City Paper is not for tourists
A new campaign mailer some constituents received makes it look like Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd has done a lot of work on affordable housing during his five years in office.
It touts a “record of accomplishments,” which includes 300 new housing units for seniors, 77 housing units for veterans, and 2,005 affordable housing units built or in the pipeline. The mailer also boasts hundreds of millions of dollars invested in other affordable housing initiatives.
“I took up the challenge to deliver more affordable housing for Ward 4,” the mailer says, quoting from Todd. “Together we have a record of accomplishment of which to be proud.”
(Whoever created the mailer also misspelled Shepherd Park, a neighborhood in the ward the councilmember has represented since 2015, as “Shepard Park.” With more than $450,000 in campaign contributions, LL would think Team Todd could afford a better copy editor.)
“Even if he voted for these things, he has never championed housing at all,” says Parisa Norouzi, executive director of Empower DC, a nonprofit that advocates around housing and gentrification issues. “Except maybe property tax for seniors and homeowners, but we have been on the public housing repairs in particular for several years, and Todd hasn’t worked with us or advocated or been helpful on that issue.”
During last year’s budget negotiations, Todd at first voted against Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau‘s bill that would have redirected tax revenue to the DC Housing Authority for permanent supportive housing services. He also voted in favor of Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray‘s amendment to allow Events DC to purchase RFK Stadium that, if successful, would have reduced the funds available for public housing repairs, according to the Fair Budget Coalition’s analysis.
Additionally, Todd does not sit on the Council’s Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization and has no direct input in allocation of funds for housing projects beyond an end-level vote on the whole budget. Housing committee director Emmanuel Brantley promised to get back to LL with answers to what role, if any, Todd played in the housing accomplishments listed in the mailer.
Todd’s campaign did not respond to LL’s request for comment, including questions about any behind-the-scenes negotiating he may have done. He will update this post if the councilmember responds.
Here’s a breakdown of the mailer’s points:
“$125,000 Homestead Tax Deduction introduced (increased from $78,000)”
Todd introduced a bill last year that would give homeowners a property tax break. The bill would have increased the amount that can be deducted from the value of a home before property taxes are calculated from $78,850 to $125,000.
Progressive groups called the proposal a “tax cut for mansions,” and the Council voted to send the bill back to committee, the Washington Post reported, where it still sits without a scheduled hearing. The bill was estimated to cost $38 million a year.
“$100 million in annual investments to the Housing Production Trust Fund with an additional $16 million in FY 2020”
Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s fiscal year 2020 budget initially included $130 million for the Housing Production Trust Fund. The Council reduced that amount to $116 million, which is an increase of $16 million from the previous four fiscal years. It is unclear to LL what role Todd played in advocating for the funds, which are spread throughout the city and are not specific to Ward 4. Additionally, a portion of the HPTF’s budget comes from a dedicated tax and requires no Council action.
“$140 million in repairs to public housing”
This item is most confusing to housing advocates, experts, and Wilson Building staffers. Public housing repairs are funded with a combination of federal and local money. The local funds are those left over from the local rent supplement voucher program, which only started helping with public housing repairs in the past four fiscal years.
Since fiscal year 2017, the District has allocated about $68 million for public housing repairs, according to LL’s calculations, $24.5 million of which was taken last year from the reserve fund for Events DC, the sports and entertainment authority. News reports indicate Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen led the charge to pry loose the Events DC money. It’s unclear what action Todd took to increase funding for public housing repairs.
“77 HELP USA Veterans Housing affordable housing units”
This accomplishment refers to a housing project completed last year at the Parks at Walter Reed redevelopment. As far as LL can find, the project, which includes 77 units of affordable housing for veterans, was funded with a combination of public and private money. The DC Housing Finance Agency kicked in $9.54 million, which the Council has no role in allocating. And the DC Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development allocated $9 million and $10 million respectively, a District spokesperson says. The Council approves the budgets for DCHA and DHCD, but they don’t earmark funds for specific projects.
Bowser’s press release announcing the ribbon cutting for the 77 units in October 2019 says the Parks at Walter Reed redevelopment is “the result of a successful community-drive process led by then-Councilmember Bowser and now by Mayor Bowser.” It is unclear exactly what role Todd played in securing the public funds and what action he took to bring the project to completion.
“$11.5 million for Housing Preservation Fund, a $1.5 million increase”
Mayor Bowser’s proposed 2020 budget included $15 million for the Housing Preservation Fund. The Council reduced that amount to $11.5 million.
It’s true that the fund increased by $1.5 million, which is less than Bowser’s initial proposal, but it’s unclear what role Todd played in negotiating for the increase.
“300 new senior affordable housing units” and “2,005 total affordable housing units either completed or in the pipeline”
Todd did not respond to LL’s questions, so it’s difficult to verify exactly which projects the mailer refers to. But generally, it takes years for subsidized housing development to go from proposal to completion.
As for the pipeline, the list of Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development projects in Ward 4 includes 13 projects totaling 913 affordable units. The Department of Housing and Community Development’s project pipeline, which lists projects throughout the city, includes 51 projects. Many of the projects were approved in 2018 or 2019, but a few began as far back as 2008 and 2012.
“I just don’t see how he could take credit for units, even in the pipeline,” Norouzi says. “He’s not the only one. When people run for office they tend to take credit for things they didn’t do the heavy lifting on.”