Budget Oversight Hearing Testimony to DC Council Committee on Housing
Testimony of Carol Aten, NW Opportunity Partners Community Development Corporation, to DC Council Committee on Housing Budget Oversight Hearing
Good morning Chairman White and members of the Housing Committee.
My name is Carol Aten, and I am representing the NW Opportunity Partners Community Development Corporation. Our mission is to increase affordable housing and expand economic opportunities for Black and Brown businesses in Ward 3 for a more racially and economically inclusive community.
This is a tight budget year and many important housing programs have been severely reduced in size. We join with others across all eight wards in strongly supporting restoration of funding to these programs, especially the Emergency Rental Assistance Program that keeps people from being evicted.
My testimony will address an item that might seem “small potatoes” in the larger scheme of things but could be “make or break” in terms of the ability to create affordable housing in Ward 3. The high cost of property in Ward 3 is an economic barrier to making real progress on the Mayor’s goal of 1990 new affordable housing units in Rock Creek West by 2025. Therefore, NWOP proposed an acquisition fund to purchase property on which to build affordable housing. We have been pleased by the positive reactions of many housing experts and advocates.
We very much appreciated Council Member Frumin’s budget request for an affordable housing acquisition program and have been heartened by the interest in our proposal by staff of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. We applaud the Mayor for including in the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Support Act legislation to establish the “Land Purchase Partnership Program Act of 2023” to purchase property for affordable housing (B25-0202, Title II. Economic Development and Regulation, Subtitle A. Land Purchases for Affordable Housing, Section 2001). This is a significant first step and can be a useful additional tool in creating affordable housing in the District when funds become available. It would allow DHCD to become a partner with mission-driven developers in creating new affordable housing, akin to what has been done elsewhere in the city on publicly-owned land of which there is very little in Ward 3. We strongly urge the Council to adopt the general intention of this provision of the Budget Support Act.
Of course, the devil is always in the details. Therefore, we hope the Council will take a hard look at this authority to anticipate possible unintended consequences. For example, the Council might want to make it explicit that this new authority cannot be used to buy land on which housing is already located unless it would significantly increase the number of units. Nor should it replace one type of affordable housing with another, e.g., rent controlled buildings, which would be akin to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Also, considering that DC would be taking the land costs out of the financing equation, the required number of affordable units (50%) is too low and the level of affordability is too high (80% MFI or less). We realize that some flexibility is needed to make projects financially sustainable, but any expenditures should be required to meet the most significant housing needs.
We believe that those who work in Ward 3 should be able to live in Ward 3. Unless and until public-purposed land is acquired, affordable housing in Ward 3 will be an excessively-discussed but under-achieved objective. Thank you for the opportunity to share our views.