Colleen Cosgriff

The May 27 budget meeting began over an hour late, as various members of the D.C. Council struggled to set priorities for the city’s fiscal 2016 budget. But it was well worth the wait because the City Council unanimously passed the District’s FY2016 budget. A second and final budget vote will occur on June 16 before it is sent to Congress for approval.

The Council budget considered “virtually all” requests in Mayor Bowser’s proposal, according to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. It provides more money for services to the homeless than it has ever done in history. A portion of this increase will fund additional affordable housing initiatives.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits will be extended and the revenue stream dedicated to the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) will be preserved.. Further, it increased HPTF funding to a baseline of $100 million. The Trust Fund began in 2002 as a tool to develop affordable housing in the District. The program has suffered from inconsistent funding since its creation, according to the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED). Ensuring that $100 million remains in the FY2016 budget is vital for consistency in funding development of affordable housing, the coalition claims.

The budget is an imperfect packet, according to Mendelson. Everyone can probably find something that they do not like, but everyone has something that they do like.

“Anyone can focus on the little we didn’t get and declare defeat or we can focus on the many good things in this packet and declare victory,” Mendelson said.

And victory was declared.

Before the meeting began, a main point of concern to CNHED was that approximately $9 million had been moved from HPTF in FY2015. According to CNHED, the loss of $9 million equals the loss of 100 units of affordable housing. CNHED had organized calls to Chairman Mendelson the night of May 26 and the morning of May 27 to express its concern over the potential loss and had mobilized supporters to attend the morning Council meeting. While the room was crowded, supporters of the Coalition were easily visible to the Council, wearing the Coalition’s bright yellow shirts.

CNHED supporters arrived at the meeting unsure whether the $9 million would be restored to HPTF. But the the Council reversed the $9 million cut.

“With the last-minute amendments, which made the Trust Fund whole, we are very pleased. We think this budget comprehensively represents a huge step forward in serving our neediest residents,” said Steve Glaude, Executive Director at CNHED.

In an interview with Street Sense, Council Member Elissa Silverman said Mayor Bowser set the tone with the $100 million investment in HPTF, and the Chairman was also focused on the $100 million investment.

“I do [think the budget is a victory], because I think we made key investments in areas that are priorities, not only for our residents but for our city’s future,” Council Member Silverman said. “Certain council members felt that we are in such a dire situation with our lack of affordable housing that really every dollar that could be put towards the trust fund should be. The Chairmen felt that was the right decision, so he did it. I’m very happy about it,”

Silverman was not alone in voicing her excitement over the budget.

“[The budget addresses] some of the biggest issues this city currently faces: homelessness, and the creation and preservation of affordable housing,” Council Member Brianne Nadeau said.

Nadeau went on to specifically praise the $1.8 million allocated to permanent supportive housing and the $1.7 million in targeted affordable housing.

Council Member Vincent Orange stated during the meeting that the budget was not only a victory for the legislative and executive branches, but for the citizens of the District. However, he wanted to make clear that the budget’s unanimous vote does not mean all of the District’s issues are solved.

“We have not solved the homeless program. We put some money on the table to attempt to solve the homeless problem. We have not solved the affordable housing problem. We have put money on the table. Now we have to execute the plan,” he said.

The Council will meet for the second and final vote on the budget in just a few weeks.

“The second vote is an opportunity to correct any mistakes and to clear the language,” Kate Coventry, Policy Analyst at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) said in an interview with Street Sense.

Coventry does not predict any changes to funding on housing or homelessness, stating that the DCFPI is “thrilled” with the investments to those programs.