The District of Columbia Housing Authority is moving ahead in its work to preserve and create more affordable housing, as well as assisting our customers achieve their goals.
That was the message DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman gave through updates to the D.C. Council’s Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization during a Performance Oversight hearing on March 20.
“At DCHA, we strive to unlock opportunities for families with modest or limited incomes by providing stable, affordable housing. This captures the core of our mission,” Todman said, explaining that the agency both houses families in DCHA-owned, low-income housing, as well as provides rental assistance through vouchers. “Although we are funded by HUD to provide housing, we still work creatively with other public and private partners on human capital investments so that families can improve their economic situation and future potential.”
DCHA owns or subsidizes more than 21,000 units of affordable housing for low- to moderate-income households, including families with children, seniors, persons with disabilities, and our veterans. This housing is an important resource for D.C. and includes 8,300 units of public housing and another 13,000 through rental assistance, Todman said.
“Unfortunately, funding for public housing is not based on the actual costs to operate and maintain the units, but on a national formula; and funding derived from the formula has been underfunded over the past decade,” she said. “This year, DCHA is receiving 10 percent less in funding than the formula dictates. That equals about $8 million less in funding each year.”
That is in addition to the substantially less in capital funds from the federal government that support major renovation projects. DCHA receives about 40 percent less in capital funding than it did eight years ago, she said.
“Public housing is a part of this country's infrastructure, like highways, parks, schools, and bridges. But it, sadly, is not viewed similarly because it is burdened with such a negative stigma. Here in D.C., almost 20,000 people live in units subsidized through the public housing program, and without this housing many of our customers would be homeless,” Todman said.
Based on the federal government direction, DCHA has been working with the private sector, and leverage private funding, to preserve units, she said. DCHA also is taking advantage of financial tools, like Rental Assistance Demonstration and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to generate private sector investment to preserve public housing. Through this work, DCHA has increased its low-income housing stock by 1,000 units compared to 10 years ago.
“DCHA has been working aggressively on its redevelopment and modernization pipeline, but with a process that is sensitive to concerns of the residents who live on these sites. This participatory process may appear slow and messy from the outside, and certainly the redevelopment of an occupied public housing site is never easy,” Todman said. “But if it is the right course of action given the condition of the units, the future value it will bring residents, and the potential of the site to help the larger community grow; we will pursue it.”
She gave four examples of recent properties that have come online using a variety of redevelopment or modernization methods. The first is a new 195-unit rental building, The Bixby, which includes 39 replacement low-income units. The second is Highland Dwellings, which underwent a comprehensive renovation. The third is the ongoing repairs being made throughout DCHA’s portfolio thanks to $15 million approved by the council and mayor. And the fourth is the John and Jill Ker Conway Residence which houses 60 low-income veterans and 17 low-income families using VASH and Local Rent Supplement vouchers.
DCHA also has been making improvements to its voucher program which serves more than 13,000 families, she said. Steps have been taken to simplify the voucher process, such as allowing recertification packages to be mailed or dropped off to the office instead of requiring appointments. The DCHA Board of Commissioners recently expanded the number of neighborhoods that are affordable to our voucher holders by increasing the value of the vouchers – to a 175% payment standard – which allows DCHA families to stay in or have access to neighborhoods with higher rents.
“The city-funded Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) has been a very important tool in the creation of net new affordable housing units here in D.C.,” Todman said. “The program is currently funded to help house over 3,000 families.”
LRSP-funded housing helps families come off the waitlist, serves people referred to DCHA by the Department of Human Services, and creates affordable units in larger building programs. In fiscal 2017, the program received $10.3 million in new funding that will assist an additional 730 families with tenant-based vouchers, including 173 units in projects selected most recently to receive Housing Production Trust Fund funding.
In addition to housing lower income D.C. families, DCHA also assists these families on their paths to self-sufficiency through job training, employment, and schooling, for example. Todman listed several programs in this category such as the agency’s workforce initiatives, homeownership programs, $25,000 in college scholarships, and connecting more than 1,700 public housing units to high-speed internet. She also highlighted the New Market Tax Credit program which encourages job creation and neighborhood amenities, improved and streamlined services and outreach for residents and landlords, and the opening of two new community centers in Wards 6 and 8.
“With programs like these, and our overall commitment to improving conditions for low-income families who live in the District of Columbia, DCHA‘s job is complex, but rewarding. The DCHA Team is strong and our Board of Commissioners is committed,” said Todman before taking questions from the council members.