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With the District being flush with cash, city officials have been talking up the need to make a new investment in affordable housing. At his State of the District address tonight, Mayor Vince Gray is promising just that, committing to a $100 million investment to create and preserve 10,000 affordable housing units.

“Since coming into office, my administration has completed the construction of nearly 1,500 units of affordable housing and has broken ground on an additional 1,700 units,” Gray will say in his speech just getting underway at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, according to an advance copy of the speech provided to reporters. “Last September, I announced $35 million in financing to create and preserve additional affordable housing. But we have to do more. And that’s why tonight I’m proposing a major affordable housing initiative that will invest $100 million in building and preserving 10,000 units of affordable housing.”

Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro clarifies that the proposal is for $100 million in new affordable housing funding and that the figure does not include existing money in the housing production trust fund. He also says that it’s a one-year, one-time commitment, but that with more surpluses expected, it could be a model for future investments. “Let’s see how the system works with this investment,” he says.

Affordable housing advocates in the city have at times expressed skepticism of Gray’s commitment to affordable housing; they lament, for example, that he continues to take money out of the trust fund to pay for the Local Rent Supplement Program rather than funding it separately.

One leading housing advocate, Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development Executive Director Bob Pohlman, is pleased with the mayor’s commitment to more affordable housing funds but hopes the administration will make a longer-term investment in housing.

“Ten thousand units is a great goal, but the $100 million is the first-year installment in paying for that,” Pohlman says. “We’re looking for a multiyear commitment at that level to get to 10,000 units.”

Some quick arithmetic, Pohlman says, shows that the one-time commitment is inadequate to produce 10,000 units, since it’d mean spending just $10,000 per unit, and “you cannot produce housing for $10,000 a unit.”

Pohlman is part of the 36-member housing task force convened by the mayor last year to propose paths to more affordable housing. The task force will deliver its recommendations later this month. Among them is a proposal to boost the trust fund to $100 million per year, from its current level of $45 million. It’s unclear if Gray’s $100 million plan will involve the trust fund or a new, separate fund. Some housing advocates would prefer to see a trust fund expansion because of the programs’s strong income targeting to ensure that those in the greatest need get housing.

Pohlman says the task force has been looking at steps to take between now and 2020, and within that time frame, the $100 million investment would need to be made each year to get to 10,000 units. But, he says, “this is a good first installment.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery