The Districts Dime

Affordable Housing Is Coming to the U Street Area Thanks to New Law

September 23rd, 2015 | by Ed Lazere and Claire Zippel

Legislation adopted last fall to turn city-owned land into mixed-income housing is already at work! Thanks to the new law, nearly one-third of the homes in a development at 965 Florida Avenue, NW will be affordable to residents struggling with DC’s incredibly high housing costs.

Yesterday the DC Council approved the disposition of land needed to move this project forward. We commend the Council for its support of this development, which will create over 100 affordable apartments in a rapidly developing neighborhood – without using tax dollars.

7.9.15 965 FL Ave Public Lands

Thirty percent of the apartments – 107 of 353 – will be affordable, following requirements of the Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Act adopted last fall. Twenty-seven apartments will be for residents with incomes below $29,000 for a family of three (30 percent of the Area Median Income) and 80 will be for residents with incomes under $49,000 for a family of three (50 percent of Area Median Income). The project will help singles and small families, as one-third of the apartments will have two bedrooms and the rest will be studios or one-bedroom units.

The 965 Florida Avenue project highlights the many benefits of the new law. The families that move in will have high-quality housing that is permanently affordable, Metro accessible, and close to job opportunities and neighborhood amenities. Without housing help, many low-income families now spend more than half their income on DC’s high and rising rents.

Importantly, no tax dollars will be spent on the affordable housing at 965 Florida Avenue, though it won’t be free. The developer will pay the city less than full market value for the land to offset the costs of setting rents at affordable levels. In effect, the land value – rather than tax dollars – will pay for the affordable housing. Even before this law, the District often sold its land at below-market levels in return for amenities such as affordable housing.

With low-cost private housing virtually non-existent in the District, and many neighborhoods like U Street rapidly developing, the District needs to pursue affordable housing in a variety of ways. As the 965 Florida Avenue project shows, the new law to build mixed-income housing on city-owned land is a key way we can meet this important goal.

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Meet Our Newest Staff Members

September 22nd, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute welcomes two new staff members, Stephanie Schneiderman and Peter Tuths! Stephanie is DCFPI’s first AVODAH Jewish Service Corps member and will be serving as Outreach, Communications, and Development Assistant. Peter is our new Fall/Winter intern working with our policy analysts on a range of issues.

Stephanie recently graduated Brandeis University with a B.A. in Health Science, Society, and Policy. She will be working with all staff members on communicating DCFPI’sSteph and Peter photo 1.0commitment to growing economic prosperity throughout the District. Stephanie’s research interests include the intersection of health care and its determinants, such as education, access to safe housing, and socioeconomic class.

Peter graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and English in 2013 from Stony Brook University. His undergraduate work focused on law, international institutions, environmental issues, and an array of governmental study topics. He previously worked in development for Heading Home, Inc., a Boston based homelessness nonprofit, where he focused on fundraising efforts and charity event planning.

He also interned at the Massachusetts State House in 2011 for State Senator William Brownsberger and was employed as a campaign fellow during the Senator’s 2013 run for Congress. He plans on utilizing his experience working with DCFPI to enter policy research professionally in the future, with particular emphasis on how certain policies affect those living in poverty.

Please help us welcome Stephanie and Peter!

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While DC Continues to Recover from Recession, Communities of Color Continue to Face Challenges

September 18th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers and Claire Zippel

The District economy continues to grow, but communities of color are still facing difficult challenges, based on new income a9.18.15 PovNumbernd poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Some 18,000 more DC residents were poor in 2014 than in 2007, before the last recession, with African Americans being hardest hit. The findings highlight the need for DC to do more to expand opportunity and make it easier for all people in the city to build a secure future.

On the positive side, the new Census findings also show that comprehensive implementation of the Affordable Care Act led to a drastic decrease in the number of residents without health insurance.

Poverty Remains High Despite Years of Economic Growth

The number of District residents in poverty grew from 92,000 to 110,000 between 2007 and 2014 (See Figure 1.). However, the District’s poverty rate of 18 percent did not increase significantly due to population growth. The growth in the number of people living in poverty, or less $24,000 for a family of four, shows that the District’s recovery is not reaching everyone.

Some 57,000 residents live in deep poverty — or less than $12,000 a year for a family of four. Deep poverty in the District is about the same today as in 2007. Of those experiencing deep poverty, 14,000 are children.9.18.15 PUMA

The Census Bureau breaks down the District into five areas that roughly correspond to some ward boundaries, but with significant overlap – known as public use microdata areas or PUMAs.  This year’s picture of the geographic distribution of poverty is largely consistent with last year’s and with pre-recession times. The area corresponding to Wards 7 and 8 continues to have the highest poverty rate in the city – 33 percent, compared to 18 percent citywide (See Table 1). There was one statistically significant change in 2014: poverty in Northeast (PUMA 3) fell slightly, from 16 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in 2014.

African-American DC Residents Are Still Struggling with the Effects of the Recession

Last year, more than one in four African Americans in the District made so little that they were considered poor. Only 7 percent of non-9.18.15 PovRateHispanic whites found themselves in this situation in 2014. What’s more, African Americans are the only racial or ethnic group to see an increase in the poverty rate since 2007 – now 26 percent (See Figure 2). The median income for African American DC households was stagnant between 2007 and 2014, when adjusted for inflation, at about $41,000. Yet, the median income for all DC households rose by nearly $10,000 to $71,648 (See Figure 3).

Skills and educational achievement gaps, as well as fewer well-paying jobs, continue to hit communities of color especially hard. The large difference in poverty rates mirrors the racial disparity in educational attainment. A much smaller share of African Americans have a high school diploma than whites, and a college education remains a distant dream in many communities of color.

  • One in seven African Americans, and around one in three Latinos does not have a high school diploma or the equivalent, compared to only one in 30 whites. Only a quarter of African Americans has a bachelor’s degree.
  • The poverty rate for people without a high school diploma is 20 percentage points higher than the overall poverty rate – 34 percent compared to 14 percent. People with a high school diploma but no college education fared only slightly better, with 24 percent in poverty.
  • At 10 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans remains five times higher than white unemployment, and twice as high as Latino unemployment rates. The continued economic recovery hasn’t closed this gap, which remains statistically similar to last year’s and to the time before the recession

Improvement in Health Insurance Coverage Shows that Progress in Reducing Disparities Is PossibleMedianIncome

DC should take immediate action to make it easier for people to build a secure future. An example of positive efforts to expand opportunity is the District’s assertive implementation of health reform. The data show that the District’s investments in Medicaid expansion and the DC Health Exchange (DC Health Link) reduced the number of uninsured residents from 48,000 to 37,000 between 2013 and 2014 – a drop of almost 20 percent. The gains resulted from more people directly purchasing their insurance or enrolling in Medicaid – both objectives of the DC Health Link. This means that 95 percent of District residents have health insurance, including 98 percent of children. DC now has the second lowest rate of uninsured residents of any state.

Knowing that success, DC should move forward in investments that even the playing field and help our communities succeed.  Increasing investments to affordable housing through the Local Rent Supplement Program, expanded access to job training programs, better quality child care, and cash assistance for those facing severe barriers to employment will help residents make ends meet and pursue opportunities to escape poverty.

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Too Many DC Families Live on $2 a Day: It’s Time to Do More to Help Families Thrive

September 16th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

Hard as it is to picture, a growing number of DC families have to live on less than $2 a day, and decisions by Mayor Bowser and the DC Council will help determine whether this problem gets worse over the next year — or better.

Recent cuts in income assistance mean that 13,000 DC children are in families with incomes this low, and a pending time limit in DC’s TANF welfare-to-work program could reduce families’ incomes even further starting next year.

This means making DC’s TANF time limit more responsive to family needs critical to the well-being of families and children. This year, Mayor Bowser and the DC Council chose to delay any cutoff of assistance until October 2016, to give time to refine DC’s TANF program and time limit. Those changes will determine whether more families get the help and protections they need or, on the flip side, whether more families fall into deep poverty, with severe consequences for family stability and the ability of children to develop healthfully.

A new book details the harmful impact of restrictive time limits on families facing limited job opportunities. The book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, found that the number of U.S. families with extremely low incomes doubled over the past 20 years. That partly reflects state TANF time limits that have weakened protections for families. In some states, fewer than one in 10 poor families gets any cash assistance today. It also reflects an economy where the best option for workers without advanced skills is a low-wage job with uneven hours that make planning family life and paying for necessities difficult.

In DC, the issue of time limits stems from legislation adopted in 2010 and 2011, which reduced cash assistance benefits for families who have received TANF benefits for more than 60 months. Those benefits now equal $152 a month for a family of three — about $1.70 per day per person. Under the law, families that reach 60 months will lose all cash assistance in October 2016.

Yet little is known about why so many DC families are not succeeding in the job market, and are instead opting for such a small TANF benefit. Research from other communities suggests that families who stay on cash assistance the longest tend to have problems with mental health or physical limitations, cognitive impairments, or responsibility for families members with disabilities. These barriers have been identified among DC families as well, though from research that is more than 10 years old.

Fortunately, the Bowser administration has committed to modifying TANF services and the time limit over the next year to better serve families. This will include more research on challenges facing TANF families, expanded employment services, new services aimed at families with deeper challenges, and a set of criteria for extending benefits beyond the time limit when needed.

Those are positive steps, and the details will be important. There is reason to believe that policymakers and DC residents will support the idea of a welfare program that helps families gain the skills needed to succeed and protects children from harm. The best way to redesigning TANF services and modifying the TANF time limit to meet these goals will involve extensive consultation with TANF families, experts, and advocates.

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Two Major Wins for Workers’ Rights

September 3rd, 2015 | by Ilana Boivie

With Labor Day just around the corner, two recent developments will make a big difference for workers around the country and here in DC, especially for people with low-wage and part-time jobs.

A new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), issued last Thursday, will make it easier for labor unions to negotiate for better jobs for broader swaths of workers. And on the same day, The Gap, Inc., announced that it would end “on call scheduling,” a practice that leaves workers with unpredictable schedules and makes it hard to manage the rest of their lives.

More Predictable Schedules for Workers at The Gap

The Gap and all five of its brands (which also include Old Navy and Banana Republic) will start giving workers 10-14 days’ notice of their work schedules, beginning this month. This will replace The Gap’s “on-call scheduling,” a common practice in retail under which workers are told to call their employer at the last minute to see if they must work a shift. This scheduling makes it very difficult for workers to make other plans—including school or a second job. In making employees clear their schedules —without a guarantee of actually getting any hours — employers are ostensibly getting away with uncompensated work.

2.24.15 DOES perfOn-call work is common in the District, a report from DCFPI and Jobs with Justice has found. Half of D.C. service workers who reported working on-call/call-in shifts said that this occurs at least several times per month. And workers facing on-call shifts reported that half the time they don’t end up actually working – meaning they don’t get paid.

The Gap joins other global retailers Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch, both of which recently ended on-call scheduling for their employees as well. Since all of these companies have stores in DC, this will mean better working conditions right here at home.

Helping More Workers Organize for Better Wages and Working Conditions

The NLRB ruling allows unions to negotiate on behalf of workers at companies that rely on subcontractors, franchises, and temporary staffing agencies. Before the ruling, workers employed indirectly for a large company, by working for a subcontractor, could not come together as a union to protest their wages or working conditions or ask for improvements.  Now, if one company hires a contracting company to perform certain work, the union can now negotiate with both companies (considered “joint employers”) on behalf of the employees performing the work.

The ruling is meant to increase companies’ responsibilities to its workers, especially as there are more and more contingent workers in the new so-called “sharing economy.” This model, which includes companies like Uber, Lyft, and Air B&B, depends heavily on workers that the companies claim to be independent contractors. In doing so, they have been able to sidestep many labor laws associated with traditional employment, including preventing workers from organizing through a union for better working conditions.

With more employers abandoning unfair on-call scheduling practices, and unions being given the right to negotiate on behalf of more workers, Americans should find much to celebrate this Labor Day.

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