D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman
D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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A bill proposed during the D.C. Council’s first session of the fall on Tuesday would provide a monthly stipend to residents on the D.C. Housing Authority’s long waitlist who also are elderly or have a disability. But while the idea is to assist households at high risk of being overwhelmed by increasing rents, it’s currently unclear how much the proposal could cost taxpayers.

As presented, the stipend would cover up to 70 percent of such a household’s rent and is not to exceed $500 a month. The bill would amend a 1980 law that was established to help low-income families remain in affordable housing. At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman authored the new legislation, called the Senior Tenants and Residents with Disabilities Rental Assistance Program Amendment Act of 2017.

Households eligible for the would-be stipend include those with at least one member who is over 62 or has a disability, and that make no more than 80 percent of the area median income. For a family of four, that equates to roughly $88,000 a year.

There are about 41,000 people on DCHA’s waitlist to enter public housing or receive a housing voucher, according to authority spokeswoman Christy Goodman. Of those, about 17,500 are seniors or have disabilities, meaning the District might spend millions of dollars a month on the stipends (not accounting for income levels). Since the bill was just introduced, the D.C. Chief Financial Officer hasn’t yet performed a fiscal-impact analysis on it.

For many elderly and disabled people, though, the growing cost of housing is making it harder to stay in D.C. “A small helping hand with living costs increases the chance that these residents can stay in their homes while reducing the likelihood that they’ll need other more expensive District services in the future,” Silverman says in a release.

The Department of Housing and Community Development would administer the potential stipends. Silverman’s office says an estimated 13,000 households could benefit from the assistance, but not all would need the full $500 subsidy and a pilot program could help determine effectiveness.

A majority of the legislature preliminarily supports the bill, which Councilmembers Anita Bonds, David Grosso, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau, Brandon Todd, and Trayon White co-introduced. It was referred to the committee on housing and neighborhood revitalization and will undergo a yet-to-be-scheduled public hearing.