A Home Run: Why the stadium’s community benefit fund should be used for long-term solutions to the city’s affordable housing crisis

The District’s summer youth employment program is expected to cost about $45 million this year, though the mayor and the D.C. Council allocated only $21 million for it in this year’s budget. Mayor Adrian Fenty recently proposed paying for the program by emptying the Nationals Stadium Community Benefit Fund.

The fund wasn’t intended as a source of money for unexpected shortfalls-or expected ones, as is the case with the summer jobs program. Council Chairman Vincent Gray said last week that he doesn’t think the Community Benefit Fund should be used that way – and we agree.  The Council should reject using the fund to bail out the summer jobs program – and instead devote the money to important unmet community needs like affordable housing.

The Community Benefit Fund was created out of the legislation authorizing the building and financing of a major league baseball stadium in Southeast Washington. Given the tremendous expense of taxpayer dollars into the project-more than $611 million-the fund was established from revenues generated around the ballpark to be put toward community priorities.

The Fenty administration wanted a huge summer jobs program again this year, and they allowed it to expand beyond its approved budget. Last year, the program ran $30 million over budget. The community benefit fund simply became the convenient way to cover the ballooning costs.  But that just doesn’t seem right.

In election after election, voters list improving schools, increasing public safety, and preserving and building more affordable housing as their top concerns. We believe the Community Benefit Fund should reflect these widely stated priorities and suggest putting this important source of money toward programs that fund affordable housing such as the Housing Production Trust Fund and the Housing Purchase Assistance Program. The Housing Production Trust Fund provides crucial financing for affordable housing projects in the city, and the Housing Purchase Assistance Program helps low-and-moderate income District residents purchase a home.

The Council tried last week to pare back the summer jobs program to six weeks, bringing its costs closer in line with its budget.  It received a majority of votes but not the nine votes needed to approve emergency legislation.

That leaves the summer jobs program at its current bloated size, but it doesn’t mean that the Community Benefit Fund has to be used to cover the overrun.  We urge the Mayor and the Council to use the Community Benefit Fund for something that will benefit District neighborhoods for years to come: affordable and safe homes.