Housing demands unmet in final Council budget vote
D.C. residents are one step closer to knowing what their city will spend money on next year.
The D.C. Council took its second vote on the fiscal year 2023 budget on May 24, passing a set of allocations similar to those approved in the first vote two weeks earlier. The day’s only major change, proposed by At-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, funds $20 million in aid to workers who were excluded from federal stimulus packages and unemployment compensation.
While the full budget met several demands from homeless services advocates, including enough Permanent Supportive Housing vouchers to serve an additional 500 individuals and 260 families, advocates have spent the budget season lobbying for several initiatives that did not make it into the final bill.
The budget will now go to Mayor Muriel Bowser for her approval. The council is slated to vote on the Budget Support Act, which guides how the budget is implemented, on June 7.
Relief for excluded workers
Silverman’s amendment, which passed unanimously, reserves $20 million of any surplus revenue in the current fiscal year for stimulus payments to undocumented workers, street vendors, returning citizens and other D.C. residents who were ineligible for earlier stimulus packages. Each of the 15,000 District workers who qualify for the payment should receive about $1,000, according to council estimates.
Given the eligibility requirements for most federal pandemic aid, excluded workers and their advocates demanded the city include $200 million in pandemic relief last year to help those unable to get help elsewhere. The D.C. Cares program, funded in last year’s budget, provided $41 million in financial assistance to excluded workers. This year, the group tried again, asking for the remaining $160 million. The council did not include funds for the program in the budget, although Chairman Phil Mendelson inserted funding for the expansion of D.C.’s earned income tax credit to undocumented workers.
However, advocates said this expansion does not make up for missed payments or help workers ineligible for pandemic relief for reasons other than citizenship, such as street vendors and day laborers. In a statement released via social media, the Excluded Worker Coalition said it was glad to see the most recent increase, but that funding still falls short.
“This pandemic is still an emergency for all of us who were excluded from government assistance,” wrote the Excluded Worker Council, the coalition’s elected leadership body. “We will continue to fight until we win the full $160 million that we asked for, until the needs of every excluded worker and their family is met.”
Because the council did not make an offsetting cut or revenue increase, the $20 million will be distributed to workers only if the city has more revenue than expected in the current fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30. Given that this has been the case for the last several years, council members expressed confidence the District would ultimately have the full $20 million, though the money may not be available for several months.
The final council budget also featured more than 20 agency-level funding changes, mostly around $1 million each. These revisions were largely based on feedback from the agencies and the mayor’s office, according to a statement by Mendelson at a May 23 press briefing. The initial council budget had funded some programs by cutting vacant positions in a variety of agencies. Some of these had to be restored, Mendelson said, though no major cuts occurred as a result.
Supplemental budgets passed
The council also passed a second FY 2022 supplemental budget, which is used to respond to new budget needs and allocate any unspent money. This year, unexpected revenue of $336 million is being used to help balance the FY 2023 budget.
“When folks say there’s a surplus, we’re spending that surplus,” Mendelson said at the press conference.
The supplemental also added $2.8 million to the Department of Housing and Community Development for single-family home rehabilitation and $59,000 to support Diane’s House, a local nonprofit that provides housing support to women experiencing homelessness. As a condition of these two funding changes sought by the mayor, the council required that any leftover funds from this year’s allocation of 20 Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) vouchers for LGBTQ+ seniors be used for TAH vouchers for LGBTQ+ citizens without regard to age.
The supplemental shifted $20 million to the redevelopment of Park Morton from the redevelopment of Northwest One, which is fully funded over the next several years in the 2023 capital budget. Both locations are public housing properties that are part of the often-criticized New Communities Initiative.
An earlier supplemental budget, passed on April 25, added $12 million in housing stabilization grants to cover overdue rent to affordable housing providers through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
Together, the first supplemental budget and the most recent one provided the Department of Human Services with a $77 million boost to the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and the family housing stabilization program known as Rapid Rehousing (RRH).
Housing demands unfunded
The Way Home Campaign, which seeks to end chronic homelessness in D.C., argued the budget does not do enough to address a citywide lack of low-income housing or provide housing support for people at the brink of experiencing homelessness. This concern aligns with unfulfilled budget demands from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), including money to whittle down the voucher waitlist, which currently has 37,000 households. Advocates argue that many people on the list cannot afford to stay in D.C. without a subsidy.
While the budget funds 400 TAH vouchers for families who are set to be terminated from the RRH program this year, DCFPI argued that 640 additional vouchers would be necessary to house all the affected families. Without vouchers, advocates say, it’s likely many of the families will fall into homelessness. Other demands included more funding for emergency rental assistance, public housing repairs, shelter operations, and youth homelessness services.
Despite some statements during an informal work session in late April, council members did not formally propose amending Mendelson’s budget draft to add money for these programs. Without drastically cutting other programs, the only way to find more funding would have been to deplete the city’s reserves or raise taxes, according to Mendelson. DCFPI has advocated throughout the pandemic for the city to use more of its reserves on relief funding, though officials have been hesitant. Mendelson told reporters at the briefing that he suspected some councilmembers had discussed a tax increase, but that there had been no formal proposal.
“I realize the need is greater — the need is greater all-around with regards to affordable housing and homelessness — but these are significant contributions,” he said of the council’s additional allocations.
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.