The District has $23.4 million to spend on programs and projects to benefit the city’s residents, but so far this year our elected officials have opted not to use it.
What is this pot of gold and where did it come from in these tough economic times?
The monies are the accumulated balance in the Community Benefit Fund, which was part of the law authorizing the financing and construction of Nationals Park. The mayor and D.C. Council created the fund in 2004 so District residents would reap some economic benefits from the huge public expense of building of a major-league baseball stadium.
The Nats began playing in the Southeast ballpark in Spring 2008, but the Community Benefit Fund remains benched so far.
During this year’s budget negotiations, some council members quietly suggested the idea of using the fund to provide more money for affordable housing programs. The money would provide a big boost for the Housing Production Trust Fund, which has seen a severe drop in dedicated money and put the construction of many affordable units on hold (Learn more about that here.). Also suggested was putting the money toward the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP), which helps renters, and the Housing Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP), which helps low-and-moderate District residents buy a home.
The DC Fiscal Policy Institute supports the use of the Community Benefit Fund to boost these important programs which provide critical assistance to residents throughout the city.
There is an important issue of making sure that use of the Community Benefit Fund reflects real community priorities. When the mayor and Council established the fund, they included a community input process that turns out to be pretty cumbersome. We think it makes sense to revamp and streamline that process, but that may take a while. In the meantime, the Council could develop a proposal to use the $23 million existing funds, with a hearing to get public input, and then use the revised community input process after that. And maybe the relief given to the city’s low-income renters and aspiring homeowners by using the stadium’s community benefits fund will inspire the Nationals relief pitching staff and them help them win games in the late-innings!