Budget mark-ups feature small wins for housing advocates

The figure 19.5 billion on a phone calculator.

The mayor's proposed budget totals $19.5 billion.

As local lawmakers start the process of crafting a final budget for fiscal year 2023, D.C. Council committees are recommending some modest increases to housing programs and social services from the funding levels proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser — but their proposals fall far short of the enhancements sought by housing advocates. 

Since Bowser released her budget proposal on March 16,  the Fair Budget Coalition and other proponents have identified key programs they feel went underfunded. Last week’s committee markup sessions gave councilmembers their first chance to incorporate that feedback in their budget recommendations. 

The committees funded only a fraction of three of the largest requests described by the Fair Budget Coalition and other proponents as necessary to prevent more families from experiencing homelessness. Without increased investment, they argue, D.C. will not be able to use its $19.5 billion budget to improve access to housing. 

As an intermediate step in the council’s budget process, the markup sessions allow committees — each focused on one or more specific policy areas, such as housing, human services or public safety — to recommend changes to the mayor’s proposed budget for the agencies under their purview. In doing so, the committees are constrained by council rules that limit their ability to propose additional spending beyond the overall level proposed by the mayor. While none of these funding changes are guaranteed to make it into the council’s final budget, they represent the council’s initial priorities. 

Vouchers, subsidies and homeless services

Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP)

Advocates’ request: $17.33 million for 800 additional vouchers 

Background: Most tenant-based LRSP vouchers are distributed via a waitlist run through the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA). Given that the waitlist currently has 37,000 names on it and is still matching people who applied in 2004, advocates contend that a substantial increase in the number of vouchers is necessary. The program is currently funded at $67 million, and the mayor did not increase the budget from last year. The vouchers allow low-income residents in the District to afford housing by subsidizing their rent; anyone who meets the income criteria is eligible to apply, although some vouchers are reserved for specific populations. 

Committee: Housing and Executive Administration (chaired by at-large Councilmember Anita Bonds)

The committee recommendation: $1,758,000 for 20 new LRSP vouchers for LGBTQ+ individuals, 20 LRSP vouchers for returning citizens, and 20 LRSP vouchers for families on the voucher waitlist, all of which were funded via a transfer from the Government Operations and Facilities Committee. 

In explaining why she did not push for additional money for tenant-based vouchers, Bonds cited an expected increase in the amount of extremely affordable housing available in D.C. as a result of investments made in LRSP project- and sponsor-based vouchers as well as the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF).

Rapid Rehousing (RRH)

Advocates’ request: Enough funding to continue subsidies for the 913 families who are set to be terminated from the program by September

Background: RRH provides a short-term housing subsidy for people experiencing homelessness. Advocates argue most families in the program will return to homelessness if their subsidy expires, since 90% of families cannot afford housing after their year in the program expires. The mayor’s proposed budget increased the RRH budget by $45 million to allow more families to receive a subsidy but does not include any provisions to extend subsidies for people currently housed through the program. 

Committee: Human Services (chaired by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau)

The committee recommendation: $528,909 for 20 Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) vouchers for families exiting RRH, funded by the Government Operations and Facilities Committee. Nadeau said at the committee markup that more funding is needed to help these families, adding that she would work with the rest of the council to increase the RRH budget in hopes of addressing the issue. 

Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH)

Advocates’ request: $27.7 million to serve 1,040 families with TAH vouchers 

Background: TAH is a long-term voucher for families in the homeless service system that combines a housing subsidy with a case manager. The program, funded at $21 million, saw no new money in the mayor’s proposed budget. 

Committee: Housing and Executive Administration

The committee recommendation: $80,000 to fund three TAH vouchers for returning citizens, funded by the Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs Committee. 

Rental assistance 

Advocates’ request: $187 million in Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funding to match the mayor’s estimate last fall of the amount needed to help households at risk of eviction

Background: ERAP provides rental and utility assistance to people who can’t meet their payments and are at risk of being evicted. Over 40,000 families in D.C. are estimated to be at risk now that the eviction moratorium has been lifted. Bowser’s budget proposes $120 million in ERAP funding over two years, at least $67 million short of the amount needed according to her own prior estimate. 

Committee: Human Services

The committee recommendation: $300,000 in additional funding for ERAP, transferred from the  Committee on Government Operations and Facilities. At the markup session, Nadeau said she hopes the council will find additional funding as the budget process continues. The committee proposal also extends the D.C. Flex pilot program — which provides participating families with $7,200 they can use throughout the year in rental assistance — through 2026. 

Homelessness services

Advocates’ request: Money to ensure D.C.-funded shelters can remain open 24/7; money to provide portable restrooms and handwashing stations at homeless encampments; $300,000 more for a shelter diversion program known as Project Reconnect; and a $3.15 million increase to youth homeless service providers.

Background: As a shelter diversion program, Project Reconnect attempts to connect people experiencing homelessness with housing or a support network. Nadeau said the program has received positive reviews, and Bowser proposed an increase of $727,800. The $300,000 would allow an additional 171 individuals to receive support. 

Committee: Human Services

The committee recommendation: A $300,000 increase for Project Reconnect and $1 million to youth service providers that are under contract with the D.C. government. Youth homelessness service providers have testified to the council that maintaining flat funding levels could force service cuts. The one-time investment is meant to prevent that, although Nadeau said a total of $3 million is needed to keep up with rising expenses. 

Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV)

Background: CCNV is a nonprofit in D.C. that provides support services to people experiencing homelessness. CCNV operates a shelter downtown at 425 2nd St. NW that has a property tax exemption because of the group’s nonprofit status. In 1994, the District assessed property tax because CCNV had not filed the necessary exemption form; the debt has been outstanding since, and CCNV does not have the money to pay it. 

Committee: Business and Economic Development

The committee recommendation: Use $349,153 to forgive all tax debt and interest for CCNV. The funding came via the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety..

Public Housing and Investments 

Public housing

Advocates’ request: $60 million each year for public housing repairs over the next decade to fix all issues on DCHA properties 

Background: Bowser’s proposed budget funds public housing repairs at $110 million over three years, a fraction of advocates’ demand of $600 million over the next decade. Neither proposed spending level fully funds the $2.2 billion estimated by the former D.C. Housing Authority director as what it would cost to repair all of D.C.’s public housing. 

Committee: Housing and Executive Administration

The committee recommendation: $1.1 million increase to capital funding for public housing repairs next year via a transfer from the Government Operations and Facilities Committee. 

Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF)

Background: Advocates have called for increased oversight of the trust fund, which would receive a $500 million infusion in FY 2023 under Bowser’s budget. The HPTF is legally required to use half its money to produce “deeply affordable housing,” meaning units set aside for those making no more than 30% of the area median income (AMI). Administered by the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the fund has failed to meet this requirement for several years — in FY 2021, just 27% of the fund went toward deeply affordable housing. 

Committee: Housing and Executive Administration

The committee recommendation: Inclusion of a subtitle in the budget legislation to require the DHCD director to provide the council with a report within 10 days of the HPTF funding a project detailing how many deeply affordable units the project will produce and why that project was funded. This provision combines proposals in three bills currently pending before the committee that seek to impose similar accountability measures.

Advocates also asked that more than half of this year’s HPTF budget be set aside for deeply affordable housing to make up for past misuse. This request was not incorporated in the committee report. 

Employment and social services

Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) 

Background: In an effort to avoid placing children in the District’s foster care system, CFSA’s Grandparent Caregiver Program and Close Relative Caregiver Program provide kinship caregivers who are raising children in D.C. with subsidies to help with unexpected costs. The mayor did not increase funding for the programs, despite passage of recent legislation that made more caregivers eligible for the subsidy.

The mayor’s proposed budget also cut all future funding for the new Office of the Ombudsperson for Children, which would provide independent oversight of CFSA. The office has been a point of conflict between the mayor and the council, which overrode Bowser’s veto of legislation establishing the position. The council is in the midst of hiring for the position, according to Nadeau. 

Committee: Human Services 

The committee recommendation: A $100,000 increase for the Close Relative Caregiver Program using money from the Committee on Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs; a $50,000 increase for the Grandparent Caregiver Program; a $70,000 increase for home visiting initiatives; and $935,000 for the Office of the Ombudsperson for Children, partially funded by money from the Committee on Government Operations and Facilities. At Nadeau’s suggestion, the Committee on Human Services also recommended making permanent the close relatives program, which is set to expire in 2023. All these measures were supported by child welfare advocates. 

Employment services

Background: Youth advocates have claimed that current workforce development opportunities do not meet the needs of youth experiencing homelessness. The committee recommendations suggest that the Department of Employment Services (DOES) create a program targeted for youth experiencing homelessnes, but the committee did not provide funding for such a program. Previously, advocates have suggested the funding should come via DHS. 

Jobs First is a pilot program based on a model pioneered by local nonprofit Friendship Place that pairs job seekers with positions in 90 days. Two-year grants for the program were announced by DOES two weeks ago, although the mayor’s proposed budget cut funding for the pilot. 

Committee: Labor and Workforce Development 

The committee recommendation: $1 million to provide training for commercial driver’s licenses; $2 million to expand the School Year Internship Program, with 100 slots reserved for at-risk youth; $606,000 to restore the Jobs First program; $100,000 to establish a commission on poverty, per legislation previously approved by the council; and $3 million for eviction diversion through the D.C. Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants. 

Next steps

The council will hold a work session April 27 before D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson prepares a draft proposal. The D.C. Council will hold its first formal vote on the draft budget proposal on May 10, according to the current schedule

This article was co-published with The DC Line.

Annemarie Cuccia covers D.C. government and public affairs through a partnership between Street Sense Media and The DC Line. This joint position was made possible by The Nash Foundation and individual contributors.

Issues |DC Budget|Permanent Supportive Housing|Public Housing|Rapid Rehousing|Unemployment|Youth

Region |Washington DC

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