[Hpn] Housing Activists Beseech D.C. Council on Bills

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 12 Jun 2001 17:42:08 -0700


Scores of Housing Activists Beseech D.C. Council on Bills
Testimony Focuses on Williams, Catania, Cropp Proposals

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2001; Page B03

City officials yesterday urged the D.C. Council to pass legislation that
would encourage thousands of new dwellings for all income levels, insisting
that the District must boost its tax base and rebuild its middle class as
well as provide homes for its neediest residents.

Advocates for the poor countered that the city should focus its efforts on
the needy and said that the legislation would fail to do that.

The philosophical divide dominated a marathon hearing. More than 100
witnesses testified, chafing under time limits of as little as one minute
per person. The testimony focused on legislative packages proposed by Mayor
Anthony A. Williams (D), council member David A. Catania (R-At Large) and
council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D).

Those who work with the city's homeless or near-homeless decried the
proposals that grant many of the incentives to households earning $50,000 or
more a year -- which is 60 percent of the Washington area's median income
but more than the income of half the District's 210,000 households. They
asked the council to focus on those in the 83,000 households that earn
$25,000 or less a year.

"The need out there is enormous," said Sczerina Perot, staff lawyer for
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "We are in no way meeting that

City officials said the legislation would be in addition to money already
provided for public and low-income housing and should be seen as an economic
development tool. They said the District houses a disproportionate share of
the region's poor through programs funded by the city and federal

The proposed legislation would expand the ways in which the city can spur
housing for middle-income residents, whom the city considers crucial to a
stable community.

"None of us wishes to see Washington, D.C., as a city of only the very rich
and the very poor," said Eric W. Price, deputy mayor for planning and
economic development. " . . . We cannot forget the schoolteacher, the
firefighter, the police officer."

The proposals by Williams and Catania are a complex combination of rules
that overlap in some areas. They include tax abatements for building new
housing or renovating deteriorated units; funding for building low- and
moderate-income housing; changes in methods of taking over and renovating
abandoned properties; efforts to preserve affordable rental housing or to
help tenants buy their homes; and streamlining the building code to make
renovation simpler.

On Friday, Cropp introduced a proposal to expand some tax abatements for
market-rate housing to the entire downtown. Such an expansion had been
requested by those who want to build a dozen luxury apartment buildings in
the rapidly revitalizing East End but who say they cannot afford the high
land and construction costs.

Yet another set of proposals by Williams -- which must be approved by the
D.C. Zoning Commission -- would require any apartment projects that receive
government assistance to reserve a minimum of 10 percent of the units being
built for moderate- to low-income households.

City housing officials estimated that Williams's proposals, taken together,
would result in 6,000 market-rate and nearly 3,000 affordable housing units.
The cost, they said, would be offset by income and sales tax revenue from
new residents.

The city's deputy chief financial officer, Julia Friedman, offered a dimmer
picture. She estimated the cost of Williams's proposals at $80 million over
three years. But she did not provide estimates of how much new revenue the
housing would generate.

The council will debate the various proposals this summer.

"We intend to pick the best provisions and the best ideas, and wrap it up in
one dynamite bill," said council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large), chairman
of the Economic Development Committee.

 2001 The Washington Post Company

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