The District will invest an additional $10 million for housing preservation on top of the $100 million trust fund for affordable housing, Mayor Muriel Bowser said in her March 30 State of the District Address.
The $10 million will launch a new “Housing Preservation Fund” that Bowser said would help spur private investors to put a total of $40 million to preserve existing affordable housing units.
She also said that the city plans to establish regulations under the District Opportunity to Purchase Act that would allow city government the right to purchase units or buildings to keep them affordable, an act that has never been funded or used since it passed D.C. Council in 2008. Bowser said that the city’s investment of $100 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund would assist the preservation effort and result in new units.
“For every $100 million we invest, we are constructing and preserving more than 1,000 affordable housing units in all 8 wards,” she said. She also said that the city has inspected all buildings owned by Sanford Capital, which is facing more than half a million dollars in fines for allowing the buildings it owns to fall into disrepair. The landlord is facing a lawsuit from the city, which the Washington City Paper estimated spent $3.7 million a year on housing assistance for tenants of Sanford-owned buildings. Despite the problems, Bowser was able to point to one silver-lining of the city’s actions so far.
“The good news is it doesn’t look like any buildings have to be shuttered and people made homeless,” she said.
Bowser called on President Trump and Congress to preserve Community Development Block Grants. D.C. receives around $13 million annually from this federal program which can be used for housing and other forms of economic development. The city is also planning to propose a new program for District residents returning from federal prison in other states. Under the proposal, they would come back to D.C. a year before their prison term ended and serve the end of the term in the District, where they city would provide “intense re-entry services,” Bowser said.
Bowser also reaffirmed her desire to bring the unemployment rate down among African-Americans, which is as high as 12.5 percent in Ward 8. She committed to expanding training programs for residents and said the city would use funding under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to help get people back to work.
As part of the overall employment goals, she described a new “District of Columbia Infrastructure Academy,” which would partner with local institutions to help train local workers for essential public works jobs. The partners include the University of the District of Columbia, Metro, D.C. Water, Washington Gas, and Pepco.
“Unless we actively find ways to address the unique challenges that our underserved communities face, we’ll never realize our true potential,” Bowser said. Still, the mayor’s promises related to homelessness and housing probably won’t be enough to satisfy the city’s critics, who see the District’s spending priorities as misguided. A small protest during Bowser’s address was meant to highlight the persistent lack of affordable housing. Protestors reportedly held signs in front of the stage saying “D.C. spends three times more on jails and police than on affordable housing,” according to a press release from the Right2DC campaign, which organized the protest.