To address homelessness, we need affordable housing

May 14, 2014

Adapted from the testimony of Bob Pohlman, Executive Director of CNHED to the Committee of the Whole hearing on the Budget Support Act. 

For the third year in a row, budget discussions have focused on homeless families living at DC General and in hotels. Much attention has focused on how to take families out of homelessness, but very little time is spent discussing why they are there in the first place and what we can do to prevent homelessness.  The simple fact is the District has a severe shortage of affordable housing and the problem is only going to get worse. As the city’s population grows by more than a thousand residents each month, we continue to lose affordable rental housing.  The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that the District has lost half of its low-cost rental units over the last decade. As this continues, it is becoming increasingly difficult for low income residents – even with federal and local rent subsidy vouchers – to find apartments in many neighborhoods of the city.

This is why the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development believes we must commit to building additional affordable housing stock and preserving the affordable housing we already have.  The Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force took that same position calling for the production of 10,000 new units by 2020 and the preservation of 8,000 existing affordable units.  The Interagency Council on Homelessness has adopted a production schedule that would provide sufficient permanent supportive housing, financed by the Trust Fund along with the sponsor-based Local Rent Supplement Program, to eliminate chronic homelessness for individuals and families by 2020. If we instead continue to focus our attention only on the “crisis” of homelessness and fail to increase the stock of affordable housing, we continue to fail these families and individuals, providing them with only an overcrowded shelter system, and no real strategies to prevent homelessness or provide permanent affordable housing.

To turn this tide, CNHED strongly supports the goal of investing $100 million annually in the Housing Production Trust Fund.  The FY 2015 proposed budget directs $40 million of dedicated deed tax to the Trust Fund.  The FY 2014 Supplemental budget adds another $30.2 million.  We urge the Council to approve both of these budgets and seek to find $29.4 million of one-time funding to fill the gap.  We are pleased that the Budget Support Act would commit 50 percent of future year-end unrestricted surpluses to the Trust Fund once required reserves have been achieved.  But we do not expect this to begin in the next year.  In the meantime, we cannot afford to lose the momentum we have achieved in housing production.  I have attached to my testimony a chart of projects that show how Trust Fund dollars are being put to good use.  Out of 1,260 homes financed by the Trust Fund in 2013,  321 were for households with special needs and 123 of those were for permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and families. The Trust Fund produces rental housing that will remain affordable for at least forty years and not be affected by rising rents in the District.

The District needs to commit to the production and preservation of a Continuum of Housing affordable to all.  This should include investing $2 million more in sponsor-based Local Rent Supplement to provide operating support to newly produced units of permanent supportive housing.  We also need to support homeownership, which is the best way to protect low and moderate income residents from being displaced as housing prices top pre-recession levels.

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