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Opinion D.C. is a leader on affordable housing


Stephen Glaude is chief executive and president of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development.

As D.C. contends with the ever-evolving challenge of the pandemic, it is hard to believe we are on the verge of a third consecutive budget cycle to be affected by the coronavirus. In most ways, D.C. leaders have done remarkable work balancing public health necessities such as vaccinations and testing with emergency financial benefits including rent assistance while maintaining commitments to longer-term imperatives. These imperatives include Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) goal to produce 36,000 units of new housing by 2025, with 12,000 of those serving low-income households, and her Housing Equity Report’s targets for equitably locating those affordable units across all D.C. communities.

Few investments offer greater long-term impact for inclusion and equity than affordable-housing development, and few factors affect health and prosperity more than where you live. To promote equity and inclusion now and in the future, we must continue to invest heavily in safe, healthy, affordable housing.

Bowser has led the charge to expand affordable housing in D.C. She started with a commitment to invest $100 million in D.C.'s Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) each year of her first term. She continued that commitment in her second term and increased HPTF funding to $250 million per year in 2022. For the first time, she also committed in D.C.'s four-year financial plan enough funding for the Local Rent Supplement Program to enable the HPTF to meet its statutory requirement to expend half its funds annually for housing affordable for households earning zero to 30 percent of the median family income. On Wednesday, she announced that 10 projects will receive $135 million from the HPTF in the first round of awards from the summer 2021 request for proposals, including the first project in Ward 3 to receive HPTF money.

The D.C. Council has been her partner in these commitments, resulting in D.C.'s affordable-housing investments reportedly being the largest per capita in the United States. As the D.C. Council begins its annual performance oversight hearings for D.C. agencies and programs, council members will examine the effectiveness of housing policies and resources and the effects of historic investments in affordable-housing programs such as the HPTF.

Recent criticisms of the HPTF detailed in the Office of the Inspector General’s report published late last year offer recommendations for improvements that can help this nationally acclaimed resource improve its effectiveness. The council also must consider the inspector general’s report in context: The HPTF continues to be the primary tool for affordable-housing developers to preserve and develop affordable rental units across all eight wards of the District; it is an essential tool for tenants exercising their Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act rights to preserve or create affordable housing; rental units produced using HPTF dollars generally must be maintained at affordable rent levels for 40 years, ensuring long-term affordability; and the HPTF has produced more than 6,000 affordable housing units since 2015.

The HPTF, as with any government program, can be improved. The good news is that we have data, guiding principles and council legislation already introduced this session to bring about improvements in administration and transparency. The Bowser administration and the D.C. Council should collaborate with affordable-housing advocates to make these changes, bring about greater oversight transparency and thereby improve D.C.'s effectiveness in creating and preserving affordable housing and equitably locating it across all eight wards.

As we all work to emerge from the pandemic and to better serve those most in need of housing stability in our community, the mayor and the council must be resolute and maintain historic investment levels in the HPTF and commit to investing half of these funds in deeply affordable housing units to bring about a more equitable and resilient District of Columbia.