fair-housing_img_1By Kate Scott, Fair Housing Director

On August 8, 2016, the ERC submitted the following comments to DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development, the agency tasked with submitting the documents to HUD for approval:

In my role as the ERC’s Director of Fair Housing, I have reviewed the draft five-year consolidated plan, FY2017 Annual Action Plan, and FY2017 National Housing Trust Fund Allocation Plan made public for review by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in late June. Prior to the release of the drafts, I also familiarized myself with the District of Columbia Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (AI) adopted in 2012. Additionally, a member of ERC’s Fair Housing Program team attended and observed the July 27 public hearing hosted by the DHCD. The ERC offers the following written comments as recommendations for the final revisions of the draft five-year Consolidated Plan, FY2017 Annual Action Plan, and FY2017 National Housing Trust Fund Allocation Plan:

 Concerns About AI Implementation

First, we commend the Department of Housing and Community Development for having published such an excellent AI. Over the course of more than a decade working in the field of fair housing, I’ve encountered many AIs, but the District’s is one of the best that I’ve seen. The document provides clear, comprehensive evidence that an “extreme degree of racial segregation is the District’s greatest fair housing challenge,” but warns that “in-migration by wealthier whites is producing gentrification that is reducing the District’s supply of housing affordable to households with modest incomes and threatens to re-segregate these gentrifying neighborhoods as virtually all–white.”[1] It also makes a series of balanced, feasible recommendations to address the impediments it identifies, including the utilization of tools already at the District’s disposal to address the increasing need for affordable housing among many residents.

Since the AI was published in 2012, the need for affordable housing in the District has reached even greater crisis proportions. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute issued a report in 2015 finding that “the District now has half as many low-cost units as in 2002. The number of apartments renting for less than $800 a month fell from almost 60,000 in 2002 to 33,000 in 2013…These findings suggest that there is very little low-cost housing in the private market and that subsidized housing is now virtually the only source of inexpensive apartments. Meanwhile, the number of apartments with higher rents –above $1,400–has skyrocketed.”[2] Such data suggests that the District has not been able to address the brewing affordable housing crisis identified in the AI through either unit preservation or creation, which has negatively impacted its ability to meet its obligation to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH). Furthermore, the small amount of remaining affordable units in the city are heavily clustered in racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty (primarily Wards 7 and 8), again reflective of the entrenched racial segregation that characterizes the entire District housing market.

Overall, the analysis sections of the five-year plan acknowledge the severe need for both the preservation and production of affordable housing- specifically housing affordable to extremely low-income individuals and families. However, there is a concerning and significant disconnect between the District’s latest AI and the draft consolidated plan documents when it comes to acknowledging the significance of racial segregation and the identification of strategies to address it. For example, the draft five year plan uses the word “segregation” once, and not until two thirds of the way through the nearly 200-page document. This is one of only a handful of times that the AI is even cited.

Further, the five-year plan document posits several explanations for the housing and community development challenges that District residents face. For example, it suggests that there is a skills mismatch between District residents and the needs of job providers (page 120). However, it does not include one of the AI’s most important findings: differences in median income alone do not explain the extreme degree of racial segregation in the District; racially discriminatory practices have created a dual housing market here. Without including this causal analysis in the sections of the plan devoted to analyzing the housing market, there is no way that the document can effectively incorporate the AI. There is a plethora of data in the draft five-year plan indicating the ongoing persistence of racial segregation in the District (see, for example, the maps of RECAPs). Analysis sections of the document need to clearly identify the patterns displayed in maps and tables for what they represent: a high degree of deeply entrenched racial segregation.

Overall, there is an absence of various commitments in the draft consolidated planning documents that would implement the AI, making it difficult to conclude that the District is fully meeting its obligation to AFFH.

Lack of Specificity in Strategic Plan and FY2017 Annual Action Plan

A lack of specificity in the strategic plan portion of the five-year plan and the FY2017 Annual Action Plan make it difficult to understand how goals and commitments in these documents address the fair housing concerns that are highlighted in previous sections and the AI.[3] For example, the analysis sections of the document identify a need for family sized 3, 4, and 5 bedroom units affordable to extremely low-income families and note the financial difficulties associated with developing these kinds of units. However, none of the plans reference how the District will address these needs. There also do not appear to be any commitments that explain how the District’s proposed uses of funds will AFFH or improve fair housing enforcement and education, which 52% of online survey respondents identified as a high need.

Finally, the plans do not address the ways that different goals are related. In some instances, this may lead to further displacement of residents due to gentrification. Specifically, DC’s prior experiences with neighborhood displacement over the last decade in areas such as the U and H Street corridors and Columbia Heights demonstrate that any investments in public infrastructure or amenities in distressed neighborhoods must be coupled with robust efforts to preserve housing affordability in those areas.

Fortunately, there are a number of commitments the District can incorporate into its final Consolidated Plan documents to address the concerns I’ve highlighted above. Many of these commitments are also recommendations contained in the 2012 AI. Some of these commitments should include:

  1. Enhance specificity about how the District will address the housing needs of certain populations, including victims of domestic violence, large families, and voucher holders that want to rent in neighborhoods in the western half of the city. Commitments to funding and technical assistance for Community Based Organizations (CBOs) working to meet the housing needs of domestic violence victims, using funds to incentivize the production of larger, family sized units for extremely low income families, and instituting a mobility counseling program for voucher holders who want to live in neighborhoods in the western half of the city are all specific ideas that would assist in this regard.
  2. Intentionally balance infrastructure or community amenity investments with a strategy (or strategies) to preserve housing affordability in the immediate surrounding neighborhood. There are a variety of effective strategies available to preserve affordability beyond the renegotiation of project-based voucher contracts. Funds could be invested in targeted outreach campaigns about Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) rights in neighborhoods slated for infrastructure and amenity improvements. The City could also incentivize permanent affordability through the use of the Community Land Trust (CLT) model.
  3. Encourage a citywide commitment to affirmatively furthering fair housing and implementation of the AI. Encourage the adherence to AFFH principles in other city programs by continuing and improving the New Communities Initiative’s commitment to build first and to ensure replacement and other forms of affordable housing siting in a way that will address segregation and re-segregation. Review the zoning code to identify impediments to the development of deeply affordable housing especially on the west side of the city and work across agencies to remove them. Advocates for the preservation of affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods have reported a critical disconnect between the Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission in terms of following AFFH commitments made by the city. Because the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing applies to private as well as federally funded actions, the Office of Planning should take actions on private housing development proposals to ensure that strong diverse neighborhoods are created and preserved through investments and affordable housing replacement. In particular, these offices must ensure that the District’s commitment to affordable 3, 4 and 5 bedroom units is met in zoning and planning decisions, that exceptions and weakening of the inclusionary zoning ordinance do not occur and that other actions are taken that will balance affordable housing creation and preservation with the approval of market rate rental units. Zoning decisions must consider the obligation to AFFH and seek to ensure that the city’s AFFH commitments are met and that segregation and re-segregation are concretely addressed.
  4. Increase landlord participation in the Section 8 voucher (HCV) program to provide greater housing choice for voucher holders in higher opportunity areas in the western half of the city.
  5. Increase DHCD and other agency efforts to fund and support fair housing education and enforcement. Use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to address the fair housing education gaps uncovered through the review process. For example, concerned organizers attended the July 27th hearing to voice concerns about Spanish-speaking constituents’ lack of awareness of fair housing protections. This form of outreach is critical in an increasingly diverse city like DC. Many other jurisdictions around the country utilize CDBG dollars to conduct fair housing testing. ERC testing indicates that there is ongoing source of income discrimination in housing, particularly in the Northwest quadrant of the city, which contributes to ongoing residential segregation. There continues to be evidence of housing discrimination that suggests the city should support fair housing enforcement.

Ending residential segregation in the District is critical—and possible—though it may take years to do it. Through the consolidated planning process, DHCD is tasked with leading the way to a fully integrated DC. There’s no better time to revise the plans than now—before the draft documents are finalized and submitted to HUD for approval!

[1] Planning/Communications, District of Columbia Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 2006–2011 (River Forest, IL: April 2012).

[2] http://www.dcfpi.org/going-going-gone-dcs-vanishing-affordable-housing-2

[3] The Draft National Housing Trust Fund Plan is much more specific in this regard; unfortunately, it relates to the smallest pool of funding available for impact.

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