The answer is yes, and no! Our collective advocacy during the fiscal year 2023 budget season led to significant policy wins, and increased investment in deeply affordable housing. It’s heartening to be part of, and bear witness to, these collective efforts and we aim to keep that energy strong because there is much left to be done – despite the progress made, the need in DC for these resources still far outstrips the investments. One important point of unfinished business remains the rapid re-housing program. We waged a strong campaign this budget cycle to reform this time-limited housing subsidy program, but our goals have not yet been reached. We remain focused on the need for this reform because every day that goes by without it, more families face housing loss and instability in the District of Columbia
Securing investments for programs that best serve our clients was a different challenge this year than it was during the previous budget season. The Council struggled to increase investments in the programs we were advocating for without also increasing revenue. We saw far higher investments in housing last year, when a tax increase was devoted to housing and other important programs. DC does have a very large local budget that could meet the basic needs of its residents if priorities were different, getting the entire Council to agree on what funding to reallocate in order to significantly expand housing programs is extraordinarily challenging. For example, the greatest increase in housing resources by the Council only happened when the Chairman made a cut the Housing Production Trust Fund and used those resources to fund Targeted Affordable Housing. It is not ideal to make cuts to one housing tool to fund another, but in this case, it was the only option presented. Ultimately, if there is to be meaningful, sustainable, progress on reducing income inequality and housing injustice in DC the Council must identify or create a better path to funding Council-wide priorities.
Now that the FY23 budget season has drawn to a close, here’s a recap of how a few of our high-priority housing asks fared:
You might recall from earlier in the budget season that the mayor fully funded our asks for Permanent Supportive Housing. The Council maintained the same level of funding.
The remainder of our asks to end homelessness, however, were only partially funded. The Council funded 395 of our 1040 goal for Targeted Affordable Housing vouchers for homeless families; 20 of our 800 goal for Local Rent Supplement tenant vouchers for homeless families on the DC Housing Authority waiting list; and 23 of our 60 goal for Local Rent Supplement tenant vouchers for returning citizens.
Civil Rights Legislation
The DC Council fully funded the recently-passed Eviction Record Sealing Authority and Fairness in Renting Amendment Act of 2022, which will update our eviction laws, seal eviction records, and reduce barriers to rental housing. While parts of the law are already in effect, the remainder of the law can now go into effect October 1, 2022. We also asked the Council to pass and fund the Human Rights Enhancement Amendment Act of 2021. The bill has been “pre-funded,” meaning the money is available once the law is passed, and the bill is moving quickly—it just needs one more vote. We fully expect it to be passed soon and go into effect October 1, 2022.
Update: The Human Rights Enhancement Amendment Act of 2021 passed on June 28! Homelessness is now covered as a protected class under the DC Human Rights Act!
We advocated for increased funds for eviction prevention this year and, while the investments did not completely fulfill our goal, DC did dedicate historic levels of funding for eviction prevention. We recommended an additional $187 million in FY22 and $200 million in FY23—all in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). The mayor proposed increasing ERAP by $73.9 million in FY22 and $27.7 million in FY23 above the approved FY22 budget. The Council then added $300,000 for FY23.
Repairing Public Housing
This budget season we and our coalition partners set a goal of $60 million for badly needed repairs for DC’s public housing stock. Mayor Bowser invested $50 million in her budget, and the Council then added $1.12 million, for a total of $51.12 million. While it didn’t quite reach our goal, this is the greatest local investment in public housing repairs DC has ever had.
Building Deeply Affordable Housing
The mayor dedicated nearly $500 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund and matched enough operating dollars to build deeply affordable housing. We asked the Council to restore the $82 million that should have been spent on building housing for the lowest income DC residents last year but was not—to no avail. In fact, in order to fund the new Targeted Affordable Housing vouchers, the Council took money out of the trust fund. With our advocacy and support, some Councilmembers drafted language to make sure the cut did not reduce the part of the pot devoted to building housing for the lowest-income households. Unfortunately, Councilmember Bonds opposed the clarification and successfully moved an amendment to strike it. As a result, the Council has reduced the amount of money dedicated to building affordable housing, including deeply affordable housing.
We also advocated for the Council to develop greater enforcement and oversight mechanisms to ensure that the money dedicated for building housing for residents making 0-30% of Area Median Income is actually spent in accordance with statutory requirements. Here, we were successful. The Council passed legislation that increases transparency around the project selection process and spending by increasing reporting requirements and requiring that the mayor seek a waiver if the Administration expects to miss its mandatory spending targets for deeply affordable housing.
Rapid Re-housing Reform
We led a powerful campaign to reform rapid re-housing this budget season. With our partners, we briefed the Council on homelessness and housing programs in February, with a special emphasis on the current situation with rapid re-housing. Sixty-six organizations signed onto a letter to the Council and almost 400 individuals emailed the Council to demand reform. We and our allies testified at multiple hearings and had many meetings with councilmembers and staff. For the first time since 2019, we had in-person walk-arounds and the Fair Budget Coalition organized a compelling art installation outside the John A. Wilson Building, with one house for each family facing a time limit termination this year.
We think it is fair to say that the majority of the Council heard us loud and clear and were persuaded that rapid re-housing is a failing program that harms DC families. (Since 97% of rapid re-housing participants are Black, it is also a program that disproportionately harms Black DC residents, amplifying the need for radical reform.) We had two primary asks: 1) fund enough permanent housing vouchers so families can exit through the program into housing stability and 2) pass legislation to ensure that families who, through no fault of their own, cannot afford rent at the end of the subsidy time period continue to be supported until a permanent housing program is available—basically putting an end to arbitrary time limits. (Contrary to what the Bowser Administration has repeatedly said, nothing in this ensures a right to housing, as lovely as that would be, just like requiring for-cause evictions in rental housing does not equate to legislating a right to housing.)
Councilmember Robert White and Chairman Mendelson were able to fund some additional permanent housing that would go to rapid re-housing families, although not quite enough to meet the full need. Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Janeese Lewis George led the effort to draft and push forward legislation to reform rapid re-housing, but then the Department of Human Services claimed that the legislation would cost DC $100 million. While Councilmembers were skeptical of that claim, and the agency’s math appeared to be quite flawed, including underestimating their own budget by around $20 million, the Council was unable to get the cost down to a manageable number during this year’s budget. Therefore, Chairman Mendelson did not include the language in the Budget Support Act. However, he did announce that he planned to introduce it as permanent legislation soon and to work to pass it by the end of the year.
Unfortunately, not achieving rapid re-housing reform this budget cycle means the over 900 families set to receive termination notices this year will not all get the relief they desperately need, although some will get prioritized for the new housing subsidies next year. DHS has admitted that 272 of the first round of families losing assistance already have been terminated with no additional assistance. At this time, many of those families are likely to owe back rent and will face eviction imminently. During the budget process we learned that only 3% of families can afford their rent after being terminated from rapid re-housing with no further assistance—a truly mind-boggling rate of failure for the program.
As for next steps, we continue to provide legal representation for families being terminated from rapid re-housing and will keep you apprised of further developments. We believe the permanent legislation on rapid re-housing will be introduced very soon, and we also expect to continue to work on reducing the barriers to vouchers for our clients that the DC Housing Authority persists in maintaining. We truly appreciate everyone’s efforts this budget season and will continue to keep you apprised of opportunities for advocacy. We know that real reform never comes as quickly as we think it should, but we very much believe we have laid critical groundwork for transformational change.
Update: Permanent legislation to reform rapid re-housing was introduced June 27! Co-introducers include: Mendelson, Nadeau, Bonds, Allen, McDuffie, Robert White, Pinto, and Silverman. We will update you when a hearing is scheduled!