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DC’s Housing Budget: Winning, Losing, and Building

The bad news is that DC’s housing crisis is way outpacing the city government’s political will to address it. The good news is that we’re organizing to change that.

This budget season, we joined other organizations in making modest asks which would have represented small dents in the city’s $13 billion budget. We won on some, and lost on others.

Bread client leader Zonia Godinez symbolically breaking down barriers to stability, as part of an action with Fair Budget Coalition outside the John A. Wilson Building

Bread client leader Zonia Godinez symbolically breaking down barriers to stability, as part of an action with Fair Budget Coalition outside the John A. Wilson Building

Bread for the City’s biggest priority was calling on the city to create a public housing fund, and to allocate $20 million for repair and restoration of public housing units. These repairs would improve people’s living conditions, and the restorations would convert blighted public housing units to livable homes – a quick and cost-efficient way to create places for people to live. We worked with groups like Fair Budget Coalition and longtime public housing organizers at Empower DC, and our leaders testified and lobbied elected officials, winning $15 million for the repair/restoration fund – a victory and a strong step, but not as much as we’d asked for, and not enough yet to cover the full need.

We also joined a Fair Budget Coalition call for $8.6 million in the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP), including $3.6M for the project-sponsor-based program (subsidies for housing providers to create affordable units) and $5M for tenant vouchers (subsidies that stay with individual people, so they can pay 30% of their income for units on the private market, up to a certain level of rent). Neither the Mayor Bowser nor the DC Council added new funds for LRSP, except for a $423,000 addition for vouchers for low-income, returning citizen seniors.

The DC Housing Authority wait list remains closed to new applicants, with as many as 41,000 people on it, sitting in wait for as long as 28 years. And soon after it was reported that DC has its highest homeless population in 13 years, the mayor and council passed a budget for Fiscal Year 2017 that includes tax cuts for the wealthy, and insufficient, minimal increases in funding for affordable housing programs.

Meanwhile, despite all the need in DC, a second consecutive round of tax cuts will be implemented in FY17, turning 100% of city revenue growth above the previous year’s projections into tax cuts. Some $47 million of revenue growth already went to tax cuts last year, with another $140 million to be triggered in the future.

Leaders from Bread, Fair Budget Coalition, and So Others Might Eat (SOME) lobby for affordable housing and other budget priorities at Councilmember Brandon Todd’s office.

Leaders from Bread, Fair Budget Coalition, and So Others Might Eat (SOME) lobby for affordable housing and other budget priorities at Council-member Brandon Todd’s office.

These rounds of tax cuts are severely undermining the city’s ability to adequately fund critical services. Referred to as tax triggers, the plan pushed last year by Council Chair Phil Mendelson led to a series of tax cuts for low- and middle-income people last year, followed, this year, by cuts to the business franchise tax and elimination of taxes on estates worth between $1 and $2 million.

Bread for the City’s community organizers are working hard to recruit strong, brilliant leaders from our client community who are in search of housing or who have experienced housing instability in other ways, and who want to build a movement for truly affordable housing in DC.

Over the last few months, over a dozen have testified at the Council for the first time, helped organize and/or attended their first rallies, helped organize and run campaign meetings, and more. We’re just at the beginning, and we plan to continue growing stronger community power and achieving bigger gains to house many more Washingtonians.

We hope and believe that the new faces on the DC Council represent a popular dissatisfaction with the status quo, and that Council-members Trayon White, Robert White, and Vince Gray will work with us to quell the housing crisis in Washington, DC. Either way, we’re just at the beginning, and we plan to continue growing stronger community power and achieving bigger gains to house many more Washingtonians.

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