First Look at Mayor Bowser’s Budget Reveals Major Investments in Housing Affordability, Racial Equity, but Unmet Need for DC’s Most Excluded

Mayor Bowser released a budget plan for fiscal year (FY) 2023 that acknowledges the starkly uneven recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and leverages DC’s growing revenues to take aim at longstanding inequities harming Black residents in particular. But the DC Council will need to make improvements to the budget plan to ensure some of DC’s most excluded residents aren’t left behind, reject ineffective spending, and keep the commitments it made to residents last year.

DC’s Unequal Recovery Demands Targeted Investment of Growing Revenue

Growing wages and salaries, investment income, and business profits are boosting DC’s revenues, but not all of DC’s residents are on the path to recovery. A huge gap remains between the city’s wealthier, largely white, residents and its Black and brown residents who, because of historic and ongoing structural racism and economic exclusion, disproportionately experience financial hardship, eviction, and the trauma of sickness and death in their communities.

Last year, DC policymakers adopted a budget that advances racial equity and makes meaningful investments towards helping tens of thousands of residents facing hard times, especially in Black and brown communities. The pandemic isn’t over and DC leaders must ensure resources are maximized to address pandemic-induced and longstanding inequities.

That’s why we urged the Mayor, and continue to call on the Council, to keep promises made last year to residents struggling the most, build on our progress towards a just recovery by meeting urgent needs, leverage DC’s growing revenue, and avoid costly tax cuts. The Mayor’s budget proposal gets us part of the way there, but work remains for the Council to meet the moment.

The Mayor’s Budget Targets Racial Inequity but Leaves Gaps

The Mayor’s proposal makes important investments in racial equity and urgent needs. It:

  • Provides permanent supportive housing vouchers to end homelessness for 500 individuals, 260 families, and 10 youth.
  • Doubles last year’s massive investment in the Housing Production Trust Fund, allocating $500 million for FY 2023 and $38 million in operating subsidies (project-based local rent supplement program, or PB LRSP) over the next three years to allow for production of units affordable to residents with very low incomes.
  • Dedicates $110 million over three years to replace or repair over 1,500 units of public housing, to improve housing, health, and safety. Ninety percent of public housing residents are Black.
  • Appears to designates $120 million for rent and utility assistance over two years, although the allotment for the current year, and its adequacy, is unclear.
  • Targets funding to longtime and Black residents too often displaced by high housing costs. This includes increasing the level of down payment and closing cost assistance for low- and moderate-income first-time homebuyers from $80,000 to $202,000 and offering similar assistance to District employees. It also includes legal support for multi-generational families at risk of losing family homes and $10 million for a Black Homeownership Fund.
  • Addresses the long-standing devaluation of care work largely done by Black and brown women in the child care sector by keeping in place the $72.9 million that the DC raised to fund compensation parity with DC Public Schools (DCPS) teachers.
  • Invests in Black wealth, small and legacy businesses, and Black and brown workers. The budget creates a Black Homeownership Fund, increases funding for the small and medium business growth, extends support to help majority Black and brown owned businesses purchase property, increases funds for the Child Wealth Building Act (baby bonds), and raises the pay of workers in paid job training programs.
  • Ends longstanding, onerous, and inequitable eligibility recertification requirements to access health care through DC’s Health Care Alliance, which provides health care to people ineligible for Medicaid such as those who are undocumented.

However, Mayor Bowser’s proposal also misses key investments needed to support workers, prevent eviction, and sustain health care access. The plan:

  • Fails to provide additional pandemic relief to workers who are undocumented, returning citizens, and operating in the cash economy and were excluded from unemployment benefits and federal COVID relief.
  • Does not extend the time limit for all 931 Rapid Re-Housing families at risk of termination in FY 2022 and increase investments in targeted affordable housing vouchers to end homelessness for 1,040 families.
  • Offers no new money for tenant-based, local housing vouchers for the 39,000 people and families on the Housing Authority waitlist for support, the majority of whom are Black and brown families.
  • Makes no additional investments in community-driven affordable housing solutions like the Affordable Housing Preservation Fund and community land trusts.
  • Fails to deepen recurring, local investments in Healthy Futures and Health Steps that provide crucial health and mental health resources for families of infants and toddlers. Increased investments are needed to expand capacity, participating child development sites, and parent- and child-focused health supports.
  • Doesn’t stabilize and right-size grants for community-based organizations providing clinicians for school-based behavioral health (SBBH) services and fails to pay for a much-needed study of what it truly costs to implement the program well.
  • Doesn’t fully avoid ineffective tax breaks. The Mayor’s proposal includes a tax abatement for office-to-housing conversions that appears to be misaligned with DC’s affordable housing goals and an inefficient tool for increasing downtown occupancy.

Mayor Reverses Key Council Decisions from FY 2022 and Leaves More Work on School Funding

The Mayor’s proposal unwisely raids the surplus in the Paid Family Medical Leave fund, fails to solve the ongoing issue of adequate school funding, and pushes against key Council decisions by:

  • Transferring $419.9 million from the Paid Family Medical Leave surplus to pay for other programs in her budget. These dollars should remain in the fund to provide a cushion for soon-to-be launched benefit expansions, particularly because the District’s forecasting for this program has been inaccurate.
  • Rejecting the Council’s decision to gradually eliminate police posts in public schools and instead allocating dollars for a new School and Safety Division within the Metropolitan Police Department to place officers in DCPS and Public Charter schools.
  • Eliminating recurring funding adopted by the Council last year to fully support an Office of the Ombudsperson for Children within the Child and Family Services Agency, compromising an active search for the role and oversight of DC’s child welfare services.
  • Increasing per student funding for education and making welcome change to school discretion over use of “at-risk” dollars while failing to get at the chronic underfunding of core educational services that undermines adequacy and equity across DC’s schools.

DC Councilmembers must build on the strengths of the Mayor’s proposal and ensure that residents’ urgent unmet needs are addressed in the final budget.