Fenty Unveils Housing Plan For Low-Income, Homeless
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced last night a wide-ranging plan to provide permanent housing for the city's chronically homeless, to preserve affordable housing by making it harder for landlords to convert buildings into high-priced condos and to help fund 500 townhouses affordable to low- and moderate-income workers.
The proposals were presented to more than 500 Washington Interfaith Network members, who elicited a promise from Fenty during his 2006 mayoral campaign to fund, build and preserve 14,000 affordable housing units over a four-year period. Included in that goal is the creation of 2,500 units for the chronically homeless that would come with supportive social services.
"We are here to make all these commitments for the residents of the District of Columbia who deserve them," Fenty (D) told a cheering crowd packed into First Rock Baptist Church in Southeast.
In July, Fenty announced to the interfaith network that his administration would allocate $117 million yearly to protect and create affordable housing. He pledged to require that 30 percent of new units built on city-owned land be affordable for low-income residents. He also called for a partnership between the city and the interfaith network to build 5,000 homes as part of a project to create housing for residents who make $25,000 to $60,000 a year. Planning and construction for the first 500 such homes will begin next year at three sites in Southeast and one in Northeast.
Last night, the mayor said the goal is to help a range of District residents, from the chronically homeless, to those who struggle to pay rent, to those trying to save for a down payment on their first home.
"What we have tonight is the nuts and bolts of a vision that was cast when the mayor first got elected on how you bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and that's affordable housing, quality education and living-wage jobs," said Lionel Edmonds, the interfaith network co-chairman and pastor of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Northwest's Shaw neighborhood.
It is critical, said co-chairman Joseph Daniels, pastor of Emory United Methodist Church in Brightwood, that longtime residents facing the pressures of gentrification be able to stay in their homes.
"The fight we have been waging since 2002 has been that the city fight for our neighborhoods to remain for those who live there and who want to stay there," Daniels said. "Tonight, we gained a major victory."
Under the mayor's plan, 350 homeless people who primarily live on downtown streets would be moved into existing apartments and other units. With that housing would come an array of social services, officials said. Another 150 units of so-called permanent supportive housing would be built by Catholic Charities USA on vacant city-owned land at Fourth and H Streets NW. That project would also house the chronically homeless, as well as low-income residents.
Patty Mullahy Fugere, director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said she welcomed the plan. Almost 380 people sleep on the streets nightly, according to the latest survey by the Downtown Business Improvement District and the Mount Vernon Square Community Improvement District. But she cautioned city officials to maintain the safety net of an emergency shelter near downtown.
"We definitely support the transition of our homeless system from one that's rooted in shelter to one that's rooted in permanent housing," Fugere said. "At the same time, there needs to be some emergency capacity that has to be maintained. There has to be some place for people and families to land when they experience some kind of emergency."
Fenty also said the city would create a rental housing preservation "SWAT team" targeted at preventing government-subsidized buildings that accept rent vouchers -- Section 8, for instance -- and affordable private rental properties from being converted to high-rent properties. The team will focus on four neighborhoods that are most at risk of succumbing to pressures from gentrification and development, said D.C. Development Director David Jannarone.
The city has committed to preserving at least 500 units of affordable housing in Columbia Heights and Brightwood in Northwest, Deanwood Heights in Northeast and Washington Highlands in Southeast over the next two years by identifying buildings whose landlords want to opt out of the federal rent subsidy program. The city team would negotiate individual rent vouchers for tenants or help negotiate a sale of the building to tenants so they can convert it into low- and affordable-income condos or co-op apartments, Jannarone said.
Another part of the mayor's plan is to prevent slumlords from converting deteriorated apartment buildings into high-priced condominiums. The legislation will be prepared by the Fenty administration to prevent landlords with persistent and unaddressed housing code violations from raising rents in rent-controlled buildings and from converting the building into condominiums to be sold at market rate.
Jannarone said the city already has legislation that allows it to impose the restrictions and that by mid-December, a bill will be introduced to strengthen the administration's ability to proceed.
"It's been a huge problem in the past when landlords would let buildings deteriorate and either raise rents or cash out," Jannarone said. "Slumlords can't raise rents and can't convert to a condominium and cash out anymore. We're adopting that as an official policy."