If passed, new legislation introduced to the D.C. Council on Tuesday would give residents greater access to affordable housing and government buildings, respectively.
The first bill, proposed by At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, would establish a special fund to help rehabilitate public housing. The fund would allocate money toward thousands of buildings owned by the D.C. Housing Authority so the agency could preserve occupied units and make vacant ones habitable to families experiencing homelessness. Notably, any money that goes into that designated pot would not revert to D.C.’s General Fund under the new legislation. More than $8 million in rental supplements were reprogrammed for other uses last year, according to Silverman—money which could have been spent repairing the 21,000 units of affordable housing DCHA owns or subsidizes, especially as Congress has cut operating and maintenance funds for public housing.
“The District already allocates some funding each year to the Housing Authority—for security and for a local housing voucher program known as [the Local Rent Supplement Program],” Silverman said from the dais. “But each year, any funds that are unspent at the end of the fiscal year are swept away, either to our ever-growing reserve funds or to other uses through reprogramming. I believe that the funds dedicated by the Council to housing our most under-served populations should be used for those purposes.”
At-Large and Ward 3 Councilmembers David Grosso and Mary Cheh also introduced a bill they said would reduce burdens on D.C.’s most vulnerable residents. The legislation would mandate the Department of General Services, which manages city-owned buildings, to come up with its own security policies rather than relying on federal guidelines that require residents to show I.D. or sign log books when entering spots like the Wilson Building. In another example, homeless residents must show I.D. when trying to obtain birth certificates from the D.C. Department of Health. Grosso said these rules don’t have a “meaningful impact on security.”
“Over the years, we have seen increases in policies that limit access to government buildings in the name of security without any actual evidence for such policies,” the councilmember said in a statement. “This security theater greatly frustrates me, and it has a disproportionate effect on some of our most vulnerable residents including those who are homeless or undocumented immigrants.”
Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, and Cheh cosponsored Silverman’s bill. Phil Mendelson, Jack Evans, Silverman, and Allen cosponsored the other.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery