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Bowser announces $10 million effort to support D.C.’s Black homeowners

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) will launch a “strike force” this summer to bolster Black homeownership, she announced Thursday — marking the city’s latest effort to help longtime residents amid growing disparities in who can afford homes in the District.

The strike force will be asked to form recommendations on how to use $10 million in funds Bowser allocated for Black homeowners in her proposed fiscal 2023 budget, she said in a news release. Its members, who will be appointed by Bowser in June, will include nonprofit leaders and community representatives with expertise in housing, real estate and finance, among other industries. They will have about four months to finalize proposals.

The announcement comes as Bowser seeks a third consecutive term as mayor in a city where displacement of longtime residents remains a top concern. In a February Washington Post poll, 14 percent of D.C. residents called housing, or the cost of housing, the city’s top problem — second only to crime — although that number is down from 23 percent in 2019. More than 6 in 10 residents rated Bowser negatively for her performance in creating and maintaining affordable housing, and her opponents have criticized her administration’s efforts to prevent low- to moderate-income residents from being priced out of their homes.

In remarks she delivered Thursday, Bowser discussed her own experience buying her first home two decades ago for $125,000 with the help of a nonprofit program for home buyers. She said it is now worth about $600,000, an investment that allowed her to buy another house “and think boldly about my daughter’s future.” Just 34 percent of Black residents own their homes in the District compared with 48 percent of White residents, she said, adding that “disparities across our wards are pretty significant.”

“Washingtonians love a lot about our city but they’re anxious about a lot too — and the big thing they’re anxious about is affordability,” Bowser said. “That’s for people who have very low incomes and people who have pretty good incomes; they’re spending a lot of their income on housing.”

Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio pointed to new data provided by the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, that shows between 2016 and 2020 a first-time home buyer with the average household income of a White resident in D.C. — about $194,700 — could afford more than 70 percent of homes sold in the District, including all homes sold in predominantly Black Wards 7 and 8.

In contrast, a first-time home buyer with the income of an average Black D.C. household — about $72,900 — could afford just 8.4 percent sold in that time frame, Falcicchio said.

It’s a discrepancy that has widened since the period between 2010 and 2014, when a first-time home buyer with the average White household income could afford 67 percent of homes sold in the District, while those with the average Black household income could afford 9.3 percent.

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“Mayor Bowser will task the strike force with recommending policies and programs to overcome historic injustices that we as a city and as a nation have failed to address and led to the racial wealth gap,” Falcicchio said in a statement.

Falcicchio said the city’s housing agencies, including the D.C. Housing Authority and Department of Housing and Community Development, among others, will be charged with carrying out the group’s recommendations starting in the fall.

Parisa Norouzi, executive director of the advocacy group Empower DC, said the strike force should prioritize D.C. natives and people who have already experienced displacement in the city. She hopes they will conceptualize ways to better utilize and expand tools like housing vouchers to ensure the city’s lowest-income residents can benefit.

“If we’re talking about real opportunities to transform people’s economic conditions, that’s where we should start,” she said. “It’s hard to have a lot of excitement at the announcement because we’ve seen so many programs ultimately benefit the upper side of the affordable housing community, rather than deep levels of affordability.”

Falcicchio said the strike force’s work will be supplemented by researchers from the Urban Institute as well as Howard University, who will assess the effectiveness of city’s other signature housing programs, like the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) for first-time home buyers and an inclusionary zoning program aimed at boosting the city’s affordable housing stock.

In recent weeks, Bowser has detailed other budget initiatives to help residents remain in the District, including a $4 million commercial property acquisition fund that offers eligible businesses a down payment of up to $750,000 to purchase commercial buildings. Her budget proposal also boosts funds for the HPAP program and other residential services for low-income homeowners and seniors.