Bowser kicks off budget season with a proposal focusing on housing and public safety
Mayor Muriel Bowser presented her $19.5 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2023 to the public and D.C. Council on March 16. The proposal, which is markedly larger than any budget passed since Bowser took office, includes several one-time investments and increases in funding for police, emergency rental assistance and permanent supportive housing vouchers. The budget proposal does not include tax increases for residents.
Officials previously expected D.C. would have a budget surplus of $566 million from FY 2021that could be allocated where needed, prompting advocates to call for much of the money to be spent to prevent evictions. Just prior to the budget’s release, this number was lowered to $184 million, according to Bowser’s budget director, Jenny Reed. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer determined that it should have marked most of the surplus as reserved in accord with the District’s previously adopted budget and four-year financial plan, and therefore not counted as part of the unallocated surplus, according to CFO Fitzroy Lee. The change led to a two-day delay in the release of part of the full budget document.
The largest one-time investment proposed by the mayor is $500 million to D.C.’s Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF), which helps nonprofit and private developers create affordable housing in D.C. The city has already received applications to the HPTF totaling $398 million, according to Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio.
At a March 18 council hearing, At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman raised concerns that not enough of the HPTF is going toward the production of deeply affordable housing, a category that generally requires more sizable subsidies than do units for people with somewhat higher incomes. A 2021 audit found that the fund once again failed to meet its legally mandated goal to allocate half its money for housing that is affordable to families making under $40,000 annually. Another large investment in the fund should come with additional accountability measures, Silverman argued.
- At the council hearing, Bowser argued the fund is going toward affordable housing, including many deeply affordable units — the hardest to bring to fruition. “I don’t want anybody to think that we haven’t spent money the way we said we would on affordable housing for D.C. residents,” Bowser said.
On top of the HPTF allocation, Bowser proposed $31 million in new money for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) vouchers, which provide housing to people who experience chronic homelessness. The increase is intended in part to ensure HPTF projects can set aside more of their units as deeply affordable.
- People experiencing chronic homelessness are unhoused for a year or longer or have endured regular short periods of homelessness.
- The $31 million would fund vouchers for 500 individuals, 269 families and 10 youth, meeting the request made by the Way Home Campaign, a coalition to end chronic homelessness in D.C.
- Bowser’s budget dedicates $2 million of that money to outreach, though it’s not clear what that covers.
The mayor’s proposed budget also includes $120 million over the next two years to help people with rent and utilities through D.C.’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
- This proposal falls short of the $187 million sought this year by a coalition of housing advocates — a request based on the amount Bowser estimated last fall would be needed to help households currently at risk of eviction.
The proposal also includes $74.9 million for family rapid rehousing (RRH) — a $44 million increase from last year’s approved budget, but similar to the amount actually being spent in FY 2022.
- RRH is a two-pronged program that serves families and single adults experiencing homelessness by providing housing subsidies that last for up to one year.
- Housing advocates called for the mayor to add money to RRH to help the 350 families who have subsidies set to expire this month. Reed, the mayor’s budget director, said at the March 18 hearing that the city has been working to connect the 350 families currently facing eviction with other housing programs but that the Department of Human Services has not extended their subsidies.
- Housing advocates have also urged D.C. to extend subsidies for all 931 families whose subsidies are set to terminate this fiscal year.
Among the other housing investments proposed by the mayor:
- A $1.2 million increase for Project Reconnect, a shelter diversion and rapid-exit program for single adults.
- $600,000 in additional funds for the family shelter prevention and diversion program to serve an extra 200 families.
- $114 million over two years to “modernize and renovate” supportive housing and shelter services. These funds would be used to support shelters serving single adults. Part of the funding will also be used to replace the New York Avenue NE shelter; the Harriet Tubman women’s shelter; and the Adams Place shelter and day center, which currently operates in space that is leased by D.C., not owned.
- $2.8 million for services at the new 801 East men’s shelter.
- $41 million over several years for new project-sponsored Local Rent Subsidy Program (LRSP) vouchers, with about $5 million in FY 2023. Project-based vouchers are administered through housing providers and nonprofits, while tenant-based vouchers are given directly to people looking for housing. There is no new money for tenant-based LRSP vouchers that are not PSH.
- $219 million to continue the redevelopment of public housing units at Barry Farm, Park Morton, Bruce Monroe and Northwest One. These four properties were supposed to be redeveloped through D.C.’s New Communities Initiative, but residents say progress has been slow, and the construction has forced many residents out of their homes. This investment is not enough to complete all four projects but will enable progress, according to Reed.
- $110 million for the D.C. Housing Authority to rehabilitate 1,500 units of public housing over the next three years, mainly for seniors.
- $26 million to help first-time homeowners with down payments and other costs.
- Legacy initiatives intended to help residents stay in D.C., including $1 million to help multi-generational families keep their property; $10 million to help more Black D.C. residents become homeowners; a decrease in the annual cap on property tax increases for senior homeowners from 5% to 2%; and $15.5 million to help residents fix their homes, reduce flood risk and damage, adapt to the weather, and remove lead and mold.
The proposed expenditures drew praise from At-large Councilmember Anita Bonds, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration. “The housing investments are really outstanding,” she said at the March 18 budget hearing.
Many advocates, however, would like to see more. Kate Coventry, senior policy analyst at D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, is hoping to see the council provide additional funding to serve families experiencing or at risk of homelessness. She said DCFPI recommended $27.7 million to house 1,040 families with Targeted Affordable Housing and $17.3 million to provide tenant-based vouchers to 800 families.
The budget includes $1.7 billion for public safety, including $30 million to fulfill Bowser’s promise to help put the Metropolitan Police Department on a path toward 4,000 officers over the next few years by investing more in recruitment, training and retention. During her presentation, Bowser said 4,000 officers are needed for the force, which is currently down to about 3,500 officers, to ensure adequate response times. The proposal also boosts funding for alternative public safety initiatives, including D.C.’s violence interrupters program. The mayor’s public safety proposal includes:
- $1.7 million to hire an additional 23 employees for violence prevention, including life coaches.
- $1.1 million for a pilot program that would provide rental assistance to people at risk of violence.
- $10 million for youth violence prevention.
- $251 million in the capital budget to renovate the D.C. Jail, including construction of an annex to the Correctional Treatment Facility which, combined with the current CTF, would eventually become the main jail. The new facilities would allow for the closure of the aging Central Detention Facility and enable the D.C. Department of Corrections to bring D.C. residents incarcerated by the federal Bureau of Prisons back to the District.
Health and human services
Bowser’s budget proposes $5.7 billion in spending on health and human services, including:
- Almost $5 million in investments for low-income seniors, including free dental services, personal tablets, free transportation and grocery card distribution for eligible seniors.
- $4.2 million to extend D.C. Healthcare Alliance enrollment to 12 months and simplify the recertification process. Advocates have long sought the changes to a process they call overly burdensome for the program’s clients, who are low-income residents who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare.
- $6.4 million to hire 68 new employees to handle higher caseloads for public benefits.
At the March 18 hearing, councilmembers expressed concern about what is not funded in the human services budget. Bowser’s proposal delays until Oct. 1 the implementation of expansions to D.C.’s paid family leave program, though the money will be available on July 1, an issue several councilmembers raised.
The budget proposal also cuts money for the Grandparent and Close Relatives Caregiver Subsidy Program, for which the council expanded eligibility last month. It also entirely eliminates the newly established Office of the Ombudsperson for Children, which is supposed to provide oversight of the Child and Family Services Agency, a cut Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau strongly opposes.
“This reckless decision to relitigate a battle the executive lost puts at risk and takes all the guardrails off the child welfare system,” Nadeau said, referring to Bowser’s earlier opposition to the council bill that created the office. The council is in the process of recruiting the agency’s first director.
Education and youth programs
The budget proposal provides $6.4 million to expand the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides D.C. youth with subsidized summer work or training. The mayor’s budget also increases the base amount of the per-student funding formula and allocates $46 million for schools to replace HVAC systems. Other proposals include:
- $5 million in grants for out-of-school time youth programs
- $13.5 million for “Recreation for A.L.L.,” an initiative that includes thousands of new slots in summer camps and programming offered by the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
- $3.8 million to expand the school-based mental health program.
- $60 million to construct an indoor sports complex on the RFK campus starting in 2026. The facility would accommodate training as well as competitions in gymnastics, indoor track and field, boxing, and more.
- $434 million over the next six years to build and modernize parks, libraries, and recreation centers.
Bowser’s proposed budget also includes money for economic recovery, transportation and the environment, including:
- $2 million to increase access to fresh food east of the Anacostia River. Bowser did not clarify whether this money would be put toward a formerly proposed grocery store at the MLK Gateway when asked by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White.
- $21 million to raise wages for participants in training programs operated by the D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES).
- $780,000 to modernize the DOES call center. Residents have heavily criticized DOES’s customer service during the pandemic.
The council will hold hearings on agency budgets until April 7, with a hearing on the budget as a whole on April 8. Committees will then propose changes to Bowser’s budget by April 21 before the first vote on May 10 and a final vote later this summer.
This article was co-published with The DC Line.
Annemarie Cuccia covers DC government and public affairs through a partnership between Street Sense Media and The DC Line. This joint position was made possible by The Nash Foundation and individual contributors.