Are we scared to address the affordable housing needs of our residents?

May 24, 2011

On May 3, 2011 David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. testified at the Public Hearing on the FY 2012 Budget for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).  His words perfectly summarized what’s at stake for affordable housing in the budget. When the D.C. Council votes on next year’s budget we hope they will have listened to Mr. Bowers.

 

Testimony of David Bowers at the DHCD hearing on May 3, 2011:

Chairman Brown, one of my football coaches at Woodrow Wilson Sr. high used to say many years ago “If you’re scared, say you’re scared and we’ll get someone in the game for you.” My former Pastor Rev. Dr. Joaquin Willis once preached a sermon “Time to Call the Question”. I am reminded of these two sayings because in the midst of such overwhelming evidence of the need for more resources in our city to preserve and produce housing affordable to low- and moderate-income persons, I believe we need to call the question. Are we as a city – the Administration, the Council, the private sector – really serious about solving the affordable housing needs of our residents? Or, are we scared to do so? Do we lack the political will? Do we lack the intellectual rigor or the intellectual creativity? Perhaps we lack the sense of urgency that our neighbors face who are paying more than 50% of their income for housing or the neighbors that are facing displacement because of market forces beyond their control or the people that work in our city and want to be our neighbors but can’t be because they can’t find any safe and decent housing they can afford.

I am here today mad as hell! I am mad because I find our collective response sorely wanting. We have 47,000 residents paying more than 50% of their income for housing. We have 28,000 persons on the Housing Authority waiting list. We have seen neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Shaw and parts of Capitol Hill become increasingly priced out of reach for low and moderate income residents. We have all heard stories of people unable to find housing and stories of those being pushed out.

So – what do we get? We get a FY 2012 budget for DHCD that would effectively leave $9 million of Housing Production Trust Fund money for deals not already in the pipeline, dropping to $5 million in FY 2015. We get a FY 2012 budget that provides no new program money for the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase program. We get a FY 2012 budget that phases out new tenant vouchers under the Local Rent Supplement program and a budget that cuts funding for the Neighborhood Investment Fund.

As the football commentators say “Come on Man!”

Enterprise is one of the DHCD designated Site Acquisition Funding Initiative (SAFI) lenders. We have utilized $8 million of SAFI dollars to leverage over $14 million in private capital to create or preserve over 700 units of housing affordable to low and moderate income District residents – from the 113 unit CPDC Wheeler Terrace development in Southeast to the 37 unit St. Dennis development in Northwest under development now by NHT/Enterprise.

Enterprise brings private capital and creative solutions to the market. DHCD’s SAFI program is an example of a creative approach by DHCD to leverage private capital. It has been hard enough since the Great Recession hit to finance critical acquisition and predevelopment loans because of the scarcity of local subsidy dollars available for the permanent financing. Cuts like the ones proposed in the FY2012 budget to the Housing Production Trust Fund would severely hamper efforts to preserve existing affordable units. We currently have eleven deals in the pipeline that need over $50 million in acquisition or predevelopment funding. We have been working for the last two years with the National Housing Trust to pool $50 million in private capital to use to proactively and intentionally work with private owners, residents, counselors, lawyers and developers to preserve 1,000 units of affordable housing near existing and planned rail stations that are at risk of being lost to market forces – with residents pushed out. DHCD would be a key partner in this effort. It will be tough for the Director and his team to be as engaged as they could and should be if the resources provided by the city are taken from them.

Mr. Chairman – my specific recommendations are these:

First – the Council should reject the proposed transfer of $18 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund and work with the Administration to find other funds for the Local Rent Supplement Program.

Second – the Council should work with the Administration to identify some funding for the Tenant Purchase Program and associated funding to support housing counseling organizations funded by DHCD.

Third – DHCD should work with the SAFI lenders to make necessary adjustments to the program – allowing for extension of terms of the master loans and extension of terms for new project loans. In addition, some level of construction for minor rehab costs should be allowed. This would allow the department to continue to leverage city funds with private dollars. The Department should continue to work with stakeholders to create new ways to leverage private capital and resources.

Fourth – while I know this is a DHCD hearing – I urge the Council to reject the proposed changes to the Local Rent Supplement Program and the proposed cut to the Neighborhood Investment Fund.

Finally – a more philosophical yet very important recommendation. I urge this Council and the Mayor to ask “Are we really committed to doing the hard work to provide more funding for affordable housing?” Let’s be clear – even during Fiscal Years 2006-2009 when Housing Production Trust fund levels rose to over $50 million – the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force was calling for funding levels of $285 million annually to preserve 30,000 affordable units and create 19,000 new long-term affordable units between 2006 and 2021 to meet the needs of residents. So – to now have net numbers in the $5-9 million range for one of the critical tools shows a real disconnect with what is necessary to meet the needs. I want to state on the record my appreciation for Committee Chairman Michael Brown’s strong work and support for affordable housing funding. That said, we know public funding alone won’t do the job. We in the private sector are here to work with the Mayor, the Council and DHCD to think creatively about how to stretch resources. That said – public dollars are an essential element to financing affordable housing deals. I challenge the Mayor and the Council to find the $70 million designated for the Housing Production Trust Fund as a result of enactment of the Housing Production Trust Fund Stabilization Amendment Act of 2008. I hope the Council will work with the Mayor to identify resources so that Director Hall and his team aren’t completely hamstrung in their attempts to work with private sector partners to meet the housing and community development needs in the city. The question is being called. I hope the vote is one on behalf of the tens of thousands of low and moderate income D.C. residents in need of affordable housing.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

David Bowers is a Ward Six District resident and Vice President for Enterprise Community Partners.  His work includes directing the efforts of our Washington, D.C. regional program office.

Since 1982, Enterprise has raised and loaned or invested over $11 billion in loan and equity capital to help finance more than 280,000 affordable homes across the United States. This includes over $170 million in capital provided to preserve or produce over 5,000 affordable rental and ownership homes in Washington, D.C.

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