70,000 and counting wait for affordable housing

April 11, 2013

People standing in line

On April 12, the DC Housing Authority will no longer accept applications for public housing and locally funded vouchers. Currently, the “waiting list” for affordable housing at DCHA is 70,000 households, and according to the agency they are placing people who applied in 2003. No date has been announced for when residents will be able to apply again.

The Housing Authority is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side is the federal government which provides the overwhelming majority of the agency’s funds. The federal government has been decreasing its commitment (including cuts due to sequestration)  to the Housing Choice Voucher Program and other public housing programs. On the other hand, the need for affordable housing in DC has shot up, as low cost housing on the open market has disappeared for thousands of DC households.

The DC Housing Authority is a key entry point for families and individuals needing housing subsidy. Those eligible for Housing Authority assistance are residents with very low incomes. who also meet additional program requirements. In DC that includes a wide variety of people including 7,000 seniors and 16,000 working families who pay over half their income in rent and  7,000 homeless residents including 600 homeless families with children.

On March 28, Mayor Gray proposed a budget that invests heavily in the production of affordable housing. Nearly all of the $100 million investment focuses on this area. Producing housing is a cost effective and critically important way to address DC’s growing housing need and ensure affordable housing will be there in the future. At the same time, the budget does not offer very much to address the needs of residents as that housing is being built. By investing in Housing First (a program administered by the DC Department of Human Services that provides rent subsidies and supportive services) or the Local Rent Supplement Program vouchers for tenants (administered by the DC Housing Authority), DC can provide immediate, permanent housing solutions for residents.

As the DC Council considers the budget, they should keep in mind the important role of tenant-based vouchers in addressing the immediate housing needs of District residents. The DC Housing Authority needs a timely and effective way to provide affordable housing to DC residents. Without additional funding, it will not be able to do so.

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