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A mayoral-appointed group of government, nonprofit, and private leaders has released a long-awaited report on the most viable ways to maintain the District’s affordable housing.
The housing preservation “strike force” created by Mayor Muriel Bowser last year published initial recommendations in June. Its 18 members—from city agencies, the D.C. Council, law firms, and community organizations—determined that a public-private investment fund, renovation programs targeted at small buildings, and legal mechanisms could help stem the city’s loss of obtainable apartments for low- and moderate-income residents. According to an analysis by the D.C. Office of Planning, almost 9,500 rental units became unaffordable for households with earnings under 60 percent of the area median income ($109,000 for a family of four) between 2009 and 2014, even though the District’s overall stock of rental units grew by nearly 30,000 over that period. This represents more than an 11 percent decline.
The strike force has met about a dozen times since September 2015 and agreed on a goal of keeping all currently subsidized rentals in the District affordable. It proposes to do so primarily by designating a “preservation unit” within a city agency to identify and act on preservation opportunities, and by providing seed money for a preservation fund.
The executive-branch division would collect and analyze data on subsided affordable rentals plus risks. It would also monitor outcomes related to the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, a decades-old law that gives renters the right to buy the properties they live in through tenant associations. Per the report, this new unit would have negotiating power with owners, “facilitat[ing] access to financial assistance” at local and federal agencies as well as at philanthropic groups. Additionally, the division would develop a series of criteria for the preservation activities it undertakes “given limited resources and the high profile nature of many of these decisions.”
Meanwhile, the preservation fund would offer loans to nonprofit developers and tenant associations to cover costs for acquiring properties and preparing them for redevelopment. The fund would partly rely on private allocations to “increase the impact of public funding” and “put additional ‘eyes’ on the deals and properties being considered.”
“The report … will guide my administration as we work to preserve our existing supply of affordable housing and capitalize on other opportunities to protect our affordable housing stock,” says Bowser, who has invested $100 million annually in the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund. (Polly Donaldson, director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, which distributes HPTF money to various projects, served as chair of the strike force.)
The strike force cites data from the D.C. Housing Preservation Network on “314 projects containing 40,088 affordable rental homes” in the District, out of an estimated 152,000 total occupied rental units. Ward 8 has the largest absolute number of subsidized units—over 12,500—comprising 58 percent of all occupied rental units in that ward, followed by Ward 6, which has almost 8,000 subsidized units, or 39 percent of all occupied rental units there. Still, with 7,100 subsidized units, Ward 7 has the second biggest share of subsidized units by ward: 43 percent, from 16,500 homes.
The report also recommends advancing regulations for the District Opportunity to Purchase Act (a law on the books that allows D.C. to transfer ownership of certain affordable properties to developers, but hasn’t been enforced), creating a program within DHCD tailored to buildings with five to 50 units, and helping seniors maintain their housing.
Bowser is expected to discuss the report at a press conference today, where she will announce the winners of 13 affordable housing projects containing some 1,200 units, according to a release from the mayor’s office.