Over 300 people rallied for affordable housing this weekend with the Housing for All Campaign. The packed house drew Mayor Gray and Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and Jack Evans, all of whom were unified in their commitment to stem the tide of displacement in the District.
Evans said, “We need to make sure the people who were here in the difficult times get to stay for the good times.” But the three differed on how to respond to this need.
Mayor Gray promised a big housing announcement at his State of the District address next week, so he didn’t make any commitments at this time. The Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force, which the Mayor commissioned nearly a year ago, has recently finished its work. Their report is expected soon, so he’s likely waiting for its publication before making a statement.
He did take the opportunity to praise key housing programs that have struggled in the recession, including the Housing Production Trust Fund and Local Rent Supplement Program.
Bowser, however, challenged the Mayor on his housing record. “You can’t say you’re for affordable housing and take $40 million out of the Housing Production Trust Fund,” she said referring to the DC budget in 2012 and 2013 when the administration proposed $18 and $20 million in cuts to the program, respectively.
The Housing Production Trust Fund has created 7,500 affordable housing units in its 10-year history and is respected as a model across the country. It remains to be seen if the Mayor’s strategy will include a continued commitment to this highly-successful program.
The next few months will be critical for housing funding. The task force is scheduled to release its report in the next few weeks, and Mayor Gray will announce his housing plan. The Mayor will then submit his budget to the DC Council, which many hope will offer increased investments to make housing affordable to District residents.
"It is time to act,” said Bob Pohlman, Executive Director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. “More than a thousand newcomers are flooding into the District every month, putting more and more pressure on the cost of housing. If we don’t face this reality and act now, affordable housing will be out of reach for tens of thousands of DC residents.”
What does seem clear is that after years of accelerating housing need and limited political interest in the topic, affordable housing is becoming a key political issue again.