Adapted from the testimony of Bob Pohlman, Executive Director of CNHED to the Committee of the Whole hearing on the Budget Support Act.
For the third year in a row, budget discussions have focused on homeless families living at DC General and in hotels. Much attention has focused on how to take families out of homelessness, but very little time is spent discussing why they are there in the first place and what we can do to prevent homelessness. The simple fact is the District has a severe shortage of affordable housing and the problem is only going to get worse. As the city’s population grows by more than a thousand residents each month, we continue to lose affordable rental housing. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports that the District has lost half of its low-cost rental units over the last decade. As this continues, it is becoming increasingly difficult for low income residents – even with federal and local rent subsidy vouchers – to find apartments in many neighborhoods of the city.
This is why the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development believes we must commit to building additional affordable housing stock and preserving the affordable housing we already have. The Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force took that same position calling for the production of 10,000 new units by 2020 and the preservation of 8,000 existing affordable units. The Interagency Council on Homelessness has adopted a production schedule that would provide sufficient permanent supportive housing, financed by the Trust Fund along with the sponsor-based Local Rent Supplement Program, to eliminate chronic homelessness for individuals and families by 2020. If we instead continue to focus our attention only on the “crisis” of homelessness and fail to increase the stock of affordable housing, we continue to fail these families and individuals, providing them with only an overcrowded shelter system, and no real strategies to prevent homelessness or provide permanent affordable housing.
To turn this tide, CNHED strongly supports the goal of investing $100 million annually in the Housing Production Trust Fund. The FY 2015 proposed budget directs $40 million of dedicated deed tax to the Trust Fund. The FY 2014 Supplemental budget adds another $30.2 million. We urge the Council to approve both of these budgets and seek to find $29.4 million of one-time funding to fill the gap. We are pleased that the Budget Support Act would commit 50 percent of future year-end unrestricted surpluses to the Trust Fund once required reserves have been achieved. But we do not expect this to begin in the next year. In the meantime, we cannot afford to lose the momentum we have achieved in housing production. I have attached to my testimony a chart of projects that show how Trust Fund dollars are being put to good use. Out of 1,260 homes financed by the Trust Fund in 2013, 321 were for households with special needs and 123 of those were for permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and families. The Trust Fund produces rental housing that will remain affordable for at least forty years and not be affected by rising rents in the District.The District needs to commit to the production and preservation of a Continuum of Housing affordable to all. This should include investing $2 million more in sponsor-based Local Rent Supplement to provide operating support to newly produced units of permanent supportive housing. We also need to support homeownership, which is the best way to protect low and moderate income residents from being displaced as housing prices top pre-recession levels.
Chronic homelessness continues to be a critical moral and social problem, one that is costly in terms of dollars and human suffering. But it is a solvable problem….
It is the sense of the Council that: The District is committed to ending chronic homelessness by no later than 2020. To achieve this goal, the District’s [Interagency Council on Homelessness] ICH must coordinate the investment of sufficient resources to plan and create the 2,679 permanent supportive housing units needed to end chronic homelessness by no later than 2020.
These quotes come from a resolution passed unanimously by the DC Council yesterday committing to ending chronic homelessness by 2020. This resolution does not require them to take any future steps or commit any funding, but it does tell us that the DC Council supports ending chronic homelessness in DC. We thank all the Councilmembers who stood together calling for an end to chronic homelessness. As the they consider the budget over the next few months, we need to make sure they keep their commitment and fund the programs that will make chronic homelessness history.
CNHED has been very active in creating the Interagency Council on Homelessness’s plan to end chronic homelessness, and advocated that the Mayor and Council fully fund the plan in this year’s budget. The Mayor’s budget included an increase of over $4 million to serve individual veterans who are experiencing chronic homelessness. This is a good start, but does not fully meet the funding needed in the first year of the plan, and will not serve any chronically homeless families who are currently stuck in DC’s family shelter system. Additional funds will be needed this year, and the District needs to fund the programs according to the plan each year. We will be working with the Council to make sure that the ICH plan is funded this year and in future years, and are counting on you to work with us.
CNHED is a dynamic 501(c)(3) membership association that supports the community development sector in DC.