There is no question that there is an affordable housing crisis in our city. The crisis is not unique to our city – but still, it’s a challenge that our government must address.
When I first started out as a civic activist, I was a tenant leader at McLean Gardens - at the time a moderate income 723-unit rental complex. We fought for rent control. We fought for tenant protections against condominium conversions and to establish the tenant opportunity to purchase when developers came along to evict tenants. I have not forgotten.
Indeed, over the past year I got through the Council a 10-year extension for rent control; I rewrote (with unanimous Council approval) the Mayor’s Comprehensive Plan to make affordable housing the highest priority; I authored legislation (just adopted) to reform the eviction process; I authored legislation (enacted last fall) to revise and expand access to emergency rental assistance (ERAP); I substantially increased funding for the Access to Justice Initiative; and I added tens of millions of dollars to the city’s budget for various housing initiatives.
I have not forgotten.
If we value diversity – which I do – and we value our long-time residents – which I do – then the District government must ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing. No sitting councilmember has a longer, stronger record on this issue than I.
1) Supportive of greater investments. Every year I use my authority as Chairman to rework the Mayor’s proposed budget and move through the Council a revised final budget. I have used this authority to increase investments for affordable housing.
- Working with Councilmember McDuffie and then-Mayor Gray, I wrote the law to require that ½ of each year’s annual surplus automatically goes to the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) -- $92 million from last year’s surplus. Add to this $83.5 million dedicated tax revenues. But I think the FY 2023 investment should be at least $200 million.
- I have put $123 million in the capital budget for capital repairs of the city’s public housing. The first $23 million was the result of a fight I waged with the city’s Chief Financial Officer and EventsDC in 2020 to take excess surplus funds from the convention center.
- Every year I add funds to reduce homelessness and increase rental assistance. For this year I added $20 million for permanent supportive housing, and I increased the budget for emergency rental assistance by 65% (for a total of $14 million).
- I added $1.43 million recurring funds to establish a re-entry housing program through Jubilee Housing – the first of its kind – to provide short term housing for returning citizens with wrap around services.
- To unlock HPTF funds for projects targeted to extremely low income residents, the city must adequately fund project-based rent vouchers. Inexplicably, the Mayor underfunds this every year, and year-after-year I step in to increase the budget for this.
2) Supportive of new strategies.
- This year I put $5 million in the budget to fund the GAIN Act to pay housing providers to convert existing rental units into affordable units with covenants on the property. This strategy should expand the supply of affordable housing more cheaply than new construction.
- Last year I authored legislation to leverage HUD Section 108 funds to get $88 million for affordable housing projects.
- I have supported efforts to fund the conversion of old downtown office buildings to housing. Increasing the supply of housing overall reduces market pressures that make existing affordable housing unaffordable to working families.
- Two years ago the Mayor proposed a $10 million one-time grant to the Washington Housing Conservancy – a non-profit that purchases multi-family housing to be preserved as affordable. Through the Budget Support Act I changed that proposal to be a long-term tax abatement – an approach worth much much more over the life of the projects.
- I am supportive of legislation to seize vacant residential properties through tax sale and transfer them to a community land trust for restoration as affordable housing.
3) Supportive of existing strategies.
- It was my initiative in last year’s Budget Support Act that extended rent control another ten years.
- I supported a change in the law in 2019 requiring that at least 50% of Housing Production Trust Fund funds be targeted to the construction of extremely low income (<30% AMI) housing.
- I rewrote the Mayor’s proposed Comprehensive Plan (now D.C. Law 24-20) to require that land use decisions make housing, and affordable housing, priorities for all governmental decisions regarding land use; this includes extremely low-income units.
- I moved through the Council legislation (D.C. Law 22-24) to strengthen Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) and thereby increase affordable housing opportunities across the District. IZ requires that a percentage of units in market-rate apartment buildings be set aside for low-income residents.
- I successfully moved legislation (Bills 23-938 & 24-401) to expand the availability of Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds for low-income households and reduce documentation requirements for eligibility.
4. Supportive of tenants.
- I co-wrote legislation (D.C. Act 23-497) to reform the law regarding evictions as well as improve the tenant screening process for new rental applications. (My bill 24-119 was incorporated into Bill 24-96, the permanent reforms, which just passed the Council.) Until these reforms, over 30,000 eviction cases were filed in court each year, even though less than 10% actually resulted in an eviction.
- Last summer I mercilessly pushed the Mayor to move quicker with the STAY-DC program – $352 million in federal dollars targeted to tenants who had fallen behind in rent and utilities due to the pandemic. In the end, the District was among the top 5 states disbursing these funds.
- Every year I take the lead in budgeting the Access to Justice Initiative which provides civil legal services to indigent residents. For the current fiscal year I added almost $11 million (for a total of $22.8 million) to significantly expand access to justice for eviction prevention and diversion. Tenants lose cases when they don’t have a lawyer.
- I’ve moved two bills to strengthen the District’s hand in fighting slumlords. D.C. Law 22-287 increases transparency around LLCs – enabling the District to better target slumlords and other housing providers who violate the law. D.C. Law 23-207 strengthens the DC Attorney General in going after slumlords when they neglect their properties and put tenants at risk.
- I drafted, and got passed over the Mayor’s veto, legislation to break up DCRA and create a new Department of Buildings to better focus on housing and building code safety across the District. (D.C. Law 23-269)
- I drafted the eviction moratorium at the beginning of the pandemic to ensure that tenants were protected, and then worked with Councilmembers to establish a phased approach to unwinding the moratorium when the public health emergency expired last summer. The phased approach included tying evictions to requiring landlords to apply to STAY-DC; making improvements to STAY-DC; strengthening notice requirements to tenants; and requiring landlords to offer payment plans for rent arrearages.
5. Other Initiatives To Increase Housing
- The Short Term Rental Regulation Act (D.C. Law 22-307, which I rewrote and moved through the Council) limits short-term rentals (such as Airbnb) to owner-occupied residential properties. This, in turn, enables older homeowners to age in place with the supplemental income they may earn. Moreover, prohibiting investors in this market protects hundreds, if not thousands, or housing units from being taken off the rental market.
- The TOPA Single-Family Home Exemption Amendment Act (D.C. Law 22-120, which I co-introduced) exempts owner occupied single-family homes with accessory dwelling units from the requirements of the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Many homeowners, especially older homeowners, were not renting out their English Basements for fear of getting ensnared in TOPA requirements. Exempting them had the effect of expanding the market of rental units available in the District.
The bottom line is that with Phil Mendelson you have a legislator who not only supports efforts to preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing, but will fight for it, and be on the lookout for new approaches.
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