the bill.

One of the first stops on the list was Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May’s office. The councilwoman was not in at the time, but the group met with Councilwoman May’s staff. Their main concern stems from a line in the bill that states the repair funds allocated could not be used for properties up for demolition. “We wanted to address line 46,” said Detrice Bel, leader of the Barry Farm Tenant and Allies Association. “Residents have an issue with that.”

“I live in a development on Capitol Hill that is supposed to be upkept, but it’s not,” said public housing resident Robert Lee. He asked if May’s office could seek changes to the language of the bill that would force maintenance people do their job. “We need more accountability when it comes to public housing. It’s like everybody’s looking for a paycheck.”

Lee also described his days as a maintenance worker. “In the morning, we clean up the activity from the night before,” he said. “But after that, when is the work going to get done in the places?”

May’s legislative director, Michael Austin said their office is open to all ideas. “We’re always trying to find what we can do to preserve homes, that includes public housing.”

To Lee, there is no observable sense of urgency on these issues. “These are people’s lives we’re talking about,” he said. “These are the same arguments we present you all the time.” The bill has not moved forward since a notice of intent to act on it was published in the District of Columbia register on March 18.

Will the District’s Budget Recognize the Struggles of Low-Income Residents?

Cross-posted from the Washington Post

Eviction “is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty,” argues sociologist Matthew Desmond in his book Evicted. A recent report released from the D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers suggests that the two — seemingly intractable poverty and the struggle for safe, affordable housing — are inextricably linked here in the District. Housing instability and the fear of homelessness are the greatest worries of our most vulnerable neighbors.

But that list of anxieties is long, according to this new report. We dubbed the nearly three-and-a-half year undertaking that led to its issuance the “Community Listening Project” because we wanted to capture more than just impersonal data on the needs of individuals living in poverty. We wanted to hear about the problems they face and the strengths of their communities in their words.

Led by Faith Mullen, a clinical law professor, and Enrique Pumar, a sociologist, both at the Catholic University of America, the study is an exhaustive, qualitative analysis of focus group and survey responses from more than 700 D.C. residents whose household incomes are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. (By 2013, roughly 228,300 people, or 35 percent of the District’s population, met this standard.) Its findings paint an illuminating, complex portrait of the lives of those among us struggling, and too often failing, to make ends meet.

Survey participants reported difficulty satisfying basic needs. Two-thirds worried about finding and maintaining adequate, stable shelter, and one in three said that keeping a roof over their heads was the most serious challenge they experienced in the past two years. Those who had housing reported enduring horrendous conditions — lack of heat or hot water, broken appliances, electrical hazards, mold, rodents — just to stay in it.

“There was a leak on the roof for two years that ruined my furniture,” said one survey participant. “I want to move out but can’t afford to.” Like so many others we met through the project, she undoubtedly knew if she gave up this home, she may never find another that fit her budget. And that meant she might end up with no home at all. Who knows where a complaint to the landlord or withholding rent might lead, but it usually isn’t worth the chance. Affordable housing in the District is too scarce.

Food insecurity is also a profound problem for D.C. residents living in or on the cusp of poverty. Almost half of survey participants reported “frequently” or “occasionally” worrying about whether they would have enough food for themselves and their families. Full-time employment was no insulation from these hardships; large numbers of working adults (and their children) experienced anxiety over food and housing.

Jobs remain elusive. Those that are open seem unattainable to the people who most need work. “I can’t find a job,” said one survey participant, “because I have no place to live, no place to get ready for an interview and no money to get to an interview.” These bleak realities, however, don’t keep those who are unemployed from continuing to try: Many survey participants who were homeless identified finding work — not housing — as their greatest challenge.

Continue reading Will the District’s Budget Recognize the Struggles of Low-Income Residents?

Why a Law Meant to Protect the Poor from Gentrification Doesn’t Really Work

The article below explains why the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act is not working for Congress Heights residents.  If you’d like an opportunity to do something about that, consider checking out the nonprofit Justice First.

Cross-Posted from the Washington Post
written by

Save_Congress_Heights_12-16-2015Rodent and bedbug infestations. Raw sewage in the basement. Ovens used for warmth in lieu of heat.

It is all part of the “outrageous” saga of a “slumlord” in one of the District’s poorest neighborhoods, lawyers and tenants testified before the D.C. Council on Thursday night.

But more troubling, council members said during the three-hour hearing, is that while the tenants of four rent-controlled apartments in Southeast may be experiencing one of the most egregious — or at least the most publicized — housing debacles in recent city history, they are hardly alone.

Rather, a hearing meant partly to determine a solution for a small group of tenants in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast cracked open a larger chasm of flaws and missing pieces in the city government’s stated mission to protect poor D.C. residents from displacement amid the rapid redevelopment and gentrification of District neighborhoods.

Among them are a flawed Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which, while designed to protect tenants from displacement amid redevelopment, is actually “extremely hard to execute,” council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said.

Continue reading Why a Law Meant to Protect the Poor from Gentrification Doesn’t Really Work