Mayor Bowser and the District of Columbia Council are in full-swing budget mode, and we here at LISC DC want to highlight a number of important investments that the city should make in Fiscal Year 2018 to truly drive inclusive and equitable prosperity in our city. Our recommendations focus on what we believe will make a significant impact in the neighborhoods where we work, helping lower-income households live, thrive, and prosper. These recommendations include:
- Investing in Affordable Housing and the 5-Year Strategic Plan to End Homelessness
- Investing in Transportation for Adult Learners
- Investing in DC’s Commercial Corridors and Small Businesses
- Investing in Child Care Access for Low- and Moderate-Income Families
- Investing in Joyful Food Markets in Wards 7 and 8
Such investments translate well beyond the individual, and ultimately, are at the foundation of creating a resilient, healthy, diverse, and vibrant city where families of all income levels and backgrounds can live and contribute toward a shared prosperity.
We encourage you to reach out to your Councilmembers in the coming days via phone, email, or Twitter to advocate for these investments to be included in the FY18 Budget. You can find Councilmember contact information here: http://dccouncil.us/council.
Inclusive Prosperity Means More Funding for Affordable Housing and the 5-Year Strategic Plan to End Homelessness
DC is facing an affordable housing crisis. A 2015 report from the Urban Institute estimated that by 2020, DC affordable housing stock will face a gap of approximately 45,000 units. As rents and housing prices continue to climb, more and more low-income families and households face homelessness and increased housing instability. Indeed, in 2016, DC saw a 14 percent increase in homelessness – one of the highest year-over-year increases in the entire country.
In order to address this crisis head-on, DC must devote more funding to affordable housing and the Mayor’s 5-Year Strategic Plan to End Homelessness. We join our partners at the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), Fair Budget Coalition, and The Way Home Campaign in calling on the DC Council to increase the investments in affordable housing and ending homelessness. In particular, we recommend:
- Affordable Housing
- Invest $125 million in the Housing Production Trust Fund
- Invest $16 million in the Housing Purchase Assistance Program
- Maintain Mayor Bowser’s $10 million investment in a Public/Private Preservation Fund
- Invest an additional $5 million in the tenant-based Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) to help move an estimated 325 households off of the DC Housing Authority waitlist
- Invest an additional $5 million in project-based LRSP, which will allow developments funded through the HPTF to reach households with lower-income levels
- Homeless Services
- Invest $8.5 million in Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) for 535 individuals to meet 100% of the projected need for FY18
- Invest $5.2 million in Targeted Affordable Housing (TAH) for 425 individuals to meet 50% of the projected need for FY18
- Invest $3.7 million in Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) for 343 individuals to meet 33% of the projected need for FY18
- Invest $8.5 million in PSH for 284 families
- Invest $4.2 million in TAH for 215 families
- Fully fund year one of the Comprehensive Plan to End Youth Homelessness by investing $5.7 million to serve 197 youth
Inclusive Prosperity Means Addressing Transportation Barriers Faced by Adult Learners
As nontraditional students, adult learners often must juggle their studies with working full- or part-time, raising children, and numerous other obligations. Adult learners building the skills needed to acquire living wage jobs often face transportation barriers that prevent them from achieving their educational goals. Staying in school is especially difficult for low-wage earning adult learners who are burdened with the transportation costs associated with getting to class, in addition to other expenses like the cost of housing and child care. An easy and relatively inexpensive – $2 million – solution would be to extend the District’s “Kids Ride Free” program to adult and alternative learners.
The District’s “Kids Ride Free” program allows public school students to get to school using public transportation without worrying about the cost. LISC DC believes that adult learners should be afforded this same type of assistance, which would help them focus on succeeding in school, breaking the cycle of poverty, and improving the livelihoods for their families. We recommend that the FY18 Budget include $2 million to expand transportation subsidies to adult learners. Acquiring education and skills would create more opportunities for these individuals, including eligibility for higher paying jobs that would help them better support their families. This is a win for everyone. Adult learners will have one less barrier; the District will have a more educated workforce; and WMATA will have more ridership.
Last year, the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office released a report recommending “expand[ing] the unlimited bus and rail component of the School Transit Subsidy program to all District residents enrolled in a publicly funded adult education program.” It found that doing so would serve approximately 7,500 adult learners in DC. This is very important given that the report referenced a survey that found that one-third of adult learners are worried about the cost of transportation and that there is a correlation between concern about costs and low attendance.
This February, the Adult Learners Transit Subsidy Amendment Act of 2017, was introduced. The bill expands the Metrorail transit system benefit program to include persons over the age of 22 who are participating in a publicly-funded adult education programs. The program provides fare exemptions (on instruction days) or reduced fares to District students. LISC DC fully supports this bill and we recommend that the DC Council both pass this legislation and incorporate funding into the FY18 budget. The quicker it is implemented, the sooner it will help remove the transportation barrier faced by thousands of adult learners.
Inclusive Prosperity Means Supporting Our Commercial Corridors and Small Businesses
LISC DC has been working with the Rhode Island Avenue NE Main Street (RIAMS) since 2014, helping the organization build its capacity to support businesses along its 1.5-mile corridor. The District’s Main Street Program, run out of the Department for Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), is an effective initiative that promotes the revitalization of DC commercial corridors. For example, in Fiscal Year 2016, our partner RIAMS provided storefront improvement grants to 16 businesses on the corridor, provided small business technical assistance to 57 businesses, provided direct promotional opportunities for 132 businesses, and held multiple festivals that brought thousands of visitors from across the District and neighboring towns to businesses operating along Rhode Island Avenue NE.
With these results in mind, we support the following budget recommendations that are needed to strengthen the commercial corridors and small businesses in many of the neighborhoods in which LISC DC works:
- Maintain Mayor Bowser’s proposed $2 million investment in DSLBD’s Main Street Program. As mentioned above, DSLBD’s Main Street Program produces measurable results that strengthen DC’s commercial corridors.
- Maintain Mayor Bowser’s Proposed $3.9 million investment in the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Small Business Technical Assistance Program and include a larger percentage of local dollars (versus federal dollars) in the allocation. DHCD’s Small Business Technical Assistance Program provides tailored support to small businesses and is a critical part of the services provided by organizations serving low- and moderate-income areas. Shifting the source of funding toward local dollars and away from federal dollars will allow for grant recipients to offer a more robust suite of services to small businesses, as well as the flexibility to hire staff to assist with meeting DHCD grant goals.
- Commit $9 million to DC’s Great Streets Initiative and increase the number of grant rounds per year. The Great Streets program provides capital improvement grants to qualified small businesses looking to make critical investments in their business. This program is a very valuable tool for small business owners, as other city grants do not allow for use for interior renovation or heavy equipment purchase. Increasing the number of grant rounds per year will allow small businesses to make more responsive decisions regarding their capital improvement needs.
- Maintain Mayor Bowser’s Proposed $3.9 million investment in DSLBD’s Commercial Clean Teams. Commercial Clean Teams employ local residents to ensure specific corridors are maintained, providing litter clean-up along streets, sidewalks, and storefronts. Clean Teams are a significant component in creating welcoming commercial corridors in DC.
Inclusive Prosperity Means Investing in Access to Child Care for Lower- and Moderate-Income Families
At the heart of a resilient, inclusive, and prosperous city is the healthy development of all of its youngest residents, regardless of their family income. Research has long demonstrated how important a child’s first few years are, with 85% of core brain development occurring by age three. These are the fundamental years where a child develops foundational cognitive, emotional, social, and linguistic skills. However, these are also the years where children are most vulnerable, which means that nurturing, securing, and stimulating early learning environments are critical to a child’s development.
DC currently subsidizes child care for children from low- and moderate-income families by reimbursing providers based on their enrollment of eligible children. This funding is critical to both the families looking for a safe and stimulating learning environment for their child, and to the child care providers serving lower-income families. However, a 2016 report by DC Appleseed and DCFPI found that the reimbursement rate currently covers only 66-70% of the median cost-per-infant/toddler, meaning that providers serving a majority of lower- and moderate-income children cannot afford to provide the highest-quality of care, and are faced with significant budget gaps at the end of the year. The report recommends aligning the child care reimbursement rate with the cost of care by phasing in increased investment over three years. We recommend that the DC Council take the first step towards doing this, and increase child care subsidies by $13 million in the FY18 Budget. Doing so will not only be just – it will represent a sound investment in the future leaders and contributors to a more thriving and inclusive city.
Inclusive Prosperity Means Funding Joyful Food Markets Expansion in Wards 7 and 8
Access to healthy, fresh, and affordable foods is a very real issue for residents living in Wards 7 and 8, particularly lower-income families. Currently only three supermarkets are located east of the Anacostia River, a geographic area home to over 140,000 residents – almost a quarter of DC’s total population. Even if families are able to access healthy and fresh food, affordability remains a critical issue, as one in three DC households with children report struggling with food insecurity.
With these statistics in mind, one of our partners, Martha’s Table, combined forces with Capital Area Food Bank in 2015 to launch Joyful Food Markets, a monthly, pop-up grocery market held in 29 elementary schools in Wards 7 and 8. The goal of Joyful Food Markets is to reduce food insecurity and encourage healthy eating among elementary school-aged children and their families east of the Anacostia River. Each month, children and families shop at no cost for 23 pounds of healthy food per child (40% of which is fresh produce). To date, results show that food security more than doubled for participating families before and after visiting Joyful Food Markets.
Early success of this program, along with continued support from DC government, has meant that this program has its sights set on operating in all 49 elementary schools in Wards 7 and 8 by 2018, reaching over 15,000 children and their families. We recommend that the FY18 Budget include $1.2 million for Joyful Food Markets so that families in every Ward 7 and 8 elementary school can access healthy, fresh, and affordable foods provided by Joyful Food Markets. The Department of Health’s Healthful Food Market Initiative grant has been funding Joyful Food Markets at 60% of its total budget beginning with the 2016 budget. Maintaining this level of support and expanding to all elementary schools in Ward 7 and 8 will require $1.2 million for FY18.
 LISC DC is part of a number of different coalitions, whose tireless work throughout the year we rely on for detailed budget and program information contained in this article.