The Districts Dime

DC’s Investment in Affordable Housing is Paying Off

February 2nd, 2016 | by Claire Zippel

Over 1,700 DC residents will gain affordable homes thanks to the District’s $100 million investment in the Housing Production Trust Fund. The Bowser administration announced 12 funded projects will help create or preserve 804 low-cost homes. Eighty-three will have built-in services for people transitioning out of homelessness.

The Housing Production Trust Fund is the District’s largest affordable housing tool. It provides loans and grants to help build and renovate low-cost homes. The 12 new projects will use $82 million from the fund, and the Mayor plans to make another round of funding available starting next month.

These 804 homes will be a stable foundation for over 1,700 low-income DC residents. Having an affordable home will make it less likely that families will have to cut back on necessities like food, clothing, and transportation, or be at risk of losing their home. Investing in affordable housing is key to increasing family stability and promoting economic mobility, especially for the poorest residents.

The new Housing Production Trust Fund awards show the need for the $100 million allocated this year, but also the need for other housing tools. At this funding level, the Trust Fund can produce about 1,000 homes per year.  Yet there are more than 41,000 households on the housing authority wait list, and a need for 22,000 homes affordable to DC’s lowest-income families, according to a study commissioned by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region.

Moreover, the District has faced challenges using the Trust Fund to serve the poorest families with the greatest needs. By law, 40 percent of Trust Fund money must assist extremely low income families, with incomes below $32,800 for a family of four. Households at this income level face the greatest challenges by far finding affordable housing in DC’s high-cost housing market. Meeting this requirement has been a challenge, however, because the Trust Fund construction subsidies do not help cover the ongoing costs of operating housing. Of the newly funded projects, a fourth of the homes (216) will be affordable to extremely low income residents.  (Some 33 percent of the dollars awarded will go to these homes.)

Making housing affordable to the lowest income families also requires ongoing subsidy from the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP). LRSP pays the difference between what families can afford, and what it costs to maintain and operate the building. The latest round of Trust Fund awards is a reminder that the District also needs to increase funding for LRSP so that its investment in the Housing Production Trust Fund can reach more of DC’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.

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Two Important Ways to Help Vulnerable DC Residents Find and Keep Jobs

January 28th, 2016 | by Ilana Boivie

The DC City Council held a hearing on Tuesday on two bills that would help many DC residents find and maintain employment in the District just when they need it most.

The Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act of 2015 would ensure that domestic violence victims are not retaliated against by their employer in the case that they miss work due to their domestic violence issue. And the Fair Credit History Screening Act of 2015 would prohibit employers from asking about a job applicant’s credit history before they are made an offer of employment.

These are very important steps, because increasingly in the District, residents other than those with the most advanced education are finding it harder and harder to find quality employment. All of the wage growth that the city has experienced in the last 35 years has been among those with a college degree; other residents have actually seen their wages fall, adjusting for inflation. Nearly one-third of residents with less than a high school degree are underemployed – either unemployed, working part-time involuntarily, or too discouraged to look for work – while the rate for those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher is just 5 percent.[1]

underemplVictims of domestic violence should not be discriminated against at their job for needing to take time off to deal with their issue. Because they are already in a vulnerable state, keeping their job is all the more important to help stabilize their situation. In addition, survivors need to be able to support themselves financially, as they are likely to have precarious living situations, and need the security of a regular paycheck in order to pay their rent.

People with bad credit scores shouldn’t face added hurdles to getting a job, either. Having low credit is not in and of itself a measure of job worthiness, and therefore should not be taken into account in employment decisions. Being low income can by itself lead to having a low credit score.[2] Low-income families face regular challenges to pay their bills, and can easily fall behind financially. So, a lower income worker may have a poor credit score despite trying to make good financial choices. In addition, those with low credit scores are likely to experience greater financial difficulties in other areas – for example, being approved for credit or purchasing a car or a home – so holding down a job is even more critical in getting them back up on their feet financially.

These two bills would go a long way in helping some of DC’s most vulnerable workers find and maintain work in order to adequately support their families.

[1] DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 2015. Two Paths to Better Jobs for DC Residents: Improved Training and Stronger Job Protections.”

[2] USA Today. “Demographics weigh on credit scoring.” March 31, 2007.

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DC’s Public Housing: An Important Resource at Risk

January 27th, 2016 |

DC’s public housing is a key source of stable affordable housing for 7,300 households, primarily seniors and people with disabilities living on modest fixed incomes and families with children near the poverty line, according to a new report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. Unfortunately, this resource is at risk due to chronic federal underfunding that has left most properties in need of rehabilitation or replacement.

ph hh graphic

Many public housing properties are slated for redevelopment, which will bring better quality housing but also put some families at risk of being displaced. The DC Housing Authority should take steps so that residents can continue to count on public housing for stable, affordable homes – a rarity in DC’s high-cost housing market.

  • Most households living in public housing are headed by a senior or person with disabilities. One- third have children (See Figure 1).
  • About two thirds of households rely on Social Security or disability benefits for the main source of income. For twenty percent of households, wages are the main source of income, and 10 percent rely on TANF or other cash assistance.
  • The average income of households living in public housing is just 15 percent of the area median, or $16,000 for a family of four. That’s $7,000 below the poverty line.

Public housing provides housing stability that’s nearly impossible to find on the private market and even other affordable housing programs. Rents for public housing tenants adjust to changes in income – such as a job loss – and tenants have a variety of unique rights.

Yet this important source of housing is at risk. Federal funding shortfalls have made it difficult to maintain public housing. Four of five public housing units in DC need significant repairs.

The DC Housing Authority plans to redevelop five properties, with 2,000 units, into mixed-income developments. Three of them – Barry Farm, Lincoln Heights, and Park Morton – will be redeveloped through DC’s New Communities Initiative and receive local funds from the District.

Redeveloping public housing, while needed, has risks for residents, who could be displaced from their community, lose affordable housing during construction, or be unable to return to the property once it reopens. The DC Housing Authority (DCHA) can take steps to protect residents, and the District should distribute New Communities funding only if those resident protections are in place.

  • Help families stay nearby during construction: Rather than tearing down an entire property at once, properties can be redeveloped in phases. Where possible, nearby land should be used to build some units first.
  • Help relocated families find an affordable place during construction. This should include help if families need to move from the first temporary home located by the housing authority.
  • Enable families to return when construction is complete: All homes torn down should be replaced with an equivalent-sized one. And DCHA should not require residents to go through additional screening before moving back in.

Read the full report here.

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New Bill Would Ensure a Living Wage for Workers on Projects that Get DC Tax Subsidies

January 21st, 2016 | by Wes Rivers and Ilana Boivie

A bill before DC Council would ensure that workers employed on city-subsidized development projects earn the city’s living wage, or about $14 an hour. This would help many workers in the District receive adequate income to support their families, and it would make sure that jobs resulting from DC tax subsidies are good jobs.

The Living Wages for Publicly Supported Jobs Amendment Act of 2016 would close a major loophole in DC’s 2006 Living Wage law. Currently, the requirement to pay DC’s living wage only applies to firms that receives grants, loans, and a specific type of tax benefit called tax increment financing. But the District has aided many economic development deals with other kinds of tax subsidies, such as $43 million in tax abatements for the soccer stadium or $60 million in tax breaks over 10 years for the Advisory Board Company. While the soccer stadium has collective bargaining agreements with construction and operations workers, there are no guarantees that workers in the other deals receive a living wage.

The proposed legislation would ensure that future companies who receive the same types of abatements would be required to pay the living wage. All companies receiving a government contract or assistance of $100,000 or more, and subcontractors receiving $50,000 or more, would be subject to the legislation.

DC’s living wage is $13.85 per hour, or roughly $28,800 per year on a full-time basis, for 2016. The Department of Employment Services (DOES) recalculates the living wage each year, based on annual inflation. The 2016 rate represents an increase of $0.05 from last year.

The living wage rate is higher than the city’s minimum wage rate, which is currently at $10.50 per hour, scheduled to increase to $11.50 per hour on July 1. This bill will help to boost the pay of many workers of government-aided economic development projects, so that they can fully take advantage of the economic boom the city has been experiencing.

Given the city’s high cost of living, if enacted, this bill will go a long way to ensuring that more workers in the District of Columbia receive adequate income to support their families.

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DC Residents Need Fair Scheduling: A Personal Account

January 19th, 2016 | by Rasimani Diggs, Guest Blogger

This past Wednesday, the DC Council on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs held the first public hearing on the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act. We asked Rasimani Diggs, an employee at Marshalls in Columbia Heights, to share her testimony on our blog:

 

My name is Rasimani Diggs and I’m here to support the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act. First I want to thank Councilmember Orange and the other Councilmembers who introduced and co-sponsored this important bill. I also want to thank all of the Councilmembers for talking about this very important problem with hours and scheduling. I’ve worked at Marshall’s in Columbia Heights for over two years and live in Kenilworth. It was not easy to request time off and lose hours for being here today.

It was an easy decision to come testify. It’s not easy for other workers in my position to take time off and I know a lot of them are scared to speak up about what’s happening to them. It’s important for me to be here because I’m speaking not only for other people who need these opportunities, but on my own behalf as well. I’ve worked hard enough that I want what I deserve.

Right now, life is hard. I was told I would get 20 hours a week when I started, but I almost never do. When they make the schedule, they don’t care about our availability. Even when I open my availability up or volunteer for overnight shifts, I still don’t get scheduled for hours I expected. I got a second job working with an aftercare program at J.O. Wilson, where I went to school. It hasn’t helped. They just cut me back to one or two days a week at Marshalls. Since I’ve started speaking out, my hours are very slim.

We don’t have a schedule really. They post a schedule a day or two before the week starts, but it can change at any time. I wish they even just had a digital schedule. They only post the schedule on paper in the store. I have to try to call in or take metro from Kenilworth on a day I don’t even work just to check my schedule and see if it’s changed. I can’t plan anything in my life. With a second job and trying to help my family, if my schedule changes, all of my plans have to change too.

It makes it difficult for me to take care of helping like I’d like to. Even though my sister is able to take care of herself and her daughter, I want to be able to pitch in. I also have my own career plans and dreams. I’m working at Marshalls because I want to work for a future, but my job holds me back from being able to pursue anything else.

If you pass this bill I could afford a sewing machine to pursue my business dreams. I would be able to have my own place and mobility. I could help out my mom and help my sister to look out for my niece. This would help with a lot of important things that I need in my life right now that I don’t have. It would make life a lot better for me and all of my co-workers.

I strongly support the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act and I’m asking for your support too. My co-workers and I talk about this every day and we’ll be watching closely. I just want to thank Councilmember Orange again for introducing this bill and all of you who have sponsored and supported the bill. Finally, I want to thank all of the Councilmembers for having this hearing. This is a very important issue and we need this change.

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