Below is the testimony of Amber Harding before the Committee on Finance and Revenue on May 21, 2019 on the Qualified High Technology Companies (QHTC) Tax Incentives program. For some background on the first vote to reform this program and devote the funds to programs that primarily serve low-income DC residents,as well as an update on where we are on funding for affordable housing, check out our last blog.
Good morning Chairman Evans and Councilmembers. My name is Amber Harding and I am an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. The Legal Clinic envisions – and since 1987 has worked towards – a just and inclusive community for all residents of the District of Columbia, where housing is a human right and where every individual and family has equal access to the resources they need to thrive.
I testified in favor of reforming the Qualified High Technology Companies Tax Incentives (QHTC) program at the April 26th Committee of the Whole hearing on the Budget Support Act. You have heard multiple witnesses today speak to the value and urgency of the programs being funded by tightening up this program and you’ve heard much about why the QHTC needs reform. I want to spend a little time today talking about how this money is better used to serve and support low-income residents and how differently policymakers have treated high tech companies, as compared to people experiencing homelessness.
First, we are very supportive of the programs that the amendment would fund, including $4.6 million to end the chronic homelessness of 185 individuals with Permanent Supportive Housing. However, even with this increased investment, large gaps still exist in permanent supportive housing, in Targeted Affordable Housing vouchers for families, in LRSP tenant vouchers that take families off the Housing Authority waitlist, and in eviction prevention funds. As you can see from the charts below, we are below what was funded in FY19 for homeless families, and at a historically low amount of funding for vouchers that take families from the 40,000 household waiting list. If the QHTC can be tightened even further, the money should be devoted to increasing affordable housing programs.
Most DC residents would assume that programs that give away millions of tax dollars to corporations would be harder to get into than our family emergency shelters, but that is not the case. Where any qualified tech company is assured participation as an entitlement, the right to shelter is only guaranteed when the temperature falls below freezing. Where the QHTC program pays a “relocation tax credit” of up to $7500 for any employee who moves to the District, DC turns away families seeking emergency shelter if they cannot prove DC residency with an acceptable form of documentation. Where the QHTC program allows company to “self-certify” eligibility, the emergency shelter system requires each homeless family to provide significant documentation of eligibility. (These documents include leases from every host to prove that they are not on the lease, birth certificates, letters from friends and families, and even sometimes staff investigations of claims.) Where the QHTC program has no time limits and assistance goes on in perpetuity and regardless of need, almost all families are pressured to move into Rapid Re-Housing from shelter, where they will face a time limit on assistance irrespective of their ability to afford rent.
What does this double standard say about DC values? It says that DC implicitly trusts the word of for-profit corporations seeking tax abatements more than it trusts the words of its own residents seeking lifesaving services. It says that fiscal responsibility is only a value when it comes to denying primarily Black and brown families shelter and housing, but not when it comes to corporate welfare. DC has continued to pay more than it needs to incentivize “economic growth,” even when data shows that it isn’t working. However, despite data that shows that families need much more help, D.C. continues to contribute far less than what it would take to adequately support DC residents in crisis. Overall, this dichotomy, if allowed to continue, makes it seem like elected officials value corporations over constituents.
This Council must flip this script. Corporations should be able to access tax incentives only when they can prove it is absolutely necessary for them to operate in DC. At the same time, DC residents would only ever apply to emergency shelters if they had no other choice—and those residents would certainly benefit from a shelter system that was even a fraction as accessible as the one that corporations have gratuitously enjoyed for years. We ask you to support the restrictions on QHTC that Councilmember Nadeau has drafted, and that you go even further to ensure that our DC tax dollars be used responsibly and justly.