To Have More Affordable Housing in DC, We Need Both Local Rent Supplement and the Housing Production Trust Fund
Affordable housing was the top issue of concern for residents who attended Mayor Gray’s One City Summit a few months ago, so it is a bit surprising that for two years in a row Mayor Gray has cut funding in this critical area. As he did last year, Gray’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 would take money from the Housing Production Trust Fund—DC’s main mechanism for maintaining and building affordable units—to fund the Local Rent Supplement Program. Unfortunately, taking money from one good program to fund another isn’t a winning strategy for keeping our city affordable. DCFPI urges Mayor Gray and the DC Council to keep the resources dedicated to Trust Fund intact and also fund the rent supplement program.
What exactly does the local rent supplement program do? It provides monthly rental subsidies to families with incomes below 30 percent of area median income, or less than $32,250 for a family of four. In a high cost-of-living area like DC, rental subsidies are a useful tool to help bridge the gap between housing costs and a low-income family’s meager budget. The Local Rent Supplement program was created in 2007, after the District’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force recommended the creation of 14,600 locally-funded rental subsidies over 15 years to help low-income DC residents who can’t afford market rents. It is administered by the DC Housing Authority, and rental subsidies are provided in three ways:
- Tenant-based vouchers. These families or individuals can use the voucher for any rental unit under fair market rent in the District. The voucher stays with the family, even if they decide to move.
- Project-based vouchers. These are provided to for-profit and non-profit developers for specific apartments they make available to a low-income family. Unlike tenant-based vouchers, these vouchers stay with the unit and are not portable. Although not required, many project-based vouchers are awarded to developments that also provide supportive services, such as counseling.
- Sponsor-based vouchers. These are awarded to a landlord or non-profit for affordable units they make available to low-income families. Unlike project-based vouchers, these vouchers can be moved to another unit run by the non-profit or the landlord. (These vouchers are only awarded to groups that agree to provide supportive services to residents.)
Since its creation, local rent supplement has made over 1,700 units affordable for very low-income families across the District. However, since fiscal year 2008 the program has not received an increase and funds in recent years have not been sufficient to expand the number of units. This has left the District well behind its goal of creating nearly 15,000 rental subsidies in 15 years. Additionally, Mayor Gray’s proposed budget for next year would phase out tenant-based vouchers. This would further inhibit the program’s ability to meet the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force goal, and should not be passed.
Local rent supplement is distinct from the Housing Production Trust Fund, but also works in conjunction with it. While the trust fund helps build or renovate housing, local rent supplement provides the operating subsidy that is often needed to make homes affordable to very low-income residents.
Since the trust fund and local rent supplement serve different purposes—both of which are important— DCFPI encourages the mayor and council to find a way to fully fund the local rent supplement with local funds, and allow the taxes that are dedicated to the Housing Production Trust Fund to provide a steady flow of funds for affordable housing construction and renovation.