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Testimony on Green New Deal for Housing Bill DC Council Committee on Housing

Updated: May 16, 2023

W3HJ supports Green New Deal for Housing, Social Housing

Margaret Dwyer, November 22, 2022

Good morning I am here today testifying on behalf of Ward 3 Housing Justice. We are a grassroots advocacy group of primarily Ward 3 residents working for true affordable housing and economic opportunity in Ward 3 and an affiliate of Empower DC,.

We are excited that the Housing Committee is considering a proposal to add an important tool to the possible responses to the District’s deep and complex affordable housing crisis. We strongly support the goals of social housing. We have long advocated for mixed income housing that includes generous amounts of housing for families and individuals with incomes of 0-30% and 30-50% of the MFI.

A social housing model is designed to ensure that there is a wide mix of income levels in each community. We also believe that these communities can be designed with explicit guidelines to ensure quality and equity. For example, we would want to see that there would be a commitment to using only good quality building materials, with no downgrade for the affordable units. We also would want to see strong policies about non-discrimination among residents, and that residents who pay market rate have no more rights or status than any other resident.

This legislation really speaks to us in Ward 3, where we urgently need bold solutions. For two years, we have been pushing for the necessary levels and amounts of affordability in developments and redevelopments in the ward, but we are told that ‘it can’t be done here’ and that ‘it doesn’t pencil out.’ Absent bold solutions, we will never achieve a more equitable distribution of affordable housing across the city. Affordable housing should not be concentrated only in what HUD designates as ‘economically distressed’ census tracts, but available in every ward and neighborhood.

As you know, in addition to supporting social housing, we are also supporting the NW Opportunity Partners CDC proposal for an Affordable Housing Property Acquisition Fund to enable development teams to move quickly to purchase non-residential properties for the purpose of creating mixed-income communities with generous amounts of affordable housing. We think there could be a beautiful relationship among this fund, social housing, community land trusts and other existing programs.

We invite this committee to imagine a demonstration case of the social housing model in which dollars from our proposed Acquisition Fund are used to buy a property that is then redeveloped and managed as social housing, whether by an entity such as a Community Land Trust or by a new management entity that might be created.

In fact, there is an opportunity for a demonstration project right now in Chevy Chase. DMPED has announced a community surplus disposition meeting on December 12 for public land in Chevy Chase. But why dispose of something as precious as public land in an expensive area? This could be a great place for the creation of a social housing demonstration project.

We understand that a new city agency for social housing has been proposed, and we recognize that it is the job of the Council and the Mayor to figure out how the District’s social housing would be overseen. When we think about that management entity, we look for something nimble and not overly bureaucratic, and we wonder if something totally new has to be created, or if the capacity of existing entities, like Community Land Trusts could be built on.

Regardless of the ultimate decision about the management, a clear mandate, policies, and practices are indispensable. Corrections to deficiencies in previous models AND the ability to move quickly would need to be built in from the very beginning.

It’s a tall order, but the potential benefits are worth the investment and the effort. We’d like to be part of this work!

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