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With A 'Strike Force' And $100 Million, Bowser Moves On Affordable Housing

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser took two cracks at the city's affordable housing crisis this week, appointing an 18-person "strike force" to develop a strategy to protect currently-subsidized housing after federal grants expire in coming years and putting out $100 million for the construction of 1,000 new units of affordable housing.

The strike force — formally known as the "Housing Preservation Task Force" — will sketch out the means and money to protect thousands of units of affordable housing that are expected to lose federal subsidies over the next few years, says Polly Donaldson, who heads the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development and will chair the strike force.

"The point of the strike force is to develop the District's strategy on preserving the over 8,000 units that are at risk due to the expiration of affordability covenants," she says.

Those units have been subsidized through two federal programs: the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LITHC) program, which keep rents in certain buildings below a specific level for 15-year periods, and the Section 8 program, which directs federal funds to helping low-income residents pay their rents.

With those programs expiring in a number of buildings throughout the city in the coming years, Donaldson says D.C. needs to be ready with an alternative.

"It needs to be a much more proactive strategy than waiting to try to deal with crisis situations like Museum Square," she says, referring to the building in Mt. Vernon Square where the expiration of its Section 8 subsidies last year has left hundreds of low-income residents facing the prospect of being evicted to make way for new market-rate apartments and condos.

Donaldson says the city will need a combination of public and private funds, as well as "creative development deals," to ensure that subsidized units remain affordable after federal funding through LITHC or Section 8 expires.

Beyond protecting existing affordable housing, on Wednesday Donaldson announced that the city is making available $100 million for the construction of an estimated 1,000 units of housing for low-income residents, including those that have fallen into homelessness in recent years.

Developers are being asked to submit proposals for the construction of new units or preservation of existing units. And unlike in years past, Donaldson says that the money will come with specific strings attached: 80 percent of the units build or preserved will have to go to families making no more than 50 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is currently $109,200 annually for a family of four.

A number of units will also be set aside for Permanent Supportive Housing, or housing for families transitioning out of homelessness. Some 8,000 D.C. residents are currently homeless, and over the last seven years the growth in the city's homeless population has been among families. Bowser has committed to moving families out of the homeless shelter located at D.C. General.

"These resources will be applied to those most in need and across the city to ensure that we are producing and preserving affordable housing," said Donaldson on Thursday morning, speaking to a room full of developers.

The money is coming from Bowser's inaugural budget, which increased spending on programs for affordable housing and the homeless.

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