Testimony at the Public Oversight Hearing on Implementation of Historic Investments in Housing

Chairperson Nadeau 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 is a nonprofit organization that promotes budget choices to reduce economic and racial inequality and build widespread prosperity in the District of Columbia through independent research and thoughtful policy recommendations.

I am here today to thank the Council for passing the “Homes and Hearts Amendment Act of 2021” (“Homes and Hearts”) that created historic investments in housing. Today, I request the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) make greater effort to increase transparency on how they are implementing these historic funds. We ask them to commit to the timely and regular release of core implementation metrics so that stakeholders can monitor progress and better ensure that these dollars are reaching as many people as possible.

“Homes and Hearts” Makes Transformative Investment in Tenant Vouchers for Residents Experiencing Homelessness

“Homes and Hearts” imposes a modest increase in the income tax rate for the District’s wealthiest residents to make historic investments in affordable housing. In addition to affordable housing that is not dedicated to households in the homeless services system, the amendment funds 1,012 Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) vouchers for individuals and 255 for families. PSH combines tenant vouchers with wrap-around services, including intensive case management and help managing health problems. Homes and Hearts also funds 307 Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) vouchers for families. TAH combines a tenant voucher with “light touch” services, including help with the housing application and service referrals.

This investment is in addition to the 1,287 to 1,444 new PSH tenant vouchers for individuals and 295 to 345 new vouchers for families financed with other source in the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget.[1] We are thrilled that the FY 2022 budget includes the most housing vouchers ever and are available to help the District lease up these vouchers in any way we can.

DHS and DCHA Should Regularly Provide Data so Stakeholders Can Monitor Progress

Given these historic investments, it is crucial for the DC Council and other stakeholders to monitor their implementation. DHS and DCHA should regularly provide data tailored to various stakeholders. DCFPI is thrilled that the District is launching a public-facing Voucher Tracker. As presented to the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Single Adult System Work Group, this Tracker will include:

  • the total number of FY 2022 vouchers by type;
  • how many are available;
  • how many are matched to a client;
  • how many are pending with DCHA;
  • how many voucher applications have been approved; and,
  • how many have been housed.

The tracker will also document the voucher timeline, including the:

  • time between matching a client to a voucher and their submission of the application;
  • time between the submission of the application and DCHA approval of the application;
  • time between DCHA approval of the application and lease up of the apartment; and,
  • total time from the match to lease up.

Finally, the tracker will document housing resources by population (individuals vs families), including:

  • available DHS resources by type;
  • number of residents who qualify; and
  • percentage of those residents who will be matched.

If the Voucher Tracker cannot be a real-time tool, it should be updated at least once per month so it will be useful in tracking implementation progress. Monthly reports should also be posted on the DHS and DCHA websites.

There should also be a real-time dashboard accessible to the Council, DC ICH stakeholders, and providers who are part of the program expansion. This dashboard should include more information than in the Voucher Tracker in order to help these stakeholders pinpoint problems and bottlenecks. Each major step of the process should be listed in the dashboard. At a minimum, the dashboard should include the number who:

  • have all the required documents readily available;
  • are missing documents according to the DCHA system;
  • have identified a unit to rent;
  • are waiting for a unit inspection by DCHA; and,
  • are waiting for DCHA’s approval for their application.

The dashboard should also document the average amount of time spent at each step. DHS and DCHA should also create target outcomes by month for the number to have achieved each step as well as create target outcomes for length of time each household spends at each step. A monthly written report on data and outcomes should be submitted to the Committee on Human Services and the DC ICH for their review and input.

The dashboard should also document the racial and gender breakdown of those receiving resources to ensure equity in the distribution of vouchers.

DCFPI envisions a future where no one is homeless for a long time and no one dies without the dignity of a home. The FY 2022 budget will bring us much closer to this goal but only if we ensure timely implementation of the resources and commit to greater transparency.

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

[1] The budget combines $11.7 million of federal Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) funding and Fiscal Recovery Funds to create new PSH slots. While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated this will translate into 532 PSH vouchers for individuals and 175 for families, the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) estimated that it will create just 375 vouchers for individuals and 125 for families because of DC’s high rents. DCHA has asked HUD for additional funding to increase the number of vouchers. This accounts for the range in vouchers.