Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Department of Housing and Community Development sent new grant letters this week to ten housing counseling organizations in D.C. after previously cutting their fiscal year 2019 budgets by 28 percent.

City Paper reported last month that DHCD reduced grant funds for these community-based organizations (CBOs), reductions that ranged from $85,000 to $500,000. Housing counseling providers told City Paper at the time that they would have to lay off staff and dramatically reduce the scope of their intake services, for programs like Inclusionary Zoning and Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP) orientations.

After pressure from housing advocates, members of the D.C. Council, and leaders of the organizations themselves, Mayor Muriel Bowser directed DHCD Director Polly Donaldson to restore just over $1 million of the $3.4 million cut to a budget line item called “neighborhood-based activities.”

DHCD distributed the funds pro rata across the housing counseling organizations, a strategy criticized initially by some CBO leaders who believed that the cuts should be based on performance, rather than evenly distributed. In response to this criticism, Donaldson tells City Paper, “I stand by what the amounts are and how we determined that for the agencies. We think it’s important that neighborhood-based [organizations] have support to provide housing counseling services.”

After the cuts were initially made public, five members of the D.C Council lobbied Bowser to fully restore them, suggesting that she use tax revenues from DHCD’s Housing Production Trust Fund, money allocated to preserve and create affordable housing. 

Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who chairs the Council committee responsible for overseeing homeless services in D.C., tells City Paper in an emailed statement that “while I do appreciate that the Mayor has authorized a reprogramming to partially restore these services, I remain concerned about the way in which the agency has done so. The bottom line is that with the most recent revenue estimate we have more than enough funding to restore these housing counseling programs without cutting HPAP. Budgets reflect our priorities, and we need to ensure we are prioritizing, and fully funding, services that prevent eviction, increase homeownership and help stabilize our residents.”

Marian Siegel, executive director of Housing Counseling Services––one of the larger organizations whose budget was initially cut by nearly half a million dollars––says that HCS is “thankful to the Mayor for these additional funds, [but] it is still a very significant budget reduction.” Even with the restored funds, HCS will see a reduction of nearly 12 percent, or $213,000. The organization has already laid staff off because of the budget cuts, and Siegel believes she will have to lay off an additional three to four staff members. “We will continue to educate the administration as to the value of these services and better explain why thousands of low- and moderate-income residents depend on the CBOs to access and maintain an affordable home and to seek housing stability for their future security,” Siegel says.

She adds: “These are the individuals who cannot benefit from the IZ or tax credit units that require significant income and good credit, will never be able to buy a home without budget and credit support, may lose their home to foreclosure because they had no idea how to stop it, may be living in an unsafe apartment but are afraid to call in an inspector when the landlord told them to stop complaining, may be homeless and looking for an affordable rental, may have a leaky roof in a home they have owned for 30 years but they do not have the $6,000 required to fix it and do not qualify for financing … or may simply want to understand what services can help them to be able to afford to stay in D.C.”