The Districts Dime

Maintaining Economic Diversity and Affordability: A Strategy for Preserving Affordable Rental Housing in the District of Columbia — Executive Summary

April 20th, 2015 |

The District of Columbia lacks a formal policy and strategy for preserving existing affordable rental housing. This paper, drafted by members of the DCPN Preservation Strategy Working Group is intended to address that need.

The conclusions reached and recommendations made represent the views of members of the Working Group and not necessarily those of the aforementioned government agencies or other Network members who participate in monthly meetings of the DC Preservation Network. Our recommendations in brief are as follows:

Preservation Policy:

The District of Columbia recognizes that to maintain and increase affordable housing options for residents it must preserve existing affordable housing in addition to creating more affordable units. Thus, it will strive to preserve wherever possible and practicable the affordability and sustainability of its existing affordable housing stock. To do so it should dedicate substantial additional funding to preservation and adopt goals and criteria for allocating resources to achieve this objective.

Preservation Goals: 

  • Preserve existing District and federal subsidized housing, including public housing
  • Prevent displacement of residents with low and moderate incomes
  • Preserve housing that serves vulnerable populations such as persons who have disabilities, or are formerly homeless, low income seniors or returning citizens
  • Maintain diversity in neighborhoods
  • Maintain the stock of market rate affordable rental housing

Preservation Criteria: The District should use the following 1 st tier criteria for determining the types of affordable rental housing that should be preserved:

  • federally funded with rent or operating subsidy
  • serves very low-income residents
  • meets the needs of vulnerable population
  • needed to maintain economic diversity
  • near DC funded economic development projects
  • near transit

If projects rank similarly under 1st tier criteria, 2nd tier criteria should be used to prioritize assistance.

  • current low rent levels
  • a high probability of being lost
  • low cost per unit to preserve

Preservation Methods and Tools: DC’s preservation strategy should include a variety of approaches for preserving privately owned and publicly owned subsidized housing and privately owned affordable unsubsidized housing. Methods and tools are spelled out in the following preservation strategy paper.

Preservation Implementation: 

  • The District should create a Preservation Team made up of top officials from District housing agencies, Office of Planning, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and a representative from the DC Preservation Network to develop protocols for preserving affordable housing. An Action Team of operating staff from the above agencies and offices should be charged with implementation.
  • The Department of Housing and Community Development should designate a senior staff person to support the work of the Preservation Team, coordinate preservation efforts across agency lines, and act as the liaison to the DC Preservation Network.
  • The DC Preservation Network should continue to monitor affordable rental properties and alert officials, agencies, and Network participants about at-risk projects. 2 M
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Introducing DCFPI’s Budget Chartbook and Toolkit!

April 17th, 2015 | by DCFPI Staff

We’ve spent the past few weeks at DCFPI working to understand and uncover the story of Mayor’s Bowser first budget, by poring through budget books and spreadsheets. And we’re really excited today to share with you what we found!

The DCFPI Budget Toolkit is ready for you, including a new Budget Chartbook that boils down the key elements of the new budget into 16 slides. The Toolkit highlights changes in funding for many things you care about – from education to health care to housing – and highlights how you can get involved now to support the budget or work to make it better.

ChartbookHere’s what you’ll find in the Toolkit:

  • Analysis: We’ve done an overview of the Mayor’s proposed budget, plus detailed looks at housing, homeless services, TANF, health, education, workforce development, and taxes. 
  • Chartbook:  Our new chartbook highlights key budget trends through 16 easy-to-understand charts.
  • Tips on Understanding the Budget: The Toolkit includes a timeline on the budget process and primers to understand how the city sets its budget, how it raises revenues, and how schools are financed. 
  • Information on Important Events and Documents:  If you want to find out when a DC government agency will hold a public briefing on its budget, the DC Council hearing schedule, or the budget itself, it is all there in the Toolkit.

We hope you find the DCFPI Budget Toolkit useful and look forward to seeing you at a budget hearing soon!

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How to Use the DC Budget to Improve Health Care Access and Quality

April 16th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

The District will soon enjoy large health care savings as the federal government pays for more people and more services, and these should be reinvested to expand health services and improve quality. Instead, the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget would use those savings to cover gaps outside of health. That is a lost opportunity and not what was intended when the federal government increased health spending under the Affordable Care Act.

The federal government will now pay the full costs for residents who are newly eligible for Medicaid, like childless adults under 200 percent of the poverty line. They will also fully cover the costs of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 4.16.15 Medicaid paymentsBeyond this, DC will soon use Medicaid to provide substance abuse services for adults. That brings more federal money and more services – and saves DC a lot of money!

But the proposed budget would use these savings to cover gaps elsewhere. The budget also would take $23 million from the Healthy DC Fund – which is used to help fund Medicaid and Alliance — to cover non-health expenses.

DC should instead use these funds to expand health care access and quality by:

  •  Eliminating restrictive rules that contributed to 10,000 people losing coverage from the Healthcare Alliance.  The Alliance serves people who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. Rules adopted in recent years require participants to have a face-to-face interview every 6 months to maintain eligibility. This is an undue burden on eligible residents, many of whom have jobs, and up to 67 percent of Alliance re-certifications are terminated because participants are unable to meet it. The Department of Health Care Finance acknowledges the problem, but expresses concerns about the costs of changing it. Savings and the Healthy DC fund could be used to pay for those costs.
  • Improving Personal Care Services: The FY 2016 budget proposes reducing reimbursements to companies providing personal care aides for residents with long-term disabilities and other chronic conditions. At the same time, aides are supposed to get a pay increase up to the living wage – $13.50 per hour. If the reimbursement rate reduction makes it hard for companies to pay the living wage, DC could use health savings to set rates at appropriate levels to make that possible.
  •  Improving Managed Care: Managed Care Organizations serve 175,000 Medicaid beneficiaries, but have had trouble providing case management and care coordination. As a result, they spent $35 million on expenses related to avoidable ER visits, hospital admissions and readmissions – all signs of poorly managed health. DC could use savings for increased oversight and monitoring of the program. The District also could use the funding to develop programs that pay MCOs based on performance – with lower rates for bad outcomes.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute will testify tomorrow at the Department of Health Care Finance’s budget oversight hearing on these issues. To read the full testimony, click here.

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Taking Time to Get the TANF Time Limit Right: A One-year Extension of Assistance to Families Makes Sense

April 15th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

The plan to extend TANF income and employment assistance by one year will keep 6,300 vulnerable families from falling deeper into poverty. It also will give Mayor Bowser and her new human services leadership a year to address a TANF program that has improved in recent years but still faces challenges to serving families well. 

Imposing the existing time limit under current circumstances would put children at risk of hardship and raise serious questions of fairness. That’s because:

  • TANF employment services are inadequate. Families wait up to 11 months to get into DC’s TANF employment preparation services, with their time clock ticking. In Maryland, the time clock does not run when families do not receive services. 
  •  DC’s time limit fails to recognize the complex lives of many poor families.  Forty-four states recognize that some families need more time to move to self-sufficiency. But DC’s rigid time limit has no exceptions. Policies elsewhere reflect that parents who remain on TANF for long periods often suffer from mental health challenges, developmental disabilities or other problems that are difficult to identify. The Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that many TANF recipients “have unexposed or undiagnosed barriers that may prohibit them from engaging in services.”

A time limit that is responsive to family circumstances is important to ensuring that TANF helps families take steps toward greater independence, rather than pushing children into deep poverty. Families cut off TANF often are not able to replace lost benefits with employment income, research on state welfare time limits finds, leading to chaotic or unstable lives.  Poverty harms children in ways that make it harder to succeed in school and in later life.

The mayor’s TANF proposal includes important efforts to better understand the needs of TANF families, which will then inform changes in services and in the time limit policy.  It will:

  • Develop a fundamental understanding of long-term TANF participants: The Department of Human Services will support research on a group of DC’s long-term welfare recipients to better understand their characteristics and needs, and it will conduct thorough assessment of all families once they are within one year of reaching the time limit.
  • Provide new services for families with multiple barriers: The mayor plans to expand access to employment services in 2016, while taking time to develop new service options for 2017 and beyond, such as closely linking employment and mental health services.
  • Create hardship extensions for families in certain circumstances: Starting in FY 2017 the District will give extensions to families that meet conditions that warrant a time limit extension.

This plan will allow the District to create a TANF program that balances the goals of providing financial stability to families in need and keeping children out of deep poverty, while also helping parents move to greater independence and economic self-sufficiency.

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Proposed FY 2016 Budget Makes Key Investments to Reduce Inequality And Expand Opportunity for DC Residents

April 13th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

Mayor Bowser’s first budget will create more affordable housing, address rising homelessness, and protect thousands of families with children from losing basic income support. These are important steps to help residents cope with the dramatic disappearance of low-cost housing and an economy that has left low- and moderate-income residents with stagnant wages. The budget also includes modest tax increases which helped make the new investments possible, including a sales tax change that will add 25 cents to a $100 purchase.

The following elements of the proposed FY 2016 budget should be supported by the DC Council as it takes up the budget.

Record Funding for Affordable Housing

  • $100 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund will support 1,000 or more homes per year.
  • New funding for rental assistance (LRSP) will make housing affordable to very low income families and will help homeless families needing help after Rapid Rehousing subsidies end.
  • Altogether, local housing funding will total over $200 million, a record level.

Progress on Plan to End Long-Term Homelessness 

  • New capital and leasing funds will support replacement of the DC General Shelter.
  • The budget will help 455 individuals leave shelter through Rapid Re-Housing.
  • A new Daytime Service Center will give homeless individuals a place to go during the day.
  • New funding will support 250 individuals and 110 families needing Permanent Supportive Housing.
  • More resources will go to emergency shelter, which has been under-funded in recent years, leading to chaotic shifts of resources each winter to meet the need.

Protecting Families with Children Facing Loss of Income Assistance 

  • The budget plan extends income and employment assistance for one year to more than 6,000 families in TANF. This will prevent 13,000 children from falling deeper into poverty.
  • It also will give the mayor and the new human services leadership a year to address a troubled TANF program that has not served families well.
  • DC’s time limit policy has a number of problems. For example, families wait up to 11 months to get into DC’s TANF employment services, with their time clock ticking. In Maryland, by contrast, the time clock does not run when families do not receive services.
  • Some 44 states – but not DC – offer time limit extensions recognizing that some families need more time to move to self-sufficiency.

 Modest Sales Tax Increase That Makes New Investments Possible

  • The increase will be just 25 cents on a $100 purchase. For poor families, the tax increase will likely be $25 a year or less.
  • Substantial tax reductions for low-income families have been adopted in recent years – the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Schedule H property tax credit, and the standard deduction in the income tax. These more than offset the sales tax increase for most lower-income families.
  • Combined taxes for low-income residents are second lowest in the nation when compared with states.

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