The Districts Dime

Four Quick Facts on DC’s Economy and Its Impact on Residents

July 29th, 2014 | by Jessica Fulton

Amidst the ups and downs of the DC economy in recent years – the Great Recession that may seem to some like a distant memory, the ongoing gentrification in more and more communities – some key stories emerge. DC is becoming a more expensive place to live, yet many residents live in poverty, unemployment is higher than before the recession started, and growth in wages has largely been confined to the top earners. These are key findings from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s “Quick Facts” on the DC economy. Here are four points that we think are especially important.7-29-14-quickfacts-f1

  1. Poverty affects one in five DC residents. For a family of three, that means living on less than $19,090 a year. Children under the age of 18 are much more likely to live below the poverty level than adults. And one in four black DC residents and one in five Hispanic DC residents live in poverty compared with under one in 10 white non-Hispanic residents. Read about poverty in DC. 
  2. DC’s unemployment rate remains higher than before the recession. For many of DC’s residents, the economy has improved. But the District’s recovery has been uneven, and many groups–including minorities, young residents, and residents without college degrees — face far higher unemployment rates than before the recession began. Read more about unemployment in DC.
  3. The wages of low-wage DC workers have barely changed over the past thirty years, while wages for top earners have increased substantially. Wages have fallen for all but DC’s most educated residents, and wage inequality is now at the highest level on record. Read more about DC’s wages.7-29-14-quickfacts-f2
  4. Consumers spent 42 percent more for everyday goods and services in 2013 than they did in 2000. The Consumer Price Index (commonly known as inflation) is a measure of the average change over time in the cost of typical goods and services. These cost increases show why increases need to be made to income through services like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or through the minimum wage. Read more about the Consumer Price Index. 

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Reeves Center Swap: The Rush to Build The Stadium Could Leave Us with Regret

July 23rd, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

Mayor Gray’s plan to sell the Reeves Center to help pay for a soccer stadium raises a number of concerns. Rather than seeking input from the community and setting requirements on the redevelopment in ways that meet the neighborhood’s needs, the mayor’s plan would allow the developer, Akridge, to do whatever it wants with the site. Beyond that, Akridge would get the Reeves Center at a price below at least one appraisal. Finally, the plan calls for creating a new Reeves Center east of the Anacostia River, yet it offers no details and no financing, meaning that it is little more than a dream at this point.  

This suggests that the Reeves Center redevelopment is secondary to a rush to get cash to pay for a soccer stadium. That is unfortunate. 

A new stadium for DC United is an important endeavor for the District of Columbia because it will add to the cultural fabric of the region and the civic pride of its residents. As mentioned before in the District’s Dime, most soccer stadiums in the U.S. are built with at least some public contribution. 6-9-14 Stadium Hearing blog f1

So then the question is not whether the District should support a new stadium – it should – but whether the deal proposed by Mayor Gray is the best approach. At today’s hearing before the Committee on Economic Development, we will focus on how the District can benefit most from the planned redevelopment of the Reeves Center. 

Here are some of our concerns: 

  • Redevelopment of the Reeves Center should be taken more seriously. Normally, redevelopment of a property as important as the Reeves Center would include detailed planning and a series of community meetings. Control of this site gives the District the opportunity to shape the continued development of the U Street area. Yet the mayor proposes to transfer the Reeves Center to Akridge and allow the company to redevelop the site any way it wants.  
  • Land swaps limit the District’s ability to get the best deal possible. The legislation would charge Akridge $56 million, despite one recent appraisal of almost $70 million. In the District’s current real estate market, it is not unusual for properties to sell above their appraised value. This suggests that putting the site up for sale would be a better deal for the city.
  • Plans for a new “Reeves Center” should be more concrete. The plan calls for a new Reeves Center east of the Anacostia River, yet offers no financing plans. With the city very close to its borrowing limit, it is not clear how or when a new municipal center will be completed. 

Under the agreement, Akridge would benefit from the booming development of the U and 14th Street corridors and from their landholdings adjacent to the proposed stadium site at Buzzard Point. In considering the agreement, the DC Council and its consultants must ensure that we are gaining just as much as we are giving up when trading away this valuable asset.

To read DCFPI’s testimony, click here.

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Welcome to DCFPI’s Summer Interns and Staff Updates

July 22nd, 2014 | by Ed Lazere

I am excited to welcome two interns, Kathy Haines and Nathan Harrington, who joined the DC Fiscal Policy team this summer and have been doing some great research in education and housing policy. I also wanted to share some good news about two current DCFPI staff. Kathy f1

Kathy Haines is originally from Waterbury, Connecticut.  Kathy holds a Bachelors of Environmental Policy degree from Boston Universityand is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Benin 2004-2007). She has worked in finance and program management for an international public health firm, John Snow Inc. (JSI), and in direct social service case management with Catholic Charities DC. She is now a Master of Public Policy candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park. A DC resident since 2007, she aspires to work on policies and programs that prevent the displacement of long-time Washingtonians.  

NateNathan Harrington is a native of Rockville, Maryland and a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. For the past eight years he taught middle school and high school Social Studies in Prince George’s County Public Schools. This summer he is assisting Soumya Bhat with research on DC schools as part of his Masters in Educational Administration and Policy at Howard University. He is a proud resident of Congress Heights, where he leads the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway and serves on the Board of the Ward 8 Farmer’s Market. 

And in other news…. 

Kate Coventry has been appointed to the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH). Created in 2005, the ICH guides the District’s strategies and policies for meeting the needs of those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. For more information on ICH, please visit www.ich.dc.gov

Jenny Reed has been promoted to Deputy Director at DCFPI. Jenny looks forward to expanding her role to focus more on DCFPI’s operations and planning while continuing her focus on affordable housing, taxes, and poverty and income trends in DC.  

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Guest Blog: Laying the Groundwork with Investments in Adult Literacy

July 18th, 2014 | by Judy Berman, Deputy Director, DC Appleseed

The budget recently passed by the DC Council includes two provisions that will benefit District adults who need basic skills education in order to achieve greater economic security. These investments are important because District adults without a high school diploma or equivalent are more than twice as likely to be poor as those with some college or an associate’s degree (see Figure), and our current system is not well-designed to help adult learners move from adult basic skills to get a GED and then on to post-secondary success. 

One provision in the budget establishes an Adult Career Pathways Task Force housed by the Workforce Investment Council. With funding for a senior staff person and technical assistance (a total of $175,000), this task force has been charged with analyzing the current use of the District’s adult literacy dollars across agencies and funding streams, and developing a plan to better integrate adult literacy services with workforce and career training. These integrated services will enable adult learners to advance in workforce skills and knowledge at the same time as they advance in basic literacy, numeracy, and computer literacy. They will include industry-specific credentials and certifications so learners are building their earning capacity while increasing their literacy skills. 

The District currently offers a variety of literacy programs, some better integrated with industry than others. When the programs are aligned properly into “career pathways,” they enable learners to move seamlessly from one level to the next by making sure that the exit criteria from one stage match the entrance criteria for the next. Career pathways are key to helping low-income adults at all stages of the education spectrum move toward greater economic security, whether they are starting at a third grade reading level or have already passed their GED. The Task Force is expected to have its recommendations by June 1, 2015.  

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The second provision added funds to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s Post-Secondary and Career Education Division to provide clinical learning disability assessments for 200 adult learners. Why is this important? We know that students with disabilities are more likely to drop out of school, and thus are disproportionately represented in the adult learner population. People with documented learning disabilities are eligible for accommodations when they take high school equivalency and industry certification exams. For example, just as a blind student might be provided a computer that will read questions aloud, a student with a learning disability that affects memory might need additional time to complete a math test that relies on memorization of math facts. Without appropriate assessments and documentation, adults with learning disabilities may fail exams that they would otherwise be able to pass. However, it is not sufficient just to know that someone has a disability. The specific areas of disability must be named and must justify the specific accommodations requested. Good information about specific learning deficits has benefits in addition to test accommodations: instructors can use it to tailor instruction to help adults with disabilities master necessary skills.

We will be monitoring the implementation of these investments to ensure they produce better results for adult learners in the District. 

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Housing Insecurity in the DC Metro Region

July 17th, 2014 | by Jenny Reed

A new study released by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region reveals startling figures on the level of housing insecurity in the DC metro region. The findings highlight both how critical affordable housing is to the region — and how far we have to go to address the problem. 7-17-14 Housing inecurity f1

The study, conducted by the Urban Institute and the Washington Council of Governments, looked at homelessness and affordable housing in the metro region, including how many people have access to it, how many still need it, and the level of resources local governments and the philanthropic community allocate to support it. Here are some of the key findings:

  • About half of renters in the region are housing cost-burdened.  These are households that pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Close to one in four devote more than half of their income on housing. At this level, research shows, many families are unable to meet other basic necessities like clothing, transportation and retirement savings.
  • There is a shortage of 22,100 affordable rental units for extremely low-income DC households.  The greatest housing challenges are for households earning 30 percent or less than area median income, or $28,700 for a family of three. Across the entire region, more than 94,000 affordable units are needed for families with these incomes.
  • A lot of higher-income families live in homes that would be affordable to these and other very low-income families.  The report found that more than half of the region’s rental units are affordable to extremely low and very-low income households. But two-fifths of these homes are occupied by families at somewhat higher income levels. This means that in addition to building new housing for lower-income families, housing at all income levels is needed to lessen the competition for these lower-cost units.
  • Federal funds for public housing and rental assistance only reach one in three extremely low-income households in the region.  The region spends about $1.3 billion on affordable housing — with 57 percent of that coming from federal dollars, a source that has been declining in recent years. Private philanthropy contributed $33 million in fiscal year 2013 — but about half of that money is now gone as a result of the loss of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae’s charitable giving. 

It is clear that the region needs to increase its investments in housing dramatically — from private, philanthropic, and public sources — to meet the need for affordable housing in the metro region.  But our region also needs to increase the amount of housing overall to help relieve some of the pressure on the lower end of the market.  

The report is filled with compelling data, including snapshots by jurisdiction. You can read the complete report here.

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