More than 50,000 low and moderate income renters in the District of Columbia pay more for housing than they can afford and may be priced out of the city's increasingly expensive housing market, a special city commission that studied housing problems here has found.
The D.C. Legislative Commission on Housing has recommended several sweeping changes in city housing programs to aid those renters and about 20,000 low and moderate income homeowners who the commission said are overburdened by taxes and other housing costs.
To aid renters, the commission recommended that one new rental assistance program be created to replace several existing programs whose current efforts the commission found to be inefficient and that the number of persons receiving rent supplements be expanded.
Rent control is resulting in the widespread deferral of maintenance of rental property and should be phased out once expanded rent supplement programs are established, the commission said.
The commission also proposed that the city begin a 10-year program to help about 44,600 low and middle income families now renting in the city to buy homes.
For homeowners, the commission has recommended that the first priority of the city should be ensure that the homeowners are not forced to sell their houses because of rapidly rising property taxes, and has proposed new programs to lessen and defer property tax payments.
The nine-member Legislative Commission on Housing is composed of local housing experts, City Council members and top city officials and was established by the council in December 1976, to study the housing situation and make recommendations for a citywide housing policy. Commission staff members have been working without pay since Feb. 1, putting the report into its final form.
Council members said they did so because of their fear that a growing number of condominium conversions and increasing renovation and speculation in many of the city's poorer neighborhoods were creating hardships on many lower income families.
"We keep talking about building housing, but building for whom?" council member Nadine Winter (D-Wadd 6), head of the council's housing committee, said a year ago as commission members were sworn in.
Recently, in this election year, housing and displacement have become even more of an issue as housing prices continue to climb in Washington and its suburbs. D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy held a town meeting on housing last Wednesday, and nearly all candidates for mayor and City Council this year have said it is one of the city's most pressing problems.
The commission's draft final report is to be released Monday morning, during a briefing to council members on its findings and recommendations. A draft summary has been prepared and circulated among city legislative officials, however, and a copy of that summary was obtained by The Washington Post.
Among the commission's other major findings and recommendations contained in the draft summary report:
The great majority of new city homeowners already were living in the city as renters, disspelling the myth that the city's houses are under siege by the movement of suburbanites back into the city.
Although the city probably is a "national leader" in providing protection to renters who may be dislocated because of conversions of apartments to condominiums or cooperatives, the regulations that exist are inconsistent. In some conversions, all dislocated tenants receive some assistance, while in other instances either no tenants receive help or aid is based on income.
As mentioned earlier, more than 70,000 renters and homeowners who need relief from excessive housing costs will not receive it under existing programs. Such families were found to be paying so much in housing-related costs that they did not have enough money to pay for other necessities like food, clothing, transportation and medical care.
Federal housing subsidy programs have a "roulette-wheel nature - there are a few lucky, big winners; the rest get nothing. The lucky few who receive assistance are truly in need of assistance, but they are not in any greater need than the unlucky who receive no assistance at all."
The city has 4,500 vacant residential units that can and should be rehabilitated and returned to housing uses.
On the basis of currently planned housing development, the city will have a shortage of almost 20,000 housing units by the end of 1985, making it necessary to increase net housing production by almost 4,000 units a year from 1981 through 1985.
Rapid escalation of housing prices in the city occured to a great extent because post-World War II baby boom children now are between 24 and 34 years old, and ready to buy houses. That boom, coupled with the "strength and diversity" of the city's professional job market, has driven up housing prices.
Those young adults are finding that new construction does not meet the demand and they are being forced to purchase for renovation older structures that traditionally have been "filtered" to lower income families. That situation poses "very grave" implications for the future of low and moderate income housing in Washington and is expected to worsen over the next 10 to 15 years.
Moving expenses-such as security deposits and telephone installation charges - should be paid at least partially by landlords when eviction occurs because the landlord is converting to condominiums or ceases renting apartments for other investment reasons.
In addition, the commission called the current landlord-tenant court "an inefficient, inequitable, and inadequate judicial mechanism to deal with the problems of rental housing." It recommended that the mayor, council and courts work together to set up a new housing court.
The new court would be a branch of D.C. Superior Court and would have comprehensive and exclusive jurisdiction over all cases arising out of rental housing.Judges would be assigned from Superior Court for an extended period, and a strong social services office would be part of its operation.
The commission also recommended creation of a new home improvemnet loan program with funds from the city's community development block grant program and private financial institutions. The Neighbourhood Reinvestment Commission, another agency set up by the City Council, recently made a similar proposal, and city housing officials have said they are working to set up such a program.
The commission found that other things the city needs include zoning incentives to encourage developpers to provide mixed commercial and residential development, and to include and moderate income housing along with market-rate housing: It also suggested that a new position of deputy city administrator for housing community development, and planning be created. Control of those functions is now divided among several officials, the commission noted.
The draft summary did not estimate a total cost to the city if all its recommendations were carried out, but it would certainly run into millions of dollars. The report noted that if the city begins a program to provide relief for all rental households suffering form excessive housing costs, such an effort, "would be an enormous and unprecedented undertaking."
The rental assistance program recommended by the commission would be based solely on household size and income. It suggests that the city adopt a formula which, for example, would pay $44.93 each month to a family of three with an $8,000 annual income.
The program would allow the City Council, however, to determine income limits and the amount of available benefits. The draft summary estimated that only 7,400 tenant households in the city will be helped this fiscal year by the existing programs.
For homeowners, the commission again suggests that help be based on household size and income and that it be provided when the property tax is paid, rather than later as in one current program. A tax reduction program is recommended for low income homwowners. In such instances, the report noted, the council has the opportunity "to undertake a nationally significant pioneering effort.
The commission also recommended a number of programs to deal with the problem of rundown, dilapidated buildings in the city. The report notes that 15 to 20 percent of all owner-occupied housing, and between 25 and 35 percent of all rental housing in the city need repair work. Recommendations included a large scale landlord counselling program with emphasis on small landlords, tenant counseling programs, and homeownership counseling and maintenance training.
The report estimated that 74,800 tenant households in the city would like to become homeowners. The District's housing turnover rate was found to be low compared to the suburbans and other central cities.
Serving on the commission were Irving Kriegsfield, a local housing expert who is president of the Apartment and Office Building Association and who served as chairman of the commission; City Council members Marion Barry (D-At Large) and Winter; Comer S. Coppie, the city's budget director; Lorenzo Jacobs Jr., director of housing for Washington: Ben W. Gilbert, the city's planning director; Thornton W. Owen, chairman of the board of Perpetual Federal Savings and Loan; Marjorie McGowan, a lawyer and adviser in the general counsel's office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and John D. Thompson, president of Bijohn Realty.