The Districts Dime

Small Investment Can Help Homeless Teen Parents Stay in School

May 13th, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

By making a modest investment in shelter beds and family reunification services, the DC Council can bring stability to homeless teens who are pregnant or parenting. These teens fall through the cracks of DC’s homeless services, not qualifying for the kinds of help families with adult parents get. Establishing new services for teens can help them stay in school and put their families on the path to a stable future.homeless services graphic

Currently, parents under the age of 18 cannot receive help in the adult family homeless system because they need more intensive supervision and support services, like counseling. As a result, parenting teens often have to couch surf until they turn 18 and qualify for adult shelter, meaning they move in with a different friend or family member every few days. This makes it difficult for parents to consistently get to school and can lead them to drop out.

With an investment of $500,000 the District can provide 8-10 shelter beds and family reunification services for these teens. Most become homeless due to conflicts with their own parents. Shelter beds will offer a safe place for teens while they receive help from trained counselors to resolve the conflict. And for teens who can’t return to their families, the shelter will give them a safe place to stay until a bed opens up in a youth housing program.

Kate Coventry is a DCFPI Policy Analyst and voting member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness

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Council Should Keep Modest Sales Tax Increase For Investments that Help DC Residents

May 12th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

If it comes to choosing between a proposed sales tax increase that amounts to pennies per purchase or supporting important services, the DC Council’s priority should be to protect the services.

Money from the sales tax increase to 6 percent from today’s 5.75 percent, proposed in Mayor Bowser’s budget, can help support child nutrition, after-school programs, rental assistance, and other important purposes.  

The proposal would put the District’s sales tax rate in line with Maryland and Virginia and add just 25 cents to a $100 purchase. The new revenues are needed in a year when the city faces a major gap between what it expects to take in and the cost to maintain services. And they will help support important new commitments to affordable housing and family economic security, among others.  

5.12.15 keep the sales taxThe sales tax increase is modest in its impact on residents.  And even with the tax increase, the proposed District budget is lean. 

  • Even for DC’s poorest families, the tax increase would be small – just $20 a year for a household making $20,000 according to the Institute of Tax and Economic Policy. And many of these households are getting tax cuts adopted by the DC Council last year, and these tax cuts more than offset the sales tax increase. 
  • The $36 million in revenue increases in the budget for the next fiscal year budget is lower than in five of the past six years. Even with the new revenue, total spending next year will be less than the amount needed to maintain this year’s services, according to DC’s Chief Financial Officer.  

Nevertheless, some Councilmembers, including Chairman Mendelson, have expressed interest in undoing the sales tax increase. This would require identifying $22 million in cuts to services or finding other untapped funds.   

At a time when so many are struggling to make ends meet, it makes more sense to strengthen services that help District residents improve their lives and build toward a more secure future. 

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute testified in favor of the sales tax increase at a hearing last Friday.  You can read it here.

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Despite Significant Investments in Homeless Services, More Funding Needed for Affordable Housing

May 7th, 2015 | by Kate Coventry

Though the proposed District budget includes substantial investments to help families that become homeless, the District needs to expand affordable housing for very low-income residents to create the “truly healthy and vibrant community” envisioned in the new Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Strategic Plan.

homeless services graphic

The Strategic Plan recognizes that “in the long run, increasing the supply of affordable housing is the single largest homelessness prevention measure we can take as a community.” Yet the proposed new budget provides no funding to expand rental assistance – the program most helpful to the working poor and households on low fixed incomes – except rental assistance tied directly to homeless or formerly homeless families. With an additional investment of $5 million, the DC Council would make progress towards this goal by helping more than 300 families afford rent through the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP).

The District budget proposed for fiscal year (FY) 2016, adds substantial funding to help families move out of shelters and into their own homes. In that aspect, it meets the annual targets included in the recently passed ICH Strategic Plan.

  • More permanent housing for chronically homeless. The proposed budget provides Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) to 110 families who have been homeless multiple times or for a long time and have a significant disabling condition, such as a physical or mental health issues.
  • More help for families who need more time to get back on their feet: Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) helps families find employment and temporarily helps them pay rent — generally up to 12 months. But some families, particularly those with a parent under 25, need more intensive support and longer periods of rental assistance. To meet this need, the agency is launching an Intensive Rapid Re-Housing program in FY 2016 to serve 80 families.
  • More long-term affordable housing for families who leave shelter: The budget helps 147 families who either need help paying rent after their short-term RRH rental subsidy ends or who no longer need intensive services of PSH but still need help paying their rent. This new initiative, Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH), provides long-term affordable housing and was recommended in the Strategic Plan.

The new initiatives will help ensure that families who become homeless can leave shelter and find housing that will remain affordable. But there is not much in the budget to provide affordable housing to very low-income families who have not entered the homeless services system.

The best way to help create affordable housing for these families is through rental assistance programs that require families to pay 30 percent of income for rent but then cover the rest. The proposed FY 2016 budget provides no new rental assistance in this manner.

Now that the District is making great strides to help families leave shelter for good, the next step is to create more affordable housing so that other families never become homeless.

Kate Coventry is a DCFPI Policy Analyst and voting member of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

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Education Committee Wants Your Feedback on Priorities for Modernizing School Buildings

May 5th, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat

All District students deserve to attend school in a safe and modern building that provides a healthy learning environment. Unfortunately, the city’s capital funding process often appears arbitrary and inequitable, with many schools waiting years to receive much-needed repairs and renovations. This week, the Council Committee on Education is looking for your feedback on how to make this process more equitable and transparent.



DCPS schools are scheduled for capital improvements through the city’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP includes a six-year plan for renovating or building schools and other DC government buildings. It includes a range of improvements, from complete renovations to smaller upgrades of certain sections of a school (such as science labs) to roof replacements.

Of course, there is never enough money to make all the repairs needed, so the District needs to prioritize school repairs. The Committee on Education is considering prioritizing projects in the Capital Improvement Plan based on the following factors, in this order. And the committee is seeking input – are these the right factors? Are they in the right order?

  1. Equity:  Schools that have received the least investments would be prioritized. This would take into account the date and type of each school’s most recent modernization, the amount of facility investments in the school over last decade, a facility condition assessment, and the amount of facility investments in the school’s feeder pattern. 
  2. Student Demand:  Schools with the greatest student demand would be prioritized. This would take into account enrollment (including enrollment potential in the feeder pattern) and current building utilization (including the use of portables).
  3. Community-Centered Schools:  Schools would be prioritized based on the needs of neighborhoods. This would look at public financial investment in the neighborhood over the last decade, the number of school-aged children in the boundary, and projected child population growth. 
  4. Educational Facilities Effectiveness:  This factor takes into account how well school facilities support teaching and learning. For example, buildings with an open classroom layout are no longer considered suitable learning environments for children and would not be considered effective.

The Committee wants to develop a more rational, fair, and transparent process for setting priorities over major school repairs. You have a chance to offer your feedback on this proposal by Friday, May 8th – see here for the online survey.

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DCFPI Welcomes Ilana Boivie to Our Team!

May 4th, 2015 | by Ed Lazere

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute has a new Senior Analyst – Ilana Boivie – and I hope you will meet her soon in the halls of the Wilson Building, at an advocacy coalition meeting, or at a meeting in our offices! Ilana will focus on efforts to strengthen job training and adult education and to improve the working conditions for people employed in DC. 

Ilana photoIlana has a master’s degree in Economics and has worked in recent years on issues related to retirement security, including private pensions, and on health care policy. She worked most recently for the Communications Workers of America as a research economist.

I am excited to have someone at DCFPI with Ilana’s experience in economics and complex policy issues, passion for income and employment equality, and desire to make DC a better place.

Welcome, Ilana!

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