The St. Dennis in Mt. Pleasant. Photo by Martin Austermuhle on DCist, reprinted with permission.

The Housing Production Trust Fund, DC’s premier tool for producing and preserving affordable housing, is nearing extinction.  Facing 2 years of cuts from Mayor Gray totaling $38 million, and apathy toward undoing this decision from the DC Council, the Trust Fund is dwindling into irrelevance. 

The Trust Fund has created over 7000 homes in its 10-year history, and 1000 more are in various stages of development. But this year’s proposed budget only leaves enough for 170 units to be built next year. By 2016, that number will fall to only 36.  A Trust Fund that can only produce a few dozen units is no longer a Housing Production Trust Fund. 

The city has seen big changes over the life of the Trust Fund, but today the Trust Fund’s mission is more important than ever. In the last 10 years, DC has finally crossed the mythical population mark of 600,000 residents, and has become a destination for young professionals.

Neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and H Street have seen makeovers so dramatic their own mothers might not recognize them. It’s no secret that these changes have had a mixed impact on longtime and low-income residents. 

Over the last decade, the has city lost 20,000 units of low-cost housing. In fact, Brookings’ analysis of the population data shows that affluent residents increased as the population of low income residents fell. To put it another way, higher-income people moved into lower-income people’s apartments.

Preserving affordable housing is one of the mandates of the Housing Production Trust Fund. The Trust Fund is meant to preserve low- and moderate-income families’ ability to stay in their homes and communities as neighborhoods change. The Trust Fund has done this successfully all over the city. 

Tucked within some of DC’s most rapidly changing neighborhoods are buildings that have long-term affordability locked in because of their funding from the Housing Production Trust Fund. In Mount Pleasant there is the St. Dennis, in Logan Circle there is the Norwood and in Petworth there is Three Tree Flats. The current residents and future low-income tenants of these buildings get the benefits of the new grocery stores, upgraded libraries, and all the other amenities that are making DC a place where so many people want to live. 

The other goal of the Trust Fund is to produce new high-quality affordable housing. SOME, a 40-year-old nonprofit that provides a wide range of services to DC’s homeless population, has been doing this with great success, most recently in Wards 7 and 8. They have purchased, gutted, and rehabbed vacant, decrepit buildings around the wards, and are turning them into 250 high-quality homes for currently homeless individuals. 

These refurbished buildings include a thoughtful mixture of housing needs (including emergency shelter beds in buildings with single-room occupancy and efficiency units) as well as social needs such as a rooftop deck, with elevator access, for a new senior building.

Unfortunately, these types of projects will no longer be possible if the cuts to the Trust Fund continue.  By not taking it seriously enough, the city risks losing its only locally-funded tool for remaking derelict property into vibrant community assets, and for helping long time residents stay in place.