D.C. Council Member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) joins Kojo and Tom Sherwood to chat about her upcoming fight for re-election.
D.C.’s wait list for public housing and rental vouchers closed to new applicants Friday — but there are still a staggering 70,000 names on the list. Affordable housing is hard to find in the District, and the squeeze is even greater for people with very low incomes. Kojo explores the city’s plan to pump new money into affordable housing and meet the growing shortage.
- Rebecca Lindhurst Attorney, Bread for the City's Legal Clinic
- Robert Pohlman Executive Director, Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development
- Adrianne Todman Executive Director, D.C. Housing Authority
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Anyone who's looked for an apartment in the District of Columbia recently knows how expensive rents are, and if you earn minimum wage or have a disability and can't work, you may well be shut out of the housing market altogether. The combination of rising prices and stagnant wages for low-income workers has created a huge backlog of people eligible for public housing or rental vouchers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe D.C. Housing Authority estimates that it would take 18 years to find a place for everyone currently on its waiting list for a two-bedroom apartment in the city's public housing. As a result, the Housing Authority on Friday stopped adding names to the list in an attempt to get a handle on the demand and rein in false expectations. At the same time, Mayor Vincent Gray has pledged to pump new money into construction of low-cost housing and set a goal of creating or preserving 10,000 affordable housing units by 2020.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHousing advocates applaud the moves but say there's still a long way to go to help the city's poorest residents find homes. Joining me to talk about the demand for low-cost housing in the District is Adrianne Todman. She is executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority. Adrianne Todman, thank you for joining us.
MS. ADRIANNE TODMANThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Robert Pohlman. He is executive director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development. Robert Pohlman, thank you for joining us.
MR. ROBERT POHLMANThank you for inviting me.
NNAMDIAnd Rebecca Lindhurst is an attorney at Bread for the City's Legal Clinic. Rebecca Lindhurst, welcome.
MS. REBECCA LINDHURSTA pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIYou too are welcome to join this conversation with your questions or comments. 800-433-8850. How can the District create more affordable housing for its low-income residents? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDIAdrianne Todman, I'll start with you. On Friday, your agency, the D.C. Housing Authority, stopped taking new names for its waiting list for public housing units and rental housing vouchers. Why did you decide to do that?
TODMANWell, I think we should begin with what the waiting list actually is.
TODMANA lot of folks are confused and believe the waiting list is actually a very accurate measure of many of the persons that are looking for affordable housing and that affordable housing is being produced. But what the list is, as long as everybody can recall what the list is, is essentially persons who have indicated to us that they desire some type of affordability. So these are folks who...
NNAMDIIt's a wish list.
TODMANIt's a wish list to some to be, folks who may already be housed may not like where they live or they live in substandard housing or can't afford where they live. Of the 70,000-plus names that we have, what we typically do is we do not confirm what anyone has said to us until they've reached the equivalent of being at the top of the list.
TODMANAnd so, you know, last week, any one of us could sit here on our iPhone, apply for housing, but we did not have a good grasp on whether or not that request is one that was -- is confirmable if the person is eligible and whether or not that person is more deserving than somebody else who applied years ago.
NNAMDIWhat happens now for people already on that so-called wish list and for those who so still want to get in line for housing or vouchers?
TODMANSure. So for the families who successfully applied by midnight last Friday, we are going to contact each and everyone and we're going to get confirmation from them whether or not they still want to continue to be on the waiting list. We last did an update in 2008, so some of the applications that we have are dated.
TODMANSo we're going to confirm if folks are interested, are they interested in public housing, are they interested in a Section 8 voucher, what's the family household, what's the income bracket that they're in? And then we're going to essentially offer those families a little bit more transparency in terms of their access and information about their status on the list.
TODMANBack in the day, if you applied on the list and you called my staff to say, where am I on the list, no one could really answer the question well. And that doesn't make sense if you're running a government agency. So we're going to try to create transparency that way. We're also going to provide housing choice. Before, our public housing applicants could not indicate to us which one of our sites they would desire to live in.
TODMANWe would offer them housing. They would not accept, and then they would be dropped to the bottom of the list. And so we're trying to create a better sense of choice. For those individuals who were not able to apply by last Friday, what we're going to provide to them is if someone showed up at the Housing Authority today is a resource sheet of other affordable housing options, not just here in D.C. by way of other private owners but also information on other housing authorities in the region.
NNAMDIExplain before we go any farther, what the D.C. Housing Authority does and who is eligible for your program.
TODMANCertainly, so we run all of the city's 8,000 public housing units. We also administer another 13,000 vouchers most people refer to it as Section 8 -- another 13,000 vouchers. We're also quite excited to administer the city very rare and that it has own local voucher program to the tune of about 1,500 persons. We administer that as well. And so we also build housing. We work very closely with our sister agencies at the DCHD and HFA and to actually increase the number of affordable housing here in the District.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number that you can call if you have questions or comments about low-cost and affordable housing in Washington, D.C. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you live in public housing or use a housing voucher to rent an apartment? What has been your experience? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIBob Pohlman, last month, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray pledged to include $100 million for affordable housing in the city's next budget with the lion share of that going to the housing production trust fund. What would an effusion of that size mean for the stock of low-income housing available in the city?
POHLMANWell, we're very excited about the mayor's commitment of $100 million to affordable housing. About $87 million of that goes to the trust fund, and that would enable us to begin the production of probably up to about 1,000 units of housing. So it's a great first step in the mayor's goal of achieving 10,000 new units by 2020.
NNAMDIWhat's the time lag between the city's making money available and new affordable housing coming online, Rebecca Lindhurst? Is that a matter of weeks, months, years, decades?
LINDHURSTKojo, it's years. There are a lot of people in this city that need affordable housing now, and Adrianne spoke about the waiting list and how significantly large it is. But we do think it is a measure of how many people do need affordable housing in the District, and the statistics show that one in five folks have a severe housing burden. That means that they're paying more than 50 percent of their income toward rent.
LINDHURSTSo there are a lot of folks in D.C. who need affordable housing now, and so putting money into the trust fund doesn't really meet that burden immediately. So that gets our pushing toward increase of subsidies that can be used immediately, subsidies like a voucher where a tenant could go and use that in a privately-owned building, and that subsidy could happen fast. But new buildings take years, and so we're -- the 100 -- these units are getting 10,000 units by 2020 doesn't help the folks that -- who need housing today.
NNAMDIBob, you served on a task force that Mayor Gray appointed to look at housing in the District. The group recommended and the mayor endorsed the goal of adding or preserving 10,000 affordable housing units by the year 2020. Where did that goal come from, and how do you see it being achieved?
POHLMANWell, we had a task force of over 30 people who met for almost a year, had a lot of different recommendations. There's also a recommendation that 8,000 currently affordable units that are assisted be preserved in addition to the 10,000 of new units. This doesn't meet the total need. There are 40,000 renters in the District of Columbia.
POHLMANWe have a severe housing burden. They spend half of their income or more on affordable housing. And even people who work -- 16,000 of those -- still have that severe housing burden. So this was a first step, and it's by no means a total solution. Even if we do produce the 10,000 units and preserve 8,000 units, the need is much greater than that.
NNAMDIRebecca Lindhurst, what's your perspective on the mayor's pledge to build 10,000 new units and pump $100 million into affordable housing? A, will it really happen? Clearly, you've expressed that it will probably take a long time to happen, but will it happen?
LINDHURSTWe are hopeful. We're always hopeful that anytime somebody puts focus on affordable housing that it's going to help the city. Adrian Fenty previously made a pledge almost of the same manner that he was going to produce 10,000 affordable housing units during his administration. That didn't happen. So we're still behind the game here. We're still trying to produce these units. And so I'm always hopeful when anybody shows a commitment to building more affordable housing.
LINDHURSTI think the mayor had no choice. At the One City Summit, there was an overwhelming majority of folks who said affordable housing was a priority, and I think that really pushed the mayor to take another look at affordable housing. Advocates across the city have been banging our fists about it for years. So it's great to see a new focus on it, but we always have to sort of wait and see what's going to happen.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Here's Ed in Arlington, Va. Ed, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDThank you. My question for the guests relates to recent news in affordable housing finance that nationwide the cost to build affordable units is skyrocketing with prices approaching as high as $450,000 a unit in places like San Diego. What's the cost to build affordable units in D.C., and what is -- what are the public officials is doing to minimize that cost so that more units can be built with the same money?
POHLMANWell, first of all, I don't think we're spending 200 -- $450,000 a unit here. A 200,000 unit is possible, but one point I want to make is that the money is put in a trust fund. The $87 million is going to be leveraged with private dollars. First of all, the money that goes out of the trust fund is not grant money. It's low-interest loan money, and it's matched up oftentimes with $2 for every dollar of trust fund dollars to do affordable housing. So out of that, say, $200,000 cost of a new unit and especially if it's a brand-new unit, it's going to cost more. A good deal of it probably, half of it will come from private sources.
NNAMDIOn -- and, Ed, thank you -- Ed, I don't know if you had a follow-up question.
EDYes, I do. I mean, wouldn't the people who are waiting on the list rather have a unit that didn't cost a quarter million dollars. I mean, more of them could have a place to live if the city could figure out how to build affordable housing units for less than a quarter mil.
NNAMDIHow do you figure that out, Bob Pohlman?
POHLMANWell, first of all, not all housing costs that much. I mean, we have housing that's been renovated. For instance, there's a project in Southeast Washington, an abandoned building that's being renovated. There's new construction that's being done throughout the city. It is expensive, and we have housing that's appropriate to the size families. For instance, there's single-room occupancy housing that is much less expensive per unit. But, yes, we need to look at ways that we can bring down the cost but also leverage more private dollars?
NNAMDIEd, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Mike in Gaithersburg, Md. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi. Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for taking my call. I'm actually calling more from an owner's perspective. Are there -- I have a property. It's a four-unit in P.G. County, Takoma Park, so it's really close to D.C. And I was wondering if there's any program in place for owners if they decide to maybe, you know, rebuild a house or add in a couple of additional units. Is there anything in place to help them financially and then give those new properties to Section 8 tenants?
TODMANI can't speak to what rules there may be in Maryland and Prince George's. But I know locally, if there's a private owner with a home and they're interested in local programs, I suggest you go to DHCD, to their website, which can be accessed through dc.gov. I believe there's a number of programs there that assist local homeowners.
TODMANWhen it comes to being able to serve our Section 8 vouchers, you really just need to be someone who owns or is a management agent of a home or a unit and make that unit available. It's actually a -- our voucher holders are able to access every unit in the District of Columbia that's within some cost containment on the rent. And so they have a wide range of units available here locally.
LINDHURSTYeah. I also can't speak to Prince Georgia's County 'cause Bread for the City only serves residents of the District. But I would encourage owners, if they are interested, to contact their local housing authority to see if there are ways that they can specifically reach out to voucher holders.
NNAMDIMike, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. If you haven't yet, the number is 800-433-8850. Should D.C. make affordable housing a higher priority than it is? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on waiting for affordable and low-cost housing in Washington, D.C. We're talking with Rebecca Lindhurst. She is an attorney at Bread for the City's legal clinic. Robert Pohlman is executive director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. And Adrianne Todman is executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. Rebecca Lindhurst, affordable housing is a very broad term. Describe the need for housing among the city's poorest residents and how it differs from the need among people at the lower end of, say, the middle class?
LINDHURSTThanks, Kojo. That's a really important question. Bread for the City serves about 31,000 families a year and -- or 31,000 people a year, and the majority of those folks who walk through our doors are very low income. The average income of our clients is about $7,000 a year, so this is folks -- these are folks who are not making even minimum wage. And so there is a significant need for housing at that very, very low-income population.
LINDHURSTAffordable housing, when we discuss it, we often use the area median income in describing affordable housing. And in D.C., the area median -- or in D.C. area because we count Montgomery County and Fairfax, area median income is $107,000 a year, which is much more than the Bread -- average Bread for the City client is making. So often when we're talking about building affordable housing, we categorize it by the percentage of area median income.
LINDHURSTFor instance, it's very popular to build housing at 60 percent of area median income. So that reduces it to about 60,000 folks --for -- it makes it affordable for folks at $60,000 or so -- $60,000 a year. And that's really not sufficient to serve the lowest-income residents of D.C. For example, somebody that's subsisting on SSI, Supplemental Security Income for folks who are disabled, they get $710 a month.
LINDHURSTThat's clearly not enough to afford an apartment at 60 percent of area median income. So we often try and change the conversation about affordable housing to say, we need to build it for the lowest-income individuals in our city, folks that are making less than 30 percent of area median income.
LINDHURSTThere's also a difference between affordable housing and subsidized housing. The D.C. Housing Authority provide subsidized housing where people pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, and then the subsidy makes up the difference to that landlord or money from HUD provided to the Housing Authority.
LINDHURSTWith affordable housing, there is no subsidy, so people pay a flat rent. It's not based on your income. So there are two conversations going on here, one about subsidized housing, which I think is a huge need, which is why we're pushing for more vouchers through the Local Rent Supplement Program versus building affordable housing at a certain percentage of the area median income.
NNAMDIThe D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute apparently reports that someone earning minimum wage in this city will have to work 140 hours a week to afford market-rate housing in the District. That's like 3 1/2 jobs.
LINDHURSTThat's staggering, Kojo. It's really, really staggering that we would expect in folks in our city to be working so much in order to afford a market rent. And as you said in the introduction to the show, while rents keep going up, incomes are not keeping pace with the increase in rents. So we've lost 50 percent of our low-cost rental housing in the District in the last decade.
LINDHURSTAt the same time, high-cost departments have tripled. So we're building more luxury apartments and not as many low-income apartments, and at the same time, we're -- our incomes are not keeping pace with the inflation of housing costs.
NNAMDIHow about the homeless population, Bob Pohlman, Adrianne Todman? What would the mayor's infusion of money mean for the city's homeless population? Will it help get folks out of shelters and off the streets?
POHLMANYes, it will. First of all, I want to mention on the trust fund. Forty percent of the trust fund has to be spent on families and individuals between zero and 30 percent of area median income. That's someone earning up to $25- to $30,000 a year. There's specifically a program now that has been developed for housing homeless people on a permanent basis called permanent supportive housing.
POHLMANRight now, we're working with five D.C. agencies who are doing a consolidated request for proposal and are committing funds, both rent subsidy capital and supportive services, to provide housing specifically for chronically homeless individuals and families. So the production that we're talking about, it's very important that we build this stock over time as rents go up in this city.
POHLMANRental vouchers can be very useful in the short term. But in the long term, we know that rents are going to go up. That kind of housing is going to become less and less available. And so this permanent support of housing production effort is going to provide some housing stock that will be there for many, many years to come.
NNAMDIAdrianne Todman, anything you can add to that?
TODMANAbsolutely. We're already working with our sister agency, Department of Human Services, to house 250 of some of the homeless families that we've been speaking about here locally. And on top of that -- and we've got half of those families already with a voucher in their hand. On top of that -- and Bob mentioned this -- for the first time ever, all of the housing agencies have come together to actually streamline the way that we are bringing housing online.
TODMANAnd back in the day, DHCD had one process. The Housing Authority had another process. And by DHCD I mean Department of Housing and Community Development.
NNAMDIHousing and Community Development, yes.
TODMANAnd it was a little scattered. So for the first time, with a solicitation that's on the street, we all have combined our resources so we can coordinate and meet the city's housing needs. And with that, the Housing Authority is going to be able to help house 700 families here in D.C. in the near and long term. And of that amount, 200 or so will be really directed to families that need support of housing. So we're very excited about that.
NNAMDIA lot of people would like to join this conversation. I'll start with Adam in Washington, D.C. Hi, Adam.
ADAMHello, Kojo. Thanks so much for having me.
ADAMI had a question if there were any realistic alternative plans in place that might allow individual families to acquire equity or ownership in the unit that they're living in. And it might not be something that they are able to own completely one day, but that equity could be used towards helping them move off of just a continued assisted living position and also may help provide a carrot to maintenance and upkeep and some of those issues that go along with public housing units.
TODMANSure. We actually began a year ago a new public housing home ownership incubator program where we have a number of families who have moved into designated public housing units, and we're basically training and helping them to act like homeowners. There are certain maintenance problems that they will be responsible for.
TODMANAs their income goes up, we're going to escrow their funds so that they can have money for down payment. And so are actively trying to find ways -- creative ways to try to move families out of assisted housing. It is difficult particularly in this rental market where rents are so high, but we are trying different incremental ways to help folks move out.
LINDHURSTYes. In addition to the program that Adrianne talked about, there are a bunch of low-income co-ops in the District of Columbia, so buildings that are cooperatively owned and folks get equity in their units if they become part of that. There aren't a ton of them, but that's one way toward -- one path toward homeownership.
LINDHURSTThe other is in the District of Columbia, there's the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. And that act says that if the landlord is going to sell their building and owners are going to sell their building, they have to first give the tenants an opportunity to purchase that.
LINDHURSTBack before the housing market crashed, we as tenant advocates were able to assist several building in purchasing their building and forming limited-equity co-ops through the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. At that time, there was lots of money available, some of it through DHCD, to assist tenants buying their buildings. So that was one way that we were able to get folks on the path to homeownership.
POHLMANWell, we also have a great program in the District called the Home Purchase Assistance Program. It's like...
NNAMDIIt's how I was able to buy my first home in the District a long, long time ago.
POHLMANGreat. It's still there, and it provides up to $40,000 for down payment assistance through a loan and $4,000 for closing cost. It's being used by very low-income families in many instances to purchase, and it does provide an incentive to actually move from rental housing if you've been able to save money. We have homebuyer clubs that work with residents. And this program has been very successful. There's a very low foreclosure rate on the program.
POHLMANRight now, East River is an area where we really think we should emphasize more home ownership housing. That area is going to change over time. And now is an opportunity when prices are relatively low, interest rates are at historic lows that we need to put more emphasis on programs like HPAP and home ownership.
NNAMDITell you how long ago HPAP helped me, at the time my income was under $15,000 a year.
NNAMDIThat's how much times have changed.
NNAMDIAdam, thank you for your call. Carol in Bethesda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLOh, I was wondering if the District has the legal authority to seize apartment buildings that are behind in their taxes or have lots of code violations earlier in the process so that those buildings could be used as affordable housing. I know this has been done in other metropolitan areas around the country, and I was wondering what the District would need to do to be able to do that. Thank you.
NNAMDIYou know anything about that at all, Bob Pohlman?
POHLMANWell, yeah. There is a program that allows the District to make emergency repairs to property and add it to owner's tax bill. If an owner does not pay the taxes, the property can be put up at tax sale, and the District has an opportunity to step in.
POHLMANThe Department of Housing and Community Development has a -- one of their divisions actually acquires or takes over these kinds of houses and then remarkets them to affordable housing producers. So there is a way that this can be done. It has not worked in many instances. However, it is a program that needs to have more emphasis going forward.
NNAMDIOn, therefore -- and, Carol, thank you very much for your call. On to Alice in Washington, D.C. Alice, your turn.
ALICEYes. I'd like to ask question about the last update in 1982. Someone -- one of your guests made a statement about the last time the list was updated was 1982. What has the housing authority been doing between 1982 and now?
NNAMDIWhy did it take you 31 years to update the list?
ALICEWhat has the housing authority been doing for, like Kojo said, 30 years in placing people now? I'm a native Washingtonian, and I have a relative who was director of HUD at one time. So I was born and raised in D.C. So I do know now what areas of D.C. -- on the back of my hand, I can write them -- that are targeted for affordable housing. And that's because the money people all have coming to the city of D.C., and they have purchased all of the most valuable property right now for upscale housing because...
NNAMDIWell, I do understand that you know this, but I'd like to have your question answered by Adrianne Todman. I'd like to add another question to it because you did point out the relationship with HUD. You know, despite its name, the D.C. Housing Authority is independent from the District government and gets most of his from the federal government. So could you answer the question about what's been having for the past 31 years? And then I have another question about your relationship with the federal government.
TODMANSure. Well, let me correct the facts here, which is that the last update was in 2008. And at that point, though this was about 58,000 persons strong, when we did the update, it dropped down to about 26,000, and as we know from last Friday, it's just over 70,000, and we attribute that big leap to a number of things. One, clearly folks indicating a need for housing, a more affordable housing, and, two, we actually provided an opportunity for folks to apply online which just made it easier for folks to access our services.
TODMANSo I would attribute it to both of those. And I would say the housing authority's been doing a lot over the past, I could only speak the last 15 years. Prior to that, it was a different kind of entity. Our voucher program which, about 15 years ago, served 5,000 families. As I mentioned earlier, we now serve about 13,000 families.
TODMANTwenty, 30 years ago, the housing authority did not do a very good job on actually having families live well in public housing. The public housing was fallen apart. And so even though we -- there were more public housing units then, there were fewer units so actually available for people to live in. And you're right, Kojo, we receive 97 percent of our over $300 million budget is from HUD, the federal government.
NNAMDIWhich raises the question, what have the recession and the sequester done to your budget?
TODMANNo better question. So sequestration sucks. Let me just say. It's a just not been good. We're receiving $1 million less in funds each month. And so while locally the story is better than most, federally, we're going downhill faster and faster. Public housing and Section 8 has never been popular with Congress to begin with.
TODMANAnd the sequester has made it difficult for us to offer any new federal subsidies, so, right now, we're not issuing any new federal vouchers which also contributes to the homeless problem in D.C. because, but for that, we would be providing about 200 federal vouchers to families here in D.C. So it's very unfortunate.
NNAMDIAlice, thank you for your call. And allow me, therefore, to pile on here, Rebecca Lindhurst, because as rents go up in the city, some landlords are deciding to end their participation in subsidized housing and covert their units to market rate. Talk about the goal of preserving affordable housing.
LINDHURSTThanks, Kojo, that's an important question. In D.C., we have approximately 8,000 units that are subsidize by HUD for private owners. So unlike public housing, these are units that are owned by private landlords. Tenants, again, pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, and HUD makes up the difference for those landlords.
LINDHURSTWhen these project-based Section 8 units came online, there were contracts for them, typically 20 or 30 years, and this was a program from the last '70s, early '80s. And as those contracts came to an end, as those 20 to 30 year periods came to an end, a lot of landlords decided to get out of the project-based Section 8 program.
LINDHURSTIn doing that, that allows them to convert the buildings to market rate housing. And a lot of these buildings were built in neighborhoods that were previously not so great but have now been gentrified. For example, there's one building in the Shaw neighborhood that recently opted out, and those families now are living in market-rate housing. That landlord is now able to charge market-rate rents.
LINDHURSTFortunately, HUD had the foresight to give those families vouchers. And so those families will be able to stay in place with those vouchers, but those are hard units that are lost. And Affordable Housing Preservation folks talk about having to preserve these hard units because every hard unit that's lost, those are more units that are going market rate and less affordable housing.
NNAMDIHow long will those people who live in the building you mentioned in Shaw, the Westmoreland, be able to have vouchers to continue to live in that building?
LINDHURSTSo long as HUD continues to give DCHA the funding to pay for those vouchers.
NNAMDIHmm, yeah. Your turn, Bob.
POHLMANWell, preservation is very important. That's why it's great to have this recommendation in the Comprehensive Housing Strategy Report to preserve at least 8,000 units of that housing. And it's so important because this is a case where the subsidy is coming from the federal government. It's not coming out of the District coffers. So it makes sense that we do whatever we need to do to preserve that kind of housing.
POHLMANSo if one of those buildings goes up for sale, we need to be -- we need to stand ready to have it purchased by a nonprofit owner or a for-profit owner who agrees to keep it affordable. And that is something that we really need to develop a particular strategy for preserving housing. We have the money now, at least one in -- one down payment on the money, and we need to have a specific strategy and specific plans. Which affordable properties are we going to preserve? How much money are we willing to spend on them? And then we need to target those that are at risk.
NNAMDIGot to take another short break. If you have called, stay on the line. Looks like the lines are busy. So if you want to get through, send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on affordable housing and low-cost housing in D.C. We're talking with Robert Pohlman. He is executive director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development. Adrianne Todman is executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority. And Rebecca Lindhurst is an attorney at Bread for the City's Legal Clinic.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Bob Pohlman, in response to a question from a caller earlier, you talked about how much it costs to build low-cost housing in the District today. But do you have any examples of new projects in the works?
POHLMANWell, there are all types of projects going on over the city, everything from renovation of abandoned buildings. There is a project in Southeast Washington. There's going to be affordable condominiums, for example, that Manna is developing.
NNAMDIWe've had a lot of conversation here recently about the McMillan Reservoir development. Is that likely to include either affordable or low-cost housing?
POHLMANIt is supposed -- yes. It is supposed to include affordable housing. It's -- the situation's been complicated recently by the need to do more to prevent flooding in that neighborhood. But there is a commitment to produce affordable housing. Those kind of projects really need to be monitored closely because the city doesn't really have a standard right now as to how much affordable housing should be done in its properties that it develops and even owns. So, yes, there will be affordable housing there, but how much of it and at what level still remains to be seen.
NNAMDIOn to Andre in Washington, D.C. You're on the air, Andre. Go ahead, please.
ANDREYeah. How're you doing, Kojo?
ANDREI'm a longtime District of -- resident is my question. And I've been a deliveryman for 22 years. I'm 42 years old. I've been to HUD. I've been to several places, have income. There's nowhere -- I've been, like, homeless, really, for, like, years, like staying with different people because even with a job, as long as I've been on my job, I'm staying one place, my ex-wife, she's staying someplace, and my son, he's staying someplace, because I couldn't get a place.
NNAMDIWhat has been the problem with you getting a place? A, you couldn't afford the rent?
ANDREThey said that I didn't make enough, and I make, like, $30,000.
ANDREAnd they said, like, a lot of these -- I've been going to Maryland, everywhere, nowhere. So I try to get a subsidy. My niece, she gets -- she has a place, like where it goes by her income.
NNAMDIWell, to cut a long story short, allow me to have Adrianne Todman give you the process by which one can acquire a subsidy. Do you know?
TODMANWell, if you are one of the lucky persons that are on the list right now, you know, we can always, offline, we can get your information. I can have staff contact you. But if you're not, or in the interim, certainly you're still welcome to go down to the Housing Authority, and we can provide you with our resource information about the number of different affordable housing partners that we have here in the -- in D.C. and the...
NNAMDIThe resource information sounds like what you need, Andre. Plus, Rebecca Lindhurst, you supervise the landlord-tenant practice at Bread for the City. Can you talk a little bit about who comes in for help? Do you find a lot of people who are coming in are in the same situation as our caller Andre, and what issues do you see most?
LINDHURSTSure, Kojo. It's actually broader than just what we do in the Legal Clinic, Bread for the City. A lot of our clients are living in unstable housing situations, just as Andre described. They're bunking with friends or family. They move from couch to couch. Folks are living in boardinghouses, rooming houses, and a lot of folks that we see are just paying way more than they can afford for rent.
LINDHURSTPerhaps they got into an apartment they could afford at the time, but then, because of economic circumstances, are no longer able to afford that. So we do a couple of things. We have two programs where we help folks apply for housing. You know, applying for housing is actually a full-time job. You have to go to the different buildings. You have to fill out the applications. Often the applications have a fee to go with them, sometimes as high as $200.
LINDHURSTSo there are a lot of things that make it really hard for folks to find housing. So one of the programs we have at Bread for the City is called our HAP project. And our social workers work with our clients to help them apply for housing, help them fill out applications. You know, you think about things like literacy. Folks who are searching for housing, you need to be literate. You need to be able to fill out applications.
LINDHURSTYou need to have a telephone so the landlord can call you. You need to have a stable address. And those are things that are really hard for our clients. The landlord-tenant practice that we have at Bread for the City represents tenants who are threatened with eviction. And so many of the clients that we see in that practice are really just struggling to make ends meet and can't afford the rent.
LINDHURSTAnd so we help them, help try and stave off the eviction. There are programs -- like ERAP, Emergency Rental Assistance Program -- that help folks get caught up on their rent. But ultimately, if you've loss your job or your income has been reduced, you're really going to have a hard time sustaining that income. So while we're happy that the mayor has put $1 million into their emergency rental assistance fund, often times the agencies that dole out that money really run out at the end of the year.
NNAMDIBob Pohlman, any more advice you can give to someone like Andre where he and others might be able to go for help or advice?
POHLMANWell, there is a housing locator service at the Department of Housing and Community Development operates. So if you go to their website, they offer both market-rate housing and affordable housing. Many housing -- affordable housing providers have waiting lists for their housing but that these aren't as long as the housing authority's waiting list. So you need to be on the lookout for any kind of an affordable housing project that's being developed. I would also check that housing locator service at DHCD in trying to find subsidies that might be available.
NNAMDIAndre, thank you for your call. Good luck to you. Here is Katrina in Washington, D.C. Katrina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATRINAI was wondering if we want more affordable housing, why don't we stop encouraging developers to build more and more new market-rate housing from -- there seems to be just this, well, almost bewitched by developers, everything from tax waivers for the sales tax while they're building it, tax abatements for five years or 10 years, zoning commissions who -- have they ever turned down a conversion from commercial to residential zoning?
NNAMDIWell, I've never heard of a city that resisted attempts to expand its tax base, and that generally is what the administrators of the city say. But you make a good point because last month, the median sale price of a home in the District hit its highest level in history. The number was up 13 percent over a year, earlier to $460,000. How have rising home prices contributed to the loss of low-cost housing in the District, Rebecca Lindhurst?
LINDHURSTYeah. Unfortunately, Kojo, I really don't know about home purchases. Mostly what we do is deal with...
LINDHURST...rentals. So we don't have -- I don't have the information.
NNAMDIBut it drives up the market value of everything.
LINDHURSTIt certainly does. As I said earlier, the number of high-cost apartments in the District has tripled in the last decade. So that's really -- developers are building these fancy buildings. For instance, there is a new building going in at 2M Street, and the District has put up about $16 million for that building. It boasts a rooftop pool, and it doesn't do enough to create affordable housing.
LINDHURSTWhy is the District spending 16 million on a building that has a rooftop pool when they could have eliminated the pool and build more affordable housing? These are the conversations that we want to have about how the city is using the money. I also don't think the city is putting enough pressure on developers to do everything they can, turn over every stone. We recently met with the developer who is looking to develop Parcel 42. And he actually said to us...
NNAMDIWhat Parcel 42?
LINDHURSTParcel 42 is a vacant piece of land in the Shaw neighborhood across from the Shaw Metro Station. It's been vacant for a very long time.
NNAMDIUsed to be occupied for a while, didn't -- wasn't it?
LINDHURSTIt was occupied by some...
NNAMDII remember that.
LINDHURST...folks that were protesting Mayor Fenty's decision to not insist that there'll be affordable housing built on that. There was a promise by Mayor Fenty that didn't come to fruition. And so folks were very upset about that, and they camped out for a while. They're now trying to figure out what to do with it.
LINDHURSTAnd a developer said to us, the city is not -- the city told us not to create a building that's 100 percent affordable. And to me, that just speaks to, is the city putting up enough pressure? Is the city providing enough incentive for developers to develop the most affordable housing that they can?
NNAMDIKatrina, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Harold in Washington, D.C. Harold, your turn.
HAROLDOh, how you doing, Kojo?
HAROLDThat's good. My question isn't a problem that I can't, in fact, find anything affordable with the type of money that I have, you know, the fact that I'm disabled, and I've been on the waiting list. And I like to know, does this new system affect me?
NNAMDIWell, we got an email from Amy in Washington, Harold, who says, "A neighbor of mine lost his house because a family member defaulted on a loan on the house that person had taken out unbeknownst to my neighbor. However, my neighbor was able to move into public housing fairly quickly. He had been injured in an attack and now uses a wheelchair to get around.
NNAMDI"So I assume he receives disability payments. I've been hearing about the long waiting list for public housing for years. Was my neighbor able to get housing so quickly because he is disabled? I don't have a problem with that. I was just wondering whether the wait list works different depending on one's particular need." Adrianne Todman.
TODMANWell, I will say that the housing authority actually has the largest stock of units available for people who are mobility impaired and over 800 units throughout the city. And so the reason this particular person would have been housed so quickly is because of his particular qualification from one of those units. And that list does move much more quickly than the rest of it does, so that would be the reason.
NNAMDIAnd, Harold, in your case, then that's something you should probably make sure you made clear when you do apply.
HAROLDI did, I did. I'm on the dialysis machine, so I have -- not even work right now. You know, I've been on the list, I guess, three years, man. And I'm hearing that it takes 20 years to get on there.
TODMANWell, again, Kojo, I'm happy if the caller wants to give his contact information. We can look into his situation.
NNAMDII'll put you on hold, Harold, and you can give your contact information, and somebody will get back with you. Here is Pete in Arlington, Va. Hi, Pete.
PETEHi, Kojo. I love your show.
PETEYes. Quick question just to contradict to the other caller there. The reason you get so many high-end housing -- houses being built is 'cause you guys have all these restrictions on -- that can be built. And so the way to make money is to, you know, sell higher prices. It's law of supply and demand. You know, there's a tremendous pent-up demand for housing in D.C. Let the people build, build, build...
NNAMDII missed a crucial word in what you said, Pete. Because we have so many restrictions on what?
PETEOh, on the number of houses you can build, the number of units you can build. There's just a tremendous amount of pent-up demand in D.C. for all types of housing, low income, middle income, high income. It's the same thing if you had told Ford they can only make 1,000 vehicles a year. You'd find the vehicles they make are really expensive because that's the only ones they are allowed to sell. Let the market work, build, build, build.
NNAMDIWell, we also got a tweet from someone who said, "Wouldn't getting rid of the building height restriction help bring more affordable housing?" To which you say what, Bob Pohlman?
POHLMANWell, there's been a discussion of that. Yeah, if you could go up higher, there could be more units of housing. We have inclusionary zoning, which does apply to all new construction of more than 10 units, but it's a pretty modest requirement, 8 percent for low-rise building, 10 percent for high rise. But a greater density has been talked about.
POHLMANIn fact, you can have that without raising the high limit. We need to have greater density around Metro stops. And that's the best place to build affordable housing that's has -- that's high density because the residents really need to have access to transportation as well as affordable housing.
NNAMDIAnd as our callers comment on the restrictions on building housing in the city, Rebecca Lindhurst.
LINDHURSTYeah. This is a tough one for me 'cause I'm a District resident, and I kind of love the idea that we were building height restriction. But as the affordable housing advocate, I have to say in areas around transportation, it does make a little more sense to do high density. And I'm glad Bob brought up inclusionary zoning 'cause I forgot that from last answer.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Rebecca Lindhurst is an attorney at Bread for the City's Legal Clinic. Thank you for joining us.
LINDHURSTThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Robert Pohlman. He is executive director of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnd Adrianne Todman is executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority. Glad you could join us.
TODMANThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnam
Most Recent Shows
D.C.-based writer Paul Goldberg recently published his first novel, "The Yid." We talk with him about the story, how living in D.C. shapes his work and his 'day job' overseeing the influential Cancer Letter project.
Julette Saussy was hired by D.C. government less than a year ago to oversee reforms in the city's troubled fire and emergency medical services department. But she recently announced that she'd be quitting the post - and she says the department's failure to change is putting lives in danger.
Concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus have escalated - both among those who may be traveling to affected areas, but also now locally, where three cases were recently identified.