Tuesday evening, in his State of the District Address, Mayor Gray announced that he plans to invest $100 million to build and preserve 10,000 units of affordable housing!

We were heartened to hear the Mayor recognize that housing is the key to an economically stronger and inclusive DC. An investment of $100 million could go a long way in ending homelessness for thousands of DC residents, allowing them the stability they need to regain self-sufficiency.

We do, though, have questions about this funding. For one, the Mayor’s pledge was for one-time funding, which, as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute points out on its blog, “…would make it unlikely that this new housing investment could serve DC’s most vulnerable.” As DCFPI explains, affordable housing programs that help DC residents with the lowest-incomes – programs like the Local Rent Supplement Program or the Permanent Supportive Housing Program – need annual funding to ensure that program participants can continue to afford the increasing rents.

Similarly, an investment in the Housing Production Trust Fund, a key tool for preserving and developing affordable housing in the District, would go a long way in reducing homelessness and tackling poverty, but as Bob Pohlman, the Executive Director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED)  notes, the fund would need a larger commitment to make 10,000 units a reality, particularly if the units are intended for residents with low incomes.

This year we are already seeing the significant impact that a small investment in affordable housing has on the lives of DC residents and on the finances of the District. With a small investment of $4 million in the Local Rent Supplement Program, more than 250 homeless families will move into their own apartments. This winter, thanks to that housing, hundreds fewer families compared to last year have been placed in expensive motels due to overcrowding in the shelter system. Housing is the most fiscally and morally responsible solution to homelessness, but with many more DC families still suffering, we need to keep up annual investments in long-term affordable housing.

Earlier this week, we released our mid-winter report on the family shelter system and the large number of DC families who need safe and stable housing but who are having a hard time accessing even emergency services. Yesterday, we learned about a mother and her children who have been at the DC General Shelter for over a year because the family simply can’t afford to move out. Far too many District residents have been stranded in the shelter system because there is no way out without housing assistance. No child should have to grow up in a shelter.

During his speech Tuesday night, the Mayor stated that: “A truly prosperous and successful city does not forget its most vulnerable residents, like people who are homeless and those with disabilities.” We could not agree more. We encourage the Mayor to focus the majority of his $100 million commitment on serving those most in need, and to commit to an annual investment in affordable housing for the District’s lowest income residents.