Testimony at the Budget Oversight Hearing on the District of Columbia Housing Authority

Chairperson Bonds and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Kate Coventry, and I am a senior policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI is a non-profit organization that shapes racially-just tax, budget, and policy decisions by centering Black and brown communities in our research and analysis, community partnerships, and advocacy efforts to advance an antiracist, equitable future.

I am here today to ask the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) to change their policies to allow self-certification of identity for locally-funded vouchers. Their proposed policies fail to do this, harming Black and brown residents who are most likely to lack a photo identification (ID). If the agency fails to act, I urge the Council to amend the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) statute to explicitly allow self-certification for identity. I also urge the Council to identify funding for tenant-based LRSP vouchers as there are no new LRSP vouchers included in the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget.

DCFPI thanks Mayor Bowser for fully funding the Permanent Supportive Housing asks made by The Way Home Campaign, the campaign to end chronic homelessness. These investments will end homelessness for 500 individuals, 260 families, and 10 youth. But the mayor didn’t propose an increased investment in tenant-based LRSP vouchers to help households on the DCHA waiting list pay the rent. DCFPI and our partners ask the Council to invest $17.3 million to provide vouchers to 800 households on the DCHA waiting list in FY 2023. Failure to do so would undermine efforts to reduce family homelessness and housing instability that primarily harms Black and brown residents in the District.

DCHA’s Failure to Allow Self-Certification for Identification is Delaying Lease Ups

In the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal government allocated Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs) to the District. The federal government wanted localities to lease these vouchers up as quickly as possible, so they reduced some of the known barriers that cause delays. Particularly, the federal government allowed applicants to self-certify their identity rather than requiring a photo ID.

Recognizing the wisdom of this approach and the need to both process a historic increase in the number of vouchers and to house residents as quickly as possible, the Council included a similar requirement in the FY 2022 Budget Support Act of 2021 (BSA). It required DCHA to “promulgate emergency and final rules for tenant-based voucher assistance” establishing “a process to allow applicants to self-certify eligibility factors when an applicant cannot easily obtain verification documentation.”[1] Unfortunately, DCHA’s proposed policies do not allow residents to self-certify instead of providing a photo ID, falling short of what is allowed with the EHVs and what the Council required in the BSA.

Photo IDs are difficult and time consuming to obtain, particularly because an applicant must have a birth certificate. Both IDs and birth certificates are easy to lose when a resident is homeless and lacks a safe place to store them. Also, each jurisdiction has their own process for obtaining a birth certificate and sets their own fees. Clients and homeless service providers have reported waits of up to a year or more.[2] One provider had a client who waited for three years.[3] And some jurisdictions limit the number of birth certificates a person can receive.[4] Additionally, ID requirements disproportionately harm Black and brown residents as they are more likely to lack an ID. National research finds that 13 percent of Black Americans and 10 percent of Hispanic Americans lack photo IDs compared to only 5 percent of white Americans.[5]

And self-certification can lead to much quicker lease ups, based on evidence from the EHV process and reports by providers. The average number of days from an EHV client being assigned to a provider and an application being completed is 19 days, compared to 126 days for locally-funded PSH clients, data from the Single Adult System (SAS) Dashboard show.[6]

DCFPI urges DCHA to immediately issue new policies that allow applicants to self-certify in the place of providing a photo ID. If the agency fails to act, I urge the Council to amend the LRSP statute to explicitly allow self-certification for identity.

The Mayor’s Budget Does Not Invest in Local Rent Supplement Program Tenant Vouchers

DC’s LRSP provides rental assistance to help cover the difference between rent that families with low incomes can pay and the unaffordable rents they face. One component of LRSP operates by providing vouchers to households to help them afford private market apartments, known as “tenant-based vouchers.” More than 39,000 DC households are on DCHA’s waiting list for this program—and the number would likely be higher if not for the DCHA closing the waiting list.[7] Demand for housing assistance is high, with nearly 60 percent of the District’s lowest income households—those earning less than $20,000 annually—being severely cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent.[8]

Yet, once again, the mayor didn’t propose an increased investment in tenant-based vouchers to help households pay the rent, so it falls on the Council to provide new assistance for families on DCHA’s waiting list. DCFPI and our partners recommend that the Council invest $17.3 million to provide tenant vouchers to 800 households on the DCHA waiting list in FY 2023.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify, and I’m happy to answer any questions.

[1]Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Support Act of 2021,” Act 24-176 B24, September 27, 2021.

[2] Reported by Miriam’s Kitchen and Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

[3] Reported by Foundry United Methodist Church.

[4] Reported by Miriam’s Kitchen, Foundry United Methodist Church, and Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

[5] Vanessa M. Perez. “Americans with Photo ID: A Breakdown of Demographic Characteristics,” Project Vote, February 2015

[6] Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Committee Power point Presentation. January 11, 2022.

[7] Data provided by the DC Housing Authority to DCFPI.

[8] Michael Bailey, Eric LaRose, and Jenny Schuetz, What will it cost to save Washington, D.C.’s renters from COVID-19 eviction?, Brookings Institution, July 23, 2020.