By Mark F. Gray
Public housing in the District got a boost from the City Council who passed it’s $15.5 billion budget June 18 after the Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt initially said he would not certify its budget since it was initially ruled funds had been improperly diverted from Events DC, the former D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
Events DC made accounting errors in the past two years and didn’t return excess revenue from a dedicated tax once it had met all of its requirements to bondholders who funded the D.C. convention center.
In the FY-2020 Budget Support Act, the Council committed $23.5 million to fund urgently needed repairs to affordable housing units in public complexes using excess revenue from Events DC. This follows the federal budget submitted to Congress, where President Donald J.Trump proposed a $9.7 billion cut to public housing, which could mean up to a 15 percent reduction in the budget cut for the D.C. Housing Authority. The District’s Public Housing provides affordable homes for almost 8,000 low-income units for District residents.
“Today was a win for 400 families and seniors living in public homes in disrepair. We can’t have millions of excess tax dollars sitting idly while some of our neighbors live with mold, pests, and disrepair in public housing,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) who represents Ward 6 in a published statement afterwards. “This was a clear example of the Council’s oversight leading to important change.”
This year’s budget includes an increase in public housing vouchers and a continuation of recent increase in the Housing Production Trust Fund, set at $120 million. Still, these families and seniors need help now.
The ’s budget features an increase in public housing vouchers and a continuation of recent years’ steady increase in the Housing Production Trust Fund, set at $120 million. Still, these families and seniors need help now and, unlike the federal government, the District makes considerable investments in affordable housing.
According to an opinion piece in the Washington Post earlier in the week, the city was looking for revenue to help make improvements to decaying properties that have been allowed to lapse into “horrible conditions.”
In their joint column, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Allen acknowledged that the District has seen vigorous growth and an expansion of the wealth gap, which has lead to displacement of families making it impossible for those residents to continue to live in the city. Many houses have dilapidated and are in such bad shape they had been making their tenants sick, while many of the units are no longer fit to be occupied.
Federally subsidized public housing has traditionally been a sanctuary for the very lowest income residents in the District, including critical multi-bedroom homes for families. For many years, the federal government paid for the maintenance of those homes. Mendelson and Allen concurred that the budget was always tight, but it did ensure thousands of families had a home they could afford.
They also acknowledged the federal budget cutbacks have left cities at a deficit when trying to properly maintain them. Tyrone Garrett, head of the District’s Housing Authority, testified that the maintenance has fallen so far behind it would cost more than $2 billion to fix them.
As the Council was in the final stages of preparing another vote to ratify the District’s proposed balanced budget, Mendelson and Allen stated that this year’s budget, “makes considerable investments in affordable housing.”
“In no way does this solve a much more serious long-term challenge,” Allen’s statement continued. “How do communities like ours come up with hundreds of millions of dollars for repairs when the federal government walks away from funding its own housing programs?”
This article originally appeared in The Afro.