The Districts Dime

It’s Great that Inclusionary Zoning Improvements Are Moving Forward. There’s No Time To Lose

April 10th, 2017 | by Simone Holzer and Claire Zippel

The District’s Inclusionary Zoning program (IZ) is ready to serve more low-income residents, based on improvements approved last year by the Zoning Commission, but that can only move forward if the DC Council takes a key next step. Today, the DC Council is holding a hearing on that step, legislation to implement the Zoning Commission’s changes. We hope this legislation moves forward without delay.

Under Inclusionary Zoning (IZ), new residential developments are required to reserve 8 to 10 percent of the new homes at below-market rents or sale prices. In return, the developments are allowed greater density than normally permitted by zoning rules. In this way, IZ harnesses DC’s hot real estate market to create affordable housing throughout the city, without using tax dollars.

IZpicLast year, the DC Zoning Commission decided that rents for IZ units in newly built housing developments should be lowered, to better serve somewhat lower income families. The new rules, effective June 5, 2017, require IZ units built as rental housing to be affordable to families with incomes at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $52,000 for a family of two. That works out to about $1,100 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. This will be a substantial improvement to the program, which under current rules had been mostly producing rental units for higher-income households, priced $1,600 a month for a one-bedroom apartment—which is not much different from private-market rents in most DC neighborhoods and out of reach for low-income DC residents.

It’s essential that the DC Council pass the legislation to align DC law with the zoning code before June 5th, when the new IZ rules take effect, or else the new rules can’t be implemented. Any delay will cost low-income residents opportunities for affordable homes, because any housing permits issued before the new legislation is adopted will be grandfathered under the old rules. There are many affordable units at stake: based on the pace of new residential construction, IZ should generate approximately 2,600 apartments over the next five to 10 years.

Thankfully, the Inclusionary Zoning program has strong support from DC policymakers. Nine Councilmembers joined in introducing or co-sponsoring the legislation that’ll be discussed today, and the Bowser administration has placed a priority on strengthening the administration of IZ. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has been working to revamp its administration of IZ program, which is especially important because DHCD’s issuance of revised administrative regulations is the final step, once the legislation is passed, before the new IZ rules can take effect.

With today’s hearing, Inclusionary Zoning is getting closer to fulfilling its potential. But policymakers must stay on track and avoid delays. DC shouldn’t miss any chance to help more residents gain access to affordable housing.

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Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Falls Short of “Inclusive Prosperity”

April 5th, 2017 | by DCFPI Staff

Mayor Bowser’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget makes important investments to protect the incomes of vulnerable families with children and to help DC residents cope with rising housing costs.

At the same time, the budget reflects a missed opportunity to work towards the mayor’s stated goal of “inclusive prosperity,” by not making sufficient investments to ensure that all residents benefit from the city’s growing economy or to help residents who have been negatively affected by DC’s growth. The ability to make these investments was limited by $100 million in tax cuts included in the budget. The tax cuts were “triggered” by a policy was adopted in 2014. But Mayor Bowser could have used the budget to delay the tax cuts in FY 2018, which would have freed up $100 million to invest in schools, housing and other needs. Unfortunately, she chose to move forward with all of the tax cuts.

Some highlights of the budget include:

  • TANF: The proposed budget allocates funding to protect DC’s most vulnerable children from losing cash assistance and permanently resolves long-standing concerns with the TANF time limit, a problem that has confounded the District for years. The new policy would ensure that parents facing economic hardship always have resources to meet their children’s basic needs.
  • Homeless Services: The mayor’s budget makes new investments to continue funding the Homeward DC plan, the 2015 strategic plan to make homelessness in the District rare, brief, and non-recurring. Yet given the tremendous scale of this problem, the budget fails to make the progress needed to meet these goals.
  • Housing: The budget proposes $100 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund for the third year in a row, and creates a new housing tool to preserve existing affordable housing (with $10 million). But it provides no additional resources for rental assistance, the housing tool that is needed to make housing affordable to the poorest families.
  • Education: Limited new funding for PreK-12 education does not accomplish the level of investment DC ought to be making in all student’s potential, and it particularly shortchanges the resources low-income students deserve. The proposed 1.5 percent increase in per-pupil funding for public schools falls far short of what schools need to prepare all students for success.
  • Child Care: While the mayor’s budget includes a child care initiative that will notably expand access to market-rate seats, it does nothing to improve access to affordable, quality care for low-income families.
  • Job Training and Education: The proposed FY 2018 budget creates a new “Washington DC Infrastructure Academy,” located at the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus, which will provide job training in the infrastructure industry, including the utility, energy efficiency, transportation, and logistics sectors. The proposed FY 2018 budget fails, however, to extend the Kids Ride Free program to all adult learners and re-engaging youth in the District, despite evidence that transportation costs keep many students from attending class regularly and a recommendation by the Deputy Mayor for Education to offer free public transportation to students in adult education.
  • Paid Family Leave and other Job Protections: The proposed FY 2018 budget fails to provide the funds needed to help secure an IT program and other start-up costs for DC’s paid family and medical leave program, delaying its implementation. The budget also fails to fund other legislation adopted in 2016 to protect workers.
  • Health: The proposed FY 2018 budget leaves in place rules adopted in 2011 that have made it hard for eligible residents to maintain their health coverage through DC’s Healthcare Alliance program—which largely serves immigrants—and that have led to a large drop in participation. The budget provides some new funding to address opioid addiction but largely fails to address low payment rates for mental health services that limit the ability of residents to get needed care.

For a more in-depth look at selected issue areas, click here.






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New Proposal Would Reduce Barriers to Health Insurance that DC Imposes on Immigrants

April 3rd, 2017 | by Jodi Kwarciany

Many District immigrants would find it easier to access health care coverage under a bill recently introduced in the DC Council. The legislation would fix a longstanding problem that has made it hard to get health coverage through the DC Healthcare Alliance, a program that serves mostly immigrants.

Adopting this proposal would not only help DC move even closer to ensuring all residents have health insurance, it would also strengthen DC’s health system and save money. Right now, many eligible residents don’t get health insurance until they face severe health problems, raising health care costs for us all.

The Healthcare Alliance program is for low-income residents who are not eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, or subsidies on DC Health Link – whWaitingich is now mostly documented and undocumented immigrants. This is important because Latino residents in DC (a large portion Alliance beneficiaries) are three times more likely to be uninsured than District residents overall, and people who are non-citizens lack coverage at higher rates than naturalized citizens.

Yet in 2011, DC implemented a strict eligibility rule that requires Alliance beneficiaries to visit a Department of Human Services (DHS) s
ervice center every six months and complete an in-person interview to maintain their eligibility. Within a year, participation in Alliance shrank from 25,000 to 15,000, a strong indication that this policy has made it difficult for residents to maintain coverage for which they are eligible. People may not be able to take time off from work or find child care to spend a day twice a year re-certifying.

There are several other problems with the current recertification process:

  • DC’s social service centers are overwhelmed. The frequency of the requirement leads to a large volume of people coming into public benefit service centers, causing some to make multiple trips if they cannot be seen and contributing to administrative problems like lost paperwork.
  • It costs DC money. DC has had to hire more staff to manage the increased volume. What’s more, the requirement appears to have a direct impact on higher health costs, as many residents avoid primary care and only sign up for the Alliance when they are medically very needy.
  • It sends mixed messages to the immigrant community. The District has long been a welcoming city for immigrants, but it’s difficult to encourage use of vital programs like Alliance when the District imposes unneeded barriers to participation.

The proposed legislation eases the eligibility requirements by permitting Alliance participants to complete the re-certification requirement with a qualified community health organization or over the phone. This gives beneficiaries greater flexibility when it comes time to reapply, and would ease the personal and administrative hassle with the current recertification process.

DC’s leaders should be applauded for providing health insurance options to virtually all ages, incomes, and citizenships statuses. That means no one should go without coverage. The new proposal would break down barriers and help make universal coverage a reality. The bill will next be discussed later this month at the Human Services Committee on April 24.

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A Surprisingly Simple Way to Improve DC Job Training: Transportation Aid So Students Can Get to Class

March 30th, 2017 | by Ilana Boivie

DC residents who try to improve their job prospects by participating in adult education programs find that transportation costs—usually bus fare—often keeps them from completing their programs and fulfilling their dreams. The recent announcement that Metro bus and rail fares will rise this summer means that this problem will get worse unless we do something about it.

adult edAs Mayor Bowser finalizes her 2018 budget proposal, we hope she will add $2 million to allow adults to get to class for free, as recently recommended by her Deputy Mayor for Education. This would improve the outcomes of the city’s substantial investments in adult education and strengthen the DC economy by helping more residents live up to their potential.

DC residents say that not having money for bus or rail fare keeps them from adult education classes too often.

  • Transportation cost was one of the biggest barriers to attending and remaining in educational programs, according to learner listening sessions conducted in 2015 by the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition and Fair Budget Coalition.
  • Over a third of 1,000 adult learners surveyed in 2016 by the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition reported their biggest transportation concern is its cost.

This is not surprising when you look at the costs of transportation and remember that adults in education classes often are unemployed or under-employed. Taking the bus to class can cost $70 per month, and Metrorail costs even more. The $0.25 bus fare hike coming in July will add $10 per month. With many DC households living on less than $10,000 a year, transportation costs for just one person could consume 10 percent of a family’s limited income.

There is a growing consensus that a modest increase in transportation assistance would help a lot of adults and enable DC’s job training system to see better outcomes.

  • A recent report by the Deputy Mayor for Education proposes extending the Kids Ride Free program for K-12 students to also include District residents in publicly funded adult education programs.[1] The report notes that “the current investment in adult education could yield greater results with a reduction in transportation costs for adult learners.”
  • The District, Maryland, and Virginia all note that the lack of reliable and/or affordable transportation is a key barrier to successful completion of adult education and job training, according to a recent review of their statewide workforce development plans. This review, completed by DCFPI and several partners, also found that none of the jurisdictions have plans for expanding transportation assistance. Expanding Kids Ride Free to all adult learners is one way that DC can step up to the plate and provide a concrete solution to this problem.

No adult learner should be kept away from class by something as simple as not having bus fare. We urge Mayor Bowser to use her budget proposal to make sure this never happens again.

[1] The DME report notes that certain adult learners may have access to transportation subsidies through other programs, and provides descriptions of these various programs. However, the report goes on to conclude that due to “very narrow, specific eligibility requirements” there remains a very high unmet need in the city.

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Metro’s Funding Crisis Reminds Us Funding Services Should Be DC’s Top Priority, Not Tax Cuts

March 29th, 2017 | by Linnea Lassiter

Saving Metro, a backbone of the DC economy for both businesses and working families, is going to cost a lot of money, much more than anyone thought just a few years ago. This tremendous yet unanticipated need is a clear sign that DC’s policy to prioritize tax cuts over public investments, made three years ago, hurts our ability to meet our city’s most pressing needs.

DC’s economy is robust, with low citywide unemployment and rising tax collections that will result $175 million in additional revenue next year. Yet under current law, more than half of that—$100 million—will go to tax cuts, leaving too little to adequately address urgent issues such as affordable housing, schools, and early education.

Metro, the second largest metrorail system in the country, is experiencing the most severe funding crisis since its inception. While that carries significant implications for us all, Metro admits that the planned service cuts will have a disparate impact on people of color and low-income riders. The system faces tremendous repair needs and yet has faced a substantial gap between revenues and needs, leading to difficult choices this year.

  • woman busMayor Bowser agreed to a record increase in DC funding for Metro—$50 million more in FY18—but this does not come close to covering all of the necessary repairs.
  • Those hurt most deeply by cuts to metro service are individuals with low-wage jobs who live far from the city center; this population is disproportionately made up of people of color.

An under-funded metro system threatens the DC economy and thousands of jobs.  It exacerbates existing economic and racial inequities by making it harder and harder to travel to and from work, particularly for those living in the suburbs and working outside of service areas or working late-night jobs, such as restaurant workers.

Metro’s need highlights the problem of DC’s automatic “tax cut trigger” policy implemented three years ago, which stipulates that all newly projected revenue goes to tax cuts. Under that, $100 million of the $175 million in recent increases in revenue projections will go to tax cuts. The $75 million left available for new public investments looks relatively small when the $50 million needed just for Metro is considered.

There are many additional city needs. The District needs to invest a lot to end chronic homelessness and address the high unemployment among black residents. Investments in affordable housing, TANF, public schools, and countless more are important to addressing inequities and to helping all residents benefit from a growing economy, just as a functioning transportation system is critical to getting children to get to school, workers to their jobs and tourists to their favorite DC sites.

Meeting these needs is far more critical to DC’s future than tax cuts.

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