As the Comprehensive housing Strategy Task Force moves towards a conclusion, Task Force members and the public are beginning to focus on measurable solutions to affordable housing need. Task Force members met Wednesday morning and laid out a timeline for having recommendations ready for Mayor Gray by mid-January. This includes a meeting discuss the Vision 2020, and a full Task Force meeting in December. Public testimony at the evening hearing held at THEARC in Southeast, DC also addressed the need to identify benchmarks and concrete targets for moving towards them. The recommendations covered a wide range of housing issues, which is appropriate given the broad mandate of the Housing Task Force.
Many of those who spoke at the Task Force hearing had direct experience as victims of DC’s ongoing housing crisis. Over a dozen residents who were homeless, or had experienced homeless came out to this hearing in Ward 8. They told stories of working, raising children, and going to school while experiencing homelessness or unstable housing. Many of them also came with concrete recommendations. Miriam Garcia became homeless when she was the victim of domestic abuse. Now, she lives at a building operated by Transitional Housing Corporation. She called on more resources for the program that helped her get stable housing, “affordable housing and the Local Rent Supplement Program has allowed me to stabilize my life and has given me the opportunity to offer my child a healthy place to grow up without domestic violence. I suggest that DC develop 1,000 more units a year.”
Manuel Ochoa from the Latino Economic Development Center urged the Task Force to create a specific and comprehensive plan that addresses the total housing needs for District households across income levels. LEDC focuses on both housing and economic development through their small business technical assistance program, and so they work closely with many residents who struggle to raise their incomes and maintain stable housing, which are both areas the Task Force is seeking to address. He called for returning the Home Purchase Assistance Program, DC’s first-time home-buyers program, to its 2008 high. It served 500 people that year with $35 million.
Misty Thomas of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless focused on programs that would impact very low-income residents. One key element was the creation of a preservation strategy that would set targets for the types of properties the District would prioritize preserving and maintaining. The District has thousands of subsidized units, but there is no plan in place to make sure that they maintain affordability in the long term. Such a strategy would both identify the priority for housing types, but also indicate how such preservation would be ensured.
As the Task Force draws to a conclusion, more specific recommendations are coming to the surface. Not only are the Task Force members beginning to discuss some of the goals the Task Force might want to recommend the District meet, they are also considering ways to raise the funds to pay for it. Ideas range from simply making a commitment in the District’s budget to creating new programs like a local tax credit program. You can see many of the proposals being discussed on the Task Force website as well as the schedule for upcoming meetings. The Task Force is still accepting written testimony.