The D.C. Council voted unanimously on May 15, with the exception of Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White who was absent, to initially approve the city’s budget for fiscal year 2019. The council added $15.6 million to the mayor’s proposed budget for programs related to affordable housing, enough to support 752 new affordable housing units.
The previous week, the latest data on the region’s homeless population was released by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. This “point-in-time” snapshot, which counts people in shelters, housing programs and on the street for a single night in January, showed a net decrease of 7.6 percent from last year. District residents counted as homeless in 2018 numbered 6,904.
The mayor’s proposed budget outlined record investments in housing and homeless services but received criticism from affordable housing advocates for failing to provide adequate funding to support permanent housing solutions. For instance, the Way Home Campaign, with the support of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and Miriam’s Kitchen among others, called on the council to invest $32.9 million more for affordable housing than was allotted in the mayor’s budget.
The council added $4.75 million in funding for the Local Rent Supplement Program, which provides housing vouchers for those on the D.C. Housing Authority waiting list. The budget also added funding to the targeted affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, and transitional housing programs, among others.
At-large Councilmember Anita Bonds, who serves as the chair of the Committee on Community and Neighborhood Revitalization, praised the budget for a commitment to preserving an affordable housing market, including $10 million to increase the Home Purchase Assistance Program and Employer-Assisted Housing Program and $6.5 million for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“In a time when we are constantly calling for our housing development community to serve the zero to 30 percent area median income population, the government needs to put its money where its mouth is,” Bonds said.
Recognizing domestic violence as the leading cause of family homelessness in the District, the council allocated $2.5 million to create 83 new units of transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence.
While family homelessness dropped by 20 percent, the number of single adults experiencing homelessness climbed by 5 percent compared to the previous year. Men make up 73 percent of homeless single adults. The budget includes $40 million for construction of a new emergency and temporary housing program to replace the 801 East men’s shelter on the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast, according to Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger. An additional $9.5 million has been allocated to permanent supportive housing and other services for single adults.
In line with the decrease in family homelessness, DHS reports spending $50,000 per night on overflow shelter for families in hotels, down from $60,000 in the fall.
“We’re doing a lot of things to reform the entire system … for families and for the single adult system,” Zeilinger said at a May 11 media briefing. “For families, the two things that have probably been the biggest drivers [of the decrease in homelessness] over the last two years are prevention supports … and a policy that provides direct access to shelter year-round.”
A second and final vote on the city’s budget will be held May 29.
Watch the full hearing here: http://dc.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=4536